Strong start for Team PH: 23 gold medals in 8 events
MANILA, Philippines — From the clear waters and well-paved roads of Subic Boardwalk to a dance hall somewhere in New Clark City and to that 85-year-old edifice in Manila that just had a major face-lift, Team Philippine athletes bamboozled Day 1 opposition in the 30th Southeast Asian Games and gave this country the start it needed.
Triathletes with God-given endurance, dancers who use sleek, gyrating moves, and a 19-year-old, pint-sized wunderkind who lives a few blocks from the refurbished Rizal Memorial Sports Complex cranked up the Philippine gold medal machine on Sunday as the Filipinos left the rest of the 11-nation field eating their dust.
Kim Mangrobang and John Leerams Chicano highlighted a golden sweep of both divisions in triathlon, groovy dance pairs collared six wins, and gymnast Carlos Yulo triumphed as expected in the men’s all-around as the Philippines scooped up 23 gold medals and is well on its way to a projected overall triumph for the first time in 14 years.
The last time the Philippines reigned supreme in the biennial event was also the last time the country opened its doors to its Southeast Asian neighbors in 2005, amassing 112 gold medals for its first and only overall championship. (See related stories in Sports, Pages A17-A19.)
That mark looks to be as brittle as it could be with the country’s chef de mission getting a projection of as many as 274 golds. As of 9:50 p.m. on Sunday, the Filipinos were just one gold medal short of tying their effort in the 2017 Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where they finished a hobbling sixth overall.
It was the kind of opening day performance expected from the huge Philippine contingent, which got all the emotional boost it needed on Saturday during grandiose opening ceremonies at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan province, where President Duterte led a cheering crowd of close to 50,000.
Chicano, a former bike mechanic, outpaced teenage sensation Kim Remolino in the final kilometers of the swim-bike-run race and clocked one-hour, 53 minutes and 26 seconds, which now stands as a new Games mark, though triathlon president Tom Carrasco feels his charges have a long way to go in coming close to the Olympic standard.
“We may be tops in the region, but we’re still far from the standards of the Asian Games and the Olympics,” Carrasco told the Inquirer after the twin wins. “We have to look beyond the Southeast Asian Games if we have to raise our triathletes to a higher level.”
Still, that doesn’t take anything away from a joyous nation that is trying to find something good and uplifting in these Games, which have been maligned in all forms of media because of enormous spending and allegations of corruption.
Remolino and Kim Kilgroe settled for silver medals to play down the dominating performance of local athletes in their punishing event. Team Philippines, as of this writing, also had five silver and the same number of bronze medals.
The duathlon teams now take their shots at duplicating triathlon’s golden feats, with Jerwyn Banatao, Joey delos Reyes and Monica Torres and Chesea Sabado plunging into action also at Subic Boardwalk.
Carrasco expressed optimism of a dominant men’s effort, while saying that Torres has the edge on the women’s field.
The country’s last duathlon gold medal came in 2007 in Thailand, courtesy of Ryan Mendoza.
Wushu’s Agatha Wong actually won the third gold, coming on the heels of Chicano and Mangrobang’s triathlon triumphs by dominating women’s taijijian event before the dancers did their thing with the pair of Seana Mischa Aranar and Leonila Nualla winning a total of three gold medals highlighted by a victory in the standard overall (all five dances).
Real life sweethearts Mark Jayson Gayon and Mary Joy Renigen pocketed two gold medals, winning the foxtrot and waltz classes before Pearl Marie Caneda and Wilber Aunzo ran away with samba/Latin event later in the day.
Caneda-Aunzo weren’t done, coming back to the dance floor to win the rumba and cha-cha and tie the Aranar-Nualla pair as the most bemedaled in their sport.
Michael Angelo Marquez and Stephanie Sabalo ruled the Latin five dances and pasadoble events to round up the Filipinos’ productive day.
Arnis, the country’s own martial art, contributed four gold medals to the Philippine cache after victories by Villardo Canumay (men’s 65 kg), Nino Mark Toledo (men’s 60 kg), Dexter Bolambao (men’s 55 kg) and Mike Banares (over-65-kg men).
The women’s and men’s hoop teams also posted victories in sepak takraw before Yulo wowed a sellout crowd at Rizal Memorial Coliseum that cheered the place’s proverbial son.
“The home crowd played a huge part in our win,” said Jason Huerte, who teamed up with the veteran Metodio Suico Jr. for the men’s hoop gold, a sepak victory that the Filipinos never experienced in the past. “It felt so good to be cheered by the crowd at home.”
John John Bobier, Emmanuel Escote, Christian George Encabo and John Jeffrey Morcellos helped in the golden effort where the Filipinos smothered Cambodia, 670-450, in the gold medal match.
Yulo, who won the world title in the floor exercise in Stuttgart, Germany, a couple of months ago, was in a class by himself in the all-around, tallying a total of 84.900 points to easily beat Vietnam’s Dinh Phuong Than and Le Thahn Tung, who scored 82.360 and 81.700, respectively.
Like the triathlon president who wants his athletes to excel in a bigger event for the country, Yulo is being groomed to win at least a medal in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with the field he will encounter there basically the same one that he beat in Germany for the country’s first world gymnastics title.