The wait for the elusive medal didn’t last long, coming on the same day the Philippine delegation was officially recognized in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in simple flag-raising ceremonies Wednesday at the sprawling Kuala Lumpur Sports City in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A total of 30 representatives from the national contingent composed of medical, secretariat and a handful of athletes graced the occasion in this prestigious multi-sport conclave that aims to promote camaraderie and cooperation among 11 Southeast Asian countries.
National squad administrator Rowena Eustuya represented chief of mission Cynthia Carrion while Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) executive assistant Gina Calaguas was also there in behalf of her boss, POC president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, who was supposed to land later in the day together with some ranking POC executives.
Also present were Philippine embassy officials headed by Consul Johann Veronica Andal, who represented Ambassador Charles Jose and attaché Emryss Esparto.
As the emcee announced the names of the SEA Games participants in alphabetical order, the Philippine tri-color was raised and the national anthem was played, prompting Filipino athletes, coaches and officials to beam with pride and hope for a better performance in the biennial meet that they have yet to dominate since hosting it 12 years ago.
“The ceremony is an occasion recognizing our presence in this sportsfest,” said Calaguas. “Like the rest of the SEA Games countries, this simply means that we are officially here.”
But the emotional flag-raising rite was greatly overshadowed by the surprise achievement of the Philippine sepak takraw squad, which plucked the silver medal in the men’s chin lone linking event 3 at the Stadium Titiwangsa.
After training in Myanmar and quartering for four months in Dipolog City, the hard work and perseverance of the squad paid a handsome reward as it piled a score of 271 to finish behind the host country, which finished with a commanding 391 points.
“Chin lone is a subjective sport so it’s really difficult to beat the host country,” said Philippine Amateur Sepak Takraw Association president Karen Tanchangco, whose wards made it to the finals after besting Brunei, 293-157.
Tanchangco said they expect a couple of gold medals in regu events in the coming days, but they would rather keep it low key to avoid complacency.
“We’re seeing action in seven events, so yes, our hopes are high for additional one or two gold medals,” said Tanchangco, the daughter of long-time sepak takraw chief Mario Tanchangco. “It just feels good that we are the first to deliver a medal for the Philippines.
We were quietly training for the past few months and we worked hard for this achievement.”
John-John Bobier, Rhemwil Catana, Emmanuel Escote, Ronsited Gabayeron, Joeart Jumawan, John Carlo Lee, John Jeffrey Morcillos, Regie Pabriga and Alvin Pangan comprised the squad.
The sepak takraw squad’s silver isn’t the Philippines’ lone harvest for the day.
Paul dela Cruz nipped Zulfadhli Ruslan, 10-9, in a thrilling sudden-death, shoot-off to salvage the bronze medal in the men’s individual archery compound event at the Synthetic Turf Field inside the KL Sports City in Bukit Jalil.
After 50 arrows, Dela Cruz and Ruslan, a silver medalist in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games, were deadlocked at 144, paving the way for the single-arrow shoot-off.
Picked to shoot first, Dela Cruz calmly shot a 10 while his Malaysian rival could only muster a 9 to clinch his first SEA Games individual bronze medal after sharing the team bronze honors in the Singapore SEA Games two years ago.
Amaya Paz-Cojuangco, a two-time women’s individual compound SEA Games champ, had an off day and failed to go beyond the quarterfinals.
Also emerging victorious in the first three days of battle are the national men’s and women’s football squads.
The Philippine men’s U22 squad exacted revenge on Cambodia, 2-0, while the women’s squad shocked the host country, 2-1, to kick off their respective bids on a sizzling note.
Reymart Cubon delivered a right-corner kick in the 53rd minute before Filipino-Japanese Belgira Kouichi volleyed a free kick that slipped through the Cambodians’ defensive wall in the 73rd minute to help the Filipinos post their first victory in Group B.
Team captain Patrice Imelido and Camille Reyes, meanwhile, starred in the Malditas’ overwhelming triumph over the Malaysians in this five-team, single round series late Tuesday at the Shah Alam Stadium.
The victories in sepak takraw, archery and football were welcome developments to sooth the pain brought by the heart-breaking loss in water polo after the Philippine side dropped a sorry 7-8 setback to the Malaysians.