Bringing its best aces to Hanoi, PH sets sights on prize bigger than overall title
The Philippines has no pretensions of retaining the overall title in the Southeast Asian Games that formally begins on Thursday.
Traditionally, the host country takes home that trophy.
But it doesn’t mean the Filipino athletes will lack for inspiration to go out and hunt down golds for the country. For instance, on Wednesday, 18-year-old Mary Francine Padios nailed Team Philippines’ first gold medal in the biennial meet here for her bedridden father, who has been in a coma since December.
Padios, from Aklan, shone in her routine to capture the gold medal in women’s semi tunggal in pencak silat, beating favored Indonesian Arum Sari (9.960-9.945) at Bac Tu Liem Sporting Hall with a performance as passionate as her fervent wish.
“I would have loved to talk to him but he’s now comatose. But I know he’s proud of me,” said Padios of her father, Jerome, who met a car accident while on his way home from Iloilo to Aklan. He fell asleep on the wheel and crashed into a bus. He has been in the intensive care unit of the Iloilo Medical Center since then.
Based on the Incentives Act law, Padios stands to receive P300,000 from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), an amount she said would be a big help to a family that has been dealing with rising hospital costs.
Philippine Pencak Silat Association president Princess Jacel Kiram said that when the federation heard of the accident, officials allowed Padios to take a 10-day break from the team’s bubble training in Nueva Vizcaya to visit her father.
“But after a few days she went back into the bubble saying she wants to continue training and win the gold,” said Kiram. “She said that’s what her father would want her to do.”
“I knew from the very start that she would win this one,” added Kiram. ”She has the determination and that attitude.”
“I really gave my all in my performance because so many things depend on me,” said Padios in Filipino. “This is very important and my nerves were also at an all-time high.”
Vietnam on Wednesday wasted no time proving it would continue the trend of host country’s gobbling up a bulk of the golds at stake.
So instead of battling for the most golds, the Philippines, according to its top sports officials, will be showcasing a new breed of world-class athletes all competing here as favorites and using this regional meet as building blocks for their Olympic campaign set for Paris in two years.
“It will be a difficult task [to retain the title] because we don’t have the advantage of our friendly host,” said Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino. “But we will be putting up a really good fight because we are now regaining our old stature as an athletic force in Southeast Asia.”
The likes of Hidilyn Diaz, Ernest John Obiena, Carlos Edriel Yulo and the vaunted boxing team are expected to dominate their respective events because of their statuses as world beaters, but Diaz, the country’s first Olympic gold medalist, cautioned against taking their regional rivals lightly.
“Every one of us [in the weightlifting team] can win a gold medal and I can’t cite names because all of us are doing our best to perform at the highest level,” said Diaz. “I can’t make any prediction since all [my opponents] are capable of winning a gold medal.”
The country also collected two silvers via Olympian Cris Nievarez and CJ Jasmin in rowing men’s doubles sculls, and Helen Aclopen in women’s 48-kilogram kurash. Four more bronzes complete the day’s pickings for the country which amassed 149 golds, 117 silvers and 121 bronzes in capturing the 2019 crown back in Manila.
Hot Vietnam start
Even with the Games’ cauldron still to be lit at My Dhin National Stadium, Vietnam has already amassed seven gold medals, leading Malaysia, which copped six, Indonesia with three and Singapore, Thailand and Philippines with one each as of 5 p.m.
Obiena, the world No. 5 pole vaulter, will banner the track and field team when he sees action on Saturday. The country won 11 gold medals in the centerpiece event three years ago.
“This edition presented extra challenges given the pandemic,” said PSC Chair Butch Ramirez. “I’m keeping my faith in the heart of our national athletes to overcome and come home victorious. I hope our athletes will not only win, but will also truly experience the Games while they are there.”
Most of the 656 Filipino athletes have arrived here to compete in 38 of 40 sports fanned out across the country.
World champion Yulo will begin competing on Friday in the men’s artistic gymnastics at Quan Ngura Sports Palace. Boxing’s Olympic medalists Nesthy Petecio and Eumir Felix Marcial and fellow Tokyo Olympian Irish Magno begin their quests on Tuesday.
Diaz will be competing in the women’s 55kg starting on May 19 with the host of heirs apparent, including Vanessa Sarno, Elreen Ando, Kristel Macrohon and Rosegie Ramos.
Inquirer’s special coverage of the Hanoi SEA Games 2021.
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