What went wrong in PH’s SEA Games campaign

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EDDIE G. ALINEA

The just-concluded 29th Southeast Asian Games held in Kuala Lumpur showed how Malaysia exploited to the hilt the right given to a host country to choose the sports and events it wants to include or exclude in furtherance to its bid for the overall championship.

As results showed, Malaysian athletes gained much from the scheme by amassing a record 145 gold medals, more than half closest pursuer Thais’ 72, to succeed in their bid for the overall plum. Results that came as a complete disaster to all except one of the 10 other SEA Games Federation members, more specifically, the Philippines.

From the time, in fact, the events to be disputed were finalized many months before the K.L. Games’ opening ceremonies, last August 19, the Philippines had already lost no less than half-a-dozen gold medals the Filipino athletes brought home from the 28th edition of the biennial conclave in 2015 in Singapore after the host scrapped from the calendar women’s boxing, some divisions in men’s boxing, men’s and women’s softball, women’s weightlifting.

The removal of women’s boxing didn’t allow 2015 gold medal winner Josie Gabuco defend her title beside depriving, too, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno, both favored to rule their classes to show their wares.

The Philippine Blu Boy and Blu Girls have dominated men’s and women’s softball each time the sport were held in the past so that its scrapping serve as another big blow to the Philippines’ campaign.

Rio Olympics silver medallist Hidilyn Diaz only managed a silver medal in Singapore, but was heavy favorite to rule the 53-kilogram category had women’s weightlifting not removed from the calendar.

Lightweight Charlie Suarez was a shoo-in to keep his crown but had to be elevated and was forced to fight as a junior-welterweight and lost what could have been a gold medal. The welterweight division was also not contested.

These were only a few of the problems that confronted the embattled national contingent when it left the country for the Games’ site.

At least three members of the 485-athlete delegation withdrew from participation on the eve of departure, including mixed doubles tennis champion Treat Conrad Huey. A sure gold medal winner in pole vaulter EJ Obiena suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury while Patrick Unso opted to sit out to rest his recurring injury.

The host country, likewise, set the qualifying age for gymnastics at 18 when the Olympic rule is 16 disallowing talented 17-year-old Caloy Yulo who would’ve been a shoo-in for the gold in at least one event. The Philippines’ request to apply the Olympic rule was denied to compete. A Philippine request to allow him to take pat was rejected.

Another plea for sprint king and double gold medallist Eric Cray more recovery time in between events was denied. Forcing the Fil-American to run four times in a span of few hours losing his 100-meter crown he won, along with the 400 hurdles to years ago.

Not only the Philippines though came as victim of the “dagdag-bawas” scheme applied by Malaysia. Singapore second place overall Singapore dropped to third in the medals sanding, its 84-gold harvest in its turf was reduced to 57 his year. Vietnam, third placer the last time around with 73-gold haul retained its placing but with only 58 this year.

Perennial overall kingpin Indonesia, likewise, remained at fifth with 38 gold medals, nine less than its 47 in 2015. Only Laos benefited from Malaysia’s “game plan” winning a pair of gold mints as compared to zero in Singapore

National sports associations whose sports were played in K.L. were hopeful at the start of the country’s campaign, projecting a haul of 63 gold medals, a total that would have been the nation’s best since 2005, when it hosted the SEA Games and finished with 113 golds.

Chef de mission and gymnastics association president Cynthia Carrion reduced the projection to 50 god medals, a more modest total but still ambitious, considering the Philippines’ performance in the past two editions of the SEA Games. Filipino athletes managed only 29 golds in Singapore in 2015, and 29 as well in Napyidaw in 2013.

But as the SEA Games come to a close at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on Wednesday evening, Team Philippines did not even manage to match their output from two years ago, much less come close to Carrion’s projection.

Team Philippines went home with only 24 golds – their fewest since the 1999 SEA Games in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei where only 233 gold medals at stake, a stark contrast to the 404 mints that were contested in the Malaysian capital.

Triathletes Kim Mangrobang and Nikko Huelgas led Team Philippines’ clean sweep of the women’s and men’s divisions of the sport.

Mary Joy Tabal and Trenten Beram were at the forefront of the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association’s (Patafa) campaign as they delivered a total of three of the federation’s five gold medals in the biennial meet.

Tabal, the girl her own association tried to eliminate from the roster ruled the women’s marathon event while Beram dominated the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter runs.

Also contributing to the medal harvest of Patafa was Cray in the men’s 400-meter hurdles and Aries Toledo in the men’s decathlon to underscore Patafa’s five gold, three silver and 10 bronze medals.

Other athletes who contributed to the country’s medal haul this year are those from taekwondo, billiards, gymnastics and boxing.

The jins finished with two gold, three silver and four bronze medals while the cue artists chipped in two gold, a silver and two bronze medals.

National gymnasts, behind the masterful performance of rookie Caitlyn Dela Cruz, copped two gold, a silver and three bronze medals while the boxers managed to conquer two gold, a silver and two bronze medals to finish second behind powerhouse Thailand despite sending only six boxers.

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