‘I love you!’ SEA Games goes gaga over Efren ‘Bata’ Reyes
The 67-year-old, regarded as one of the world’s finest players in his heyday, faced off against local hope Tran Quyet Chien in a three-cushion billiards quarter-final in Hanoi.
Thousands of people packed Ha Dong Gymnasium in the Vietnamese capital with many there to catch a glimpse of Reyes take on an opponent 29 years his junior.
Cheers erupted from the mostly Vietnamese crowd as Chien quickly took an initial 12-point lead over Reyes, who is nicknamed ‘The Magician’ for his skill at the table in his glory days.
But there were also loud hurrahs as Reyes threatened to conjure up a comeback, before Chien pulled away for an easy victory.
The two men smiled and shook hands, before Reyes left out the hall’s back way as hundreds of young fans dashed out the exits, chasing after their hero.
Retreating to a room for his own safety, he was later escorted by several policemen — including one who dangled a crackling taser at fans who got too close — to a waiting bus.
Declining to speak to reporters, he waved regally as his ride left the venue with a few of his fans crying out in English: “I love you!”
Reyes began his professional career in 1978 and has won over 100 titles, including two golds, in English billiards and snooker, at the 1987 SEA Games.
But his career has taken a nosedive in recent years and he has been left with a succession of bronze medals in the regional showpiece, the latest coming earlier in the Games in the Vietnamese capital in another event.
Billiards is popular in Vietnam with many players competing internationally and halls dedicated to the game scattered across Hanoi.