As gold hunt begins, spotlight falls on women’s volleyball
JAKARTA—In recent years, one sport has emerged in popularity and sparked a boom back home, with two commercial leagues providing lucrative careers for its players, who have reached the celebrity status that was once the sole domain of basketball stars.
Now, women’s volleyball in the Philippines gets a chance to measure itself against a continental yardstick when the country’s first squad in 36 years in the Asian Games opens its campaign against what its coach calls “the gold standard” Sunday afternoon at Gelora Bung Karno’s (GBK) Tennis Courts here.
“We’re very excited to play Thailand because they are the gold standard in Asian volleyball,” Shaq delos Santos told scribes Saturday after practice. “We waited a long time to be back in the Asian Games, so we might as well give it our best shot.”
To say that Team Philippines prepared for the Asiad as best as it could is an understatement. It had just come from a two-week training camp in Japan and barely saw family before flying over to this city known as Asia’s version of the Big Apple.
For enigmatic star Alyssa Valdez, it’s all worth it.
“It’s a big thing being able to represent your country, and in the Asian Games at that,” the former Ateneo ace said. “We’re here to give it all we have. That’s our biggest asset.”
Delos Santos said that playing in this tournament where his wards are great underdogs will count for a lot.
“We need tough competitions like this to develop our chemistry,” he said. “This [team] is a work in progress. We improved a lot [after the Japan trip]. We trained hard for this and we are ready.”
Thailand has lorded it over the Southeast Asian region longer than some of the Filipino volleybelles have been alive. The Thais have won the last 11 editions of the SEA Games and are ranked 16th in the world as of August last year.
Volleyball’s return to the Games—and Jordan Clarkson’s arrival to join Gilas Pilipinas—has drowned the start of other events Sunday for the Philippines, which will be in the hunt for 20 gold medals with entries in swimming, shooting, fencing, wushu and wrestling.
Seven titles will be up for grabs in swimming at the Aquatic Center of GBK Stadium with the country pinning its hopes on Jasmine Alkhaldi even as the men’s and women’s poomsae squads see action as the country tries to better its one-gold haul in the 2014 edition in Incheon.
Jayson Valdez and Amparo Teresa Acuña try to shoot their way to podium finishes in the 10m air rifle and mixed pistol events with wushu also staking a gold in men’s changquan, where the Philippines has eight entries.
The Philippines also opens its women’s softball campaign against Hong Kong.
Elaborate opening rites—where 12,500 fireworks launched 100 feet into the air—featuring the traditional parade of athletes formally brought the curtains up on the Games.
Clarkson acted as the Philippine flag-bearer.
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