PH set for battle as Asiad opens
INCHEON, South Korea—With a theme that highlighted the diversity of a continent’s culture, the 17th Asian Games officially got going with elaborate opening ceremonies on Friday night at Incheon Main Stadium here.
A 150-strong Philippine contingent will be part of the 9,429 athletes competing in 36 sports here, hoping to better a 3-4-9 gold-silver-bronze haul from the last staging of this quadrennial event in Guangzhou, China.
That will be easier said than done, though.
The Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee trimmed the calendar of sports, excising Philippine medal possibilities such as billiards, dancesport, dragon boat and chess.
For most of this year’s Asiad, a lot will rest on the shoulders of athletes from boxing and taekwondo, plus the celebrated Gilas Pilipinas men’s basketball team.
But even with the pronouncement of chief of mission Ritchie Garcia, the chair of the Philippine Sports Commission, that only potential medalists were flown here to compete against Asia’s best, the delegation is blanketed under an air of guarded optimism.
The national boxing federation, for instance, has shielded its athletes from the glare of expectations, promising only its best for flag and country.
“We are aware of the expectations,” said boxing association secretary general Ed Picson. “But I don’t want them to weigh heavily on our boxers’ minds. We just propped their confidence level by giving them the best preparation our resources allowed.”
“The draw will still be a factor but our boxers are in competitive form,” Picson added. “Kazakhstan is strong and (South) Korea will want to do well, not to mention China, Uzbekistan and Thailand.”
The eight-man boxing team will plane in Saturday along with Gilas Pilipinas (See related story below).
Wushu, another discipline counted on to deliver whatever leftover medals are there to scrap for in an event typically dominated by China, South Korea and Japan, opens its bid on Saturday at Ganghwa Dolmen’s Stadium.
The wushu team begins its campaign at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. in Manila) minus one player after Evita Elise Zamora (women’s Sanda 60 kg) withdrew due to an injured knee. Jean Claude Saclag (men’s Sanda 60 kg), Divine Wally (women’s Sanda 60 kg) and Francisco Solis (men’s Sanda 56 kg) will make up the wushu squad.
A darkhorse here will be the country’s tennis team, which will also kick off its campaign on Saturday.
The women’s tennis team of Dennis Dy and Katharina Melissa Lehnert and the men’s team of Patrick John Tierro, Ruben Gonzales, Jr. and Treat Condrad Huey start their campaigns at 10 a.m. (9 a.m. in Manila) at Yeorumul Tennis Courts.
Although the Filipino women were scheduled to take on host South Korea, the match wasn’t on the official start list yet. The men, however, are officially slated to open up against Mongolia.
The Philippines actually has a chance to medal on Saturday.
Weightlifter Nestor Colonia will compete in the 56 kg category at Moonlight Festival Garden at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. in Manila), hoping his personal best (280 kg) can land him on the podium in an event that features 2012 Olympics gold medalist Om Yun-chol of North Korea and London Games silver-medal winner Wu Jingbao of China.
Kicking off the Filipinos’ exploits here will be shooters Eric Ang and Hagen Alexander Topacio in the men’s trap qualification at 9:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. in Manila) at Gyeonggido range.
About 40 minutes later at Chungju Tangeum Lake International Rowing Center, veteran Benjamin Tolentino competes in lightweight single sculls while Nestor Cordova and Edgar Ilas go for broke in the lightweight double sculls.
Garcia earlier said the Philippines had made sure that every athlete in the delegation will be competitive in the Asiad.
“Our stringent criteria ensured that only the best entries, only the most qualified athletes will set foot in this village,” said Garcia. “That is why we have only 150 of our best athletes entered here.”
Garcia and a slice of the Philippine delegation paraded into the Incheon Main Stadium behind flag-bearer Geylord Coveta, a world champion windsurfer who is touted to strike gold here. Coveta, however, had himself checked Friday morning due to a swollen hand, an injury he described as something that had been “on-and-off” the past couple of years.
Coveta, who replaced Gilas beanpole Japeth Aguilar for the flag-toting chores, will undergo therapy with the delegation’s medical staff under physical therapist Marlon Dagatan.
Also looked upon to deliver gold in the event that will run until Oct. 5 are BMX rider Daniel Caluag and the country’s national bowlers.
Garcia had earlier told journalists during Thursday’s flag-raising ceremony at the athletes’ village that the country could bag seven gold medals or more.