INCHEON, South Korea: About 6,000 athletes and sports officials from the Philippines and more than 40 other countries will parade around the sprawling main stadium as this city rolls out a spectacular opening for the 2014 Asian Games on Friday.
The Philippine delegation of 150 athletes, 55 coaches and other officials is one of the smallest the country has sent to an Asiad, but its Chief of Mission, Philippine Sports Commission Richie Garcia, is confident of its medal potential.
The Philippines has won 364 medals, 61 of them gold, since joining the Asian Games in 1951.
Its biggest haul was in 1954, when Manila hosted the 2nd Asiad. Filipino athletes bagged 14 golds, 14 silvers and 17 bronzes then.
In the last Games, in Guangzhou, China, the Philippines reaped 16 medals, three of them gold.
The opening ceremony at the Incheon stadium, which is expected to draw more than 50,000 spectators, starts at 6 p.m. (7 p.m. in Manila). World windsurfing champion Geylord Coveta will be the country’s flag-bearer.
This year’s Games has for its theme “Dream of 4.5 Billion People, Unified Asia.”
The South Korean YouTube sensation Psy is one of the performers.
A presentation entitled “Meet the Future of Asia” will highlight contributions of South Korea to sports.
The Philippine medal quest begins on Saturday, with the archery and bowling teams going into action.
Garcia said tae kwon do, boxing, athletics, wushu, bowling, cycling and basketball have the best chance of landing medals.
“We are now officially part of the Games. Some of our athletes are here and have started training in their respective training and competition venues. No team will slacken until we have achieved our goals in these Games,” he noted during the flag-raising ceremony at the Athletes’ Village Flag Plaza on Thursday.
“Our faith in this team, composed mostly of young Filipino sports achievers and a smattering of veterans for leadership, is firm. This is a team that has potential based on their credentials,” Garcia said.
Southeast Asian Games champion Japoy Lizardo spearheads the tae kwon do team along with Benjamin Sembrano, Francis Agojo, Christian dela Cruz, Kristopher Uy, Samuel Morrison, Pauline Lopez, Jane Narra, Levita Ilao, Kirstie Alora, Nicole Cham and Mary Angjela Pelaez.
World bowling champion Biboy Rivera defends his crown in the men’s singles, and Enrico Hernandez, Jomar Jumapao, Frederick Ong, Benshir Layoso, Kenneth Chua, Liza del Rosario, Liza Clutario, Krizziah Tabora, Lara Posadas and Alexis Sy are also eyeing medals in their events.
Boxing will be bannered by Olympian Mark Barriga and world champion Josie Gabuco. Rounding up the team are veteran campaigners Wilfredo Lopez, Mario Fernandez, Charly Suarez, Dennis Galvan, Eumir Marcial, Ian Clark Bautista and Nesthy Petecio.
US-based Daniel Calauag and Chris Calauag are entered in the BMX category of the cycling competition, while Marestella Torres looks to do better than her fourth-place finish in the women’s long jump of the Guangzhou Asiad.
Wushu has Divine Wally, Evita Zamora, Daniel Parantac and Jean Claude Saclag, while Gilas Pilipinas will bank on the experience it drew from its stint in the FIBA World Cup in Spain as it goes up against the region’s basketball giants China, Iran and South Korea.
The Philippines’ three golds in Guangzhou came from Rivera, Rey Saludar of boxing and Dennis Orcollo of billiards.
Billiards was not included in the Incheon Asiad, denying the Philippines a potential gold.
In Manila, Malacanang asked Filipinos to support the Philippine basketball team in Incheon.
Its deputy spokesman Abigail Valte also on Thursday said Filipinos should show the “same support” it gave Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA World Cup.
“We take this opportunity to wish our team good luck,” Valte added in a statement.
“Over the next two weeks, let us show Team Philippines the same support as they carry our flag in the 2014 Asian Games and again showcase the ability of the Filipino people to the world,” she said.
Gilas Pilipinas, according to Valte, “exhibited Filipino excellence in sports,” and that it “played with fervent passion, scoring our first win in forty years and winning the hearts of international audiences.”
With a report from CATHERINE VALENTE