Triathlon golden sweep was planned front act for PH SEA Games romp
Winning the first gold medal for the Philippines gave triathlon unprecedented national attention and a disproportionate share of media coverage and mileage in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in early December.It was by design, not coincidence, that John ‘’Rambo’’ Chicano’s gold in the men’s individual triathlon, the first medal event early in the morning of the first full day of SEA Games competition, would open the floodgates for the gold rush that shoved the Philippines on top of the final medal standings.
Of course, the hosts wanted to win the first gold to set a winning tone for next 11 days of the Games. The Philippine duo of the veteran Chicano, the silver medalist in 2017, and the youngster Kim Remolino was a sure bet for a 1-2 finish. So at the break of dawn on Dec. 1, the pair plunged into the still waters of Subic Bay to launch the Philippine campaign. And what an opening act it was.
Chicano, the one-time janitor and bike mechanic known by the nickname Rambo, strode home to the finish line literally with flying colors—the Philippine flag flapping behind him as photographers and cameramen fell over one another to capture the moment at the crowded finish line. Remolino sprinted home a couple of minutes later.
The Philippine domination of swim-bike-run event in the Games was even more pronounced in the women’s side with the two lasses—Kim Mangrobang and Kim Kilgroe—left with no opposition but each other. After a spirited duel in the swimming and cycling legs, Mangrobang, the defending champion, sprinted away off the bike and took the gold. Kilgroe finished second with the rest of the field nowhere in sight at the finish line.
Chicano and Mangrobang won their second gold the next day as they teamed up with 2015 gold medalist and 2017 silver medalist Claire Adorna and Spanish-Filipino Fernando Casares in the triathlon mixed doubles, a new event that will make its debut in the Tokyo Olympics.
Duathlon, a run-bike-run event also under the multisport umbrella, produced another gold, courtesy of a ‘’guest’’ athlete, longtime triathlon queen Monica Torres, who donned the Philippine colors for the first time in nine years.Filipino triathletes won only three of the 149 gold medals that put the Philippines on top of the overall medal standings of the SEA Games, but they provided the spark that triggered the gold medal rush. (In contrast, non-Olympic events like arnis and dancesport struck the mother lode with a combined total of 24 golds.)The SEA Games golden sweep capped a banner year for triathlon. It was a fruitful season in particular for the Triathlon Association of the Philippines (TRAP), the local affiliate of the International Triathlon Union, the world governing body of the Olympic sport.‘’We are on track,’’ said an obviously elated TRAP president Tom Carrasco.
TRAP’s yearlong National Age Group Triathlon series continued to spread the swim-bike-run gospel to all age groups all over the country with events ranging from sprints and mini-sprints to the standard Olympic distance of 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-km bike and 10-km run.
Sunrise Events, which holds the Philippine Ironman franchise, went through a transition in 2019. It was acquired in midyear by Ironman Group, which is part of Wanda Sports Group, the Chinese-owned global sports and marketing conglomerate that now owns the Ironman brand.
The Ironman Group retained Sunrise founder Fred Uytengsu as its ambassador and Princess Galura as general manager. The new owner said it would also retain the expanded program of Sunrise, which includes the 70.3 events in Subic, Cebu and Davao, the expansion of the 5150 series and the IronKids, and the collaboration with Go for Gold in its sprints series.
“They needed to consolidate worldwide assets, and that included licensed territories. Sunrise Events was one of the biggest licensees outside the United States and the pioneer in Asia. As Asia is the growth region for Ironman, the necessity to acquire Sunrise Events was obvious. We have built the brand and market, ensuring a sustainable business. We are very proud of what we have accomplished,’’ Uytengsu said.
While Subic continued to be the hub of triathlon events, new venues joined the triathlon map with the New Clark City previewing the venue of the SEA Games as competition and training center and Zamboanga City spicing up its annual Hermosa Festival with the inaugural Compressport Hermosa Triathlon organized by Fuerza Multisport.
With new events came new sponsors, new organizers and new triathletes.
The year also saw outstanding performances with old and new faces outside of the SEA Games. The veteran August Benedicto continued his reign as the country’s top long-distance triathlete, finishing as the top Asian elite in two of the three 70.3 Ironman races in the country. He topped the Alveo 70.3 Ironman in Davao in March and the Century Tuna 70.3 Ironman in Subic in June. But in August, he finished second to Nikko Huelgas in the Regent Aguila 70.3 Ironman in Cebu, the crown jewel of Ironman races in the Philippines.
Huelgas, winner of the SEA Games triathlon in 2015 and 2017, was sidelined from the Games this year due to injuries and poor results. But he did manage to win his first 70.3 race in Cebu.
Mangrobang, who became the queen of Philippine triathlon by winning the gold in 2017 SEA Games after playing second fiddle in the reigns of Torres and Adorna, moved closer to becoming the first Filipino triathlete to enter the Olympics. Training in Portugal and with sponsorship support from San Miguel Corp., she will be seeking to earn points in the continental races in Asia, Europe and the Americas and climb up the Asian rankings to win a berth in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She has four months to clinch it. In the points standings, she is currently ranked 113th in the world and 14th in Asia.“I hope she makes it to Tokyo,’’ Carrasco said. It’s a tall order for this diminutive girl from Laguna, but her young life has been all about beating the odds.
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