Gilas women, Eric Cray lead Philippines’ closing burst
There’s a first for everything, even in Philippine women’s basketball, which seemed to have had a monopoly of heartbreaks in Southeast Asian Games past.
The National cagebelles, determined to the core and with an entire nation having their backs, finally ended an age of frustration Tuesday night by masterfully dismantling perennial titlist Thailand, 91-71, for their first gold medal in the biennial meet that highlighted Team Philippines’ closing burst for the 30th edition of this region’s Olympics.
With only the beach handball finals to be played on Wednesday before the curtains fall on what should be “the best SEA Games ever,” the Filipino juggernaut didn’t relent one bit as wins came from all fronts with the Filipino cagebelles putting on a show at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay to complete another first for the country in the sport: a sweep of all four events counting the men’s and women’s 3×3 and the sure gold of the Gilas men later in the night.
It was an impressive ending to the Gilas Women’s campaign, which saw them dethrone Malaysia in the Final Four to enter the title game as the decided underdogs against Thailand, a country that dealt them some of their bitterest defeats, including that one in 2011 when the Filipinos lost a two-point lead with just over a second left to play in the gold medal match in Indonesia.
The win gave the huge Philippine delegation its 146th gold medal as the interesting sidelight left in the overall race being the battle for the crumbs with only a gold medal separating second-running Vietnam from Thailand as of 7:31 p.m. Tuesday.
Together with 115 silver and 116 bronze medals, the Philippines had an astounding total of 376, as it did a pretty good job at planning everything in this hosting by involving all sports that the country could dominate. The surprises, like that of the cagebelles, only added to the domination.
Three times has the Philippines hosted the Games, and this mind-boggling gold total coming from 56 sports is the most won by any country since this biennial event came into being in 1977.
“I’m just so happy because we fulfilled our mission,” said coach Pat Aquino. “The girls deserve this. All of their hard work finally saw fruit and it is also with this win that we hope that women’s basketball also gets the attention—and recognition—it deserves in this country.”
“We did our part, and I think it is just fair that the girls are recognized for what they did,” Aquino said.
There was one first that didn’t happen for Team Philippines over at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, though, when the men’s volleyball squad—riding a wave of adoration from a country that expected more from its women’s squad—was brought back down to earth by Indonesia, 25-21, 27-25, 25-17, in their gold medal match that was wildly cheered by a raucous gallery that tried to egg the national spikers to no avail.
Annie Ramirez, the former judo star in the Asian Indoor Games and four-time MVP in the UAAP, won her first SEA Games gold that came from another sport, jiujitsu, after a 3-0 win over Malaysia’s Cassandra Poyong in the -55-kilogram division at Laus Events Center in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Adrian Guggenheim, who submitted Indonesia’s Willy Willy, won the -70-kg class for men as the Filipinos won a total of five golds in the sport.
Gray bounces back
Eric Cray, the 31-year-old Filipino-American who was a big disappointment in the men’s century dash over the weekend after being disqualified in the heats for two false starts, bagged a second gold medal after winning the 400-meter hurdles as athletics got into twin digits as far as gold medals are concerned with a total of 10.
Cray clocked 50.21 seconds and failed to gain outright Olympic entry in Tokyo next year with the qualifying time set at 48.90 seconds. A two-time Olympian, Cray also didn’t come close to matching his personal best of 49.40 seconds in ruling this event for the fourth straight edition.
Field athletes also obliterated three Games marks with Kristine Knott resetting the 200-m sprint record for women with a time of 23.1 seconds, and pole vaulters EJ Obiena and Natalie Rose Uy establishing new records in their divisions with efforts of 5.35 and 4.25 m, respectively.
Arnis is hands-down the most prolific sport for the Filipinos with 14 wins, with dancesports also chipping in 10 as those two disciplines keyed the Filipinos’ early breakaway in the overall race, with both happening in the first four days.
After the athletes had given this country joy in the last 10 days, the government threw something more to make them happier campers, with President Duterte joining in the merrymaking by adding a significant amount to the bonanza that all the medal winners are about to make.
An additional P250,000 was pledged by Malacañang, making it a cool P850,000 for every win as the likes of Carlos Yulo will be making at least P1.7 million for his two gymnastics victories.
A second gold in kickboxing came courtesy of Gina Iniong, who held off reunion plans with her seafarer husband to be in her best possible shape for a crack at a win.
Iniong turned Thailand’s Apichaya Minkhwan, 3-0, in the -55kg light kick final at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City to join Jerry Olsim as the Filipino kickboxing champions here.
The Philippines can have another gold medal should Jean Claude Saclag defeat Mohammed Mahmoud in the -63.5kg low kick final also slated for Tuesday.
Shooting contributed with Olympian Eric Ang and Carlos Carag seizing the trap gold. INQ
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