Kaila Napolis turns tables on scheduling strategy on her way to milestone SEA Games gold | Inquirer Sports

Kaila Napolis turns tables on scheduling strategy on her way to milestone SEA Games gold

/ 06:41 PM May 08, 2023

kaila napolis sea games gold

Kaila Napolis wins the Philippines’ first gold medal in the SEA Games 2023. –CAMBODIA 2023

Quick, which Filipinos won the first gold medal for the country in the previous two editions of the Southeast Asian Games?

While winning the first gold medal for the national delegation is a celebrated achievement during the opening days of the biennial meet, recalling the piece of trivia over time requires a little mental workout for casual sports fans.


One person who will easily remember?


The athlete.

“It felt great,” Kaila Napolis told the Inquirer via a phone call on Sunday, three days after breaking the golden ice for Team Philippines in Cambodia.

Napolis understands that it is just a matter of scheduling that bestows the athlete such an honor. In her case, that matter of scheduling may have been a little more contrived than usual.

“It kind of felt like to me that [the organizers] really scheduled our match that way because they wanted that [event] to produce their first gold medal,” Napolis said.
That had a lot to do with her opponent.

In the women’s jiujitsu 52-kg final, the 25-year-old Napolis was slated to face a familiar foe in Jessa Khan, who is not only a highly popular fighter and athlete in Cambodia, Napolis said, “but in the US jiujitsu circuit as well.”

Kaila Napolis of the Philippines locks up Cambodia’s Jessa Khan.

Kaila Napolis of the Philippines locks up Cambodia’s Jessa Khan. TEAM PHILIPPINES PHOTO

The 21-year-old Khan, who is of Cambodian-Mexican heritage, is the 2018 Asian Games champion in 49kg and also bagged a bronze in the recent European Championship held in Paris. She also won the light-featherweight title of the IBJJF Santa Cruz International Open just two weeks ago. And it looked as if SEA


Games organizers this year wanted to polish her résumé even more.

“It felt like they wanted her to win the first gold for Cambodia,” she said.

That certainly stoked Napolis’ already burning motivation.

Khan had defeated the Filipino fighter before, in the 2019 SEA Games held in Manila. And Napolis still remembers the heartache of losing in front of her countrymen.

“It hurt … that fight was really close,” she recalled.

Napolis was ahead by two points in that match and eventually lost by advantage to Khan.

And now, she felt that organizers wanted her to be a footnote to a glorious start for the host country.

“But I really did not want to be the loss in their first gold,” Napolis said, laughing.

Toward the end of the fight, she had Khan locked under her and flashed a confident smile—which turned out to carry a little more emotion.

“I was also anxious,” she said. “I was actually looking at my teammates because I felt I was already in a stable position to get the two points. And my teammates were all shouting ‘two points, two points’. But the mat referee didn’t award it. It was actually the table referee that decided I was stable enough to earn that two points.”

And with those two points came the gold.

And it surprised Napolis that immediately after clinching the gold, it wasn’t just the memory of her loss to Khan that flooded her thoughts.

“Everything [came rushing in], all the hard work and the things I had gone through with my coaches and my teammates and everyone. They all came to my mind and made me realize that all that was worth it now that I won,” she said.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Perhaps knowing her story may help people recall the answer to this trivia question a little more easily: Who won the first gold for Team Philippines in the 32nd edition of the Southeast Asian Games?

Kaila Napolis, that’s who.


Kaila Napolis gets sweet payback on decorated Cambodian foe for SEA Games gold

On eve of all-female PH parade, jiujitsu’s woman warrior gets sweet revenge on 2019 tormentor for first gold

TAGS: Cambodia SEA Games, Kaila Napolis

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.