Asian Games 2023: Filipino athletes to watch out for in China (Part 1)
The Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 in 2023 is the next big field of play for Filipino athletes after the Olympics and outside of their respective world championships.
From among the 396 athletes from 40 sports who will bring their act to the 19th Asian Games in China on Sept. 23-Oct. 8, a few bright spots could emerge atop the medal platform.
EJ OBIENA (men’s pole vault)
Hands-down a surefire gold winner if everything goes according to plan, EJ Obiena only has to go through the motions of clearing the best possible height to his liking and the trip atop the podium will be clear as sunshine.
The world’s third-ranked vaulter recently accomplished another record-shattering feat by taking the silver medal behind world champion Armand Duplantis in the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
But Obiena, who retained his Asian championships title two months ago in Bangkok, Thailand, feels that he has unfinished business in the Asian Games after landing outside of the medal stands in 2018 Indonesia.
So expect the Italy-based 27-year-old to go all out on this one with his final jump attempting to erase his own Asian standard of six meters.
KAYLA NOELLE SANCHEZ (swimming)
The excitement was palpable when Kayla Noelle Sanchez announced with clear intent her desire to wear the national colors in all major overseas tournaments over a year ago.
From a pair of astounding medal performances for Canada’s relay team in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the 22-year-old who grew up with both Filipino parents in Toronto just couldn’t wait to dive into pool for Team Philippines in the Asian Games.
This will be Sanchez’s maiden competition under the country’s tri-colors and medals are expected to pour in the women’s 50-meter and 100-m freestyle as well as in the 100m backstroke, events where she could rule based on Asian Games clockings.
Sanchez can break the spell of nearly three decades of podium mishits for the national swimming team with just a single medal. Making it three can be a lot more better for a swim squad that last won an Asiad gold back in 1982 New Delhi courtesy of William Wilson in the men’s 200m freestyle.
HIDILYN DIAZ-NARANJO (weightlifting)
The country’s first and only Olympic gold medalist will be back in the Asian Games after emerging triumphant in 2018 Jakarta.
But Diaz-Naranjo won’t be competing in the women’s 53kg anymore and decided to try her luck in the 59kg in a bid to secure an Olympic berth for the fifth consecutive time next year in Paris.
Diaz-Naranjo pulled off a gold-medal coup during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 55kg, a weight class scratched from the Paris program
Finishing fourth at 59kg in the Asian weightlifting championships held in Jinju, South Korea last May, Diaz-Naranjo is destined to face great odds for a repeat act in the Asiad.
But for Hidilyn, the cliché “don’t underestimate the heart of a champion’’ always holds true.
NESTHY PETECIO (women’s boxing)
Right after claiming a silver medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Nesthy Petecio vowed for another tour of duty atop the Olympic ring and make it gold next year in Paris. Petecio’s appearance in the finals of the women’s 57kg in the Asian Games will be her ticket back to the Olympics.
This year’s Asiad has been penciled in as a continental Olympic qualifier, the easiest pathway for Asians since the two succeeding qualification meets for Paris will be swamped by boxers from all continents.
The former featherweight world champion hasn’t won a medal in the Asian Games and it would be nice to pair that victory with an assured reservation in the French capital.
MARGIELYN DIDAL (skateboarding)
Margielyn Didal’s sudden rise to prominence came instantly after bagging the fourth and final gold medal of Team Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games.
The fearless Cebuana skateboard warrior even fueled her fame by pocketing two more golds during the Philippine hosting of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games held in Tagaytay City.
Didal joined Christiana Means as the first Filipino women skaters to compete in the Street League Skateboarding World Championships in 2019 held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil and donned the national colors again in the Tokyo Olympics, placing seventh overall in the finals.
The 24-year-old Didal hurt her ankle badly during the Red Bull Skate Levels late last year in Brazil. She immediately underwent surgery and is expected to be in the pink of health once the Team Philippines flag-bearer in the Hangzhou Games opening ceremony defends her Asiad title.
CARLO PAALAM (boxing)
Carlo Paalam made his Olympic debut in the previous Summer Games and quickly became an overnight sensation following a silver medal in the men’s flyweight division of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Just like fellow Olympic silver performer Nesthy Petecio, the 25-year-old from Talakag, Bukidnon is raring to return to the Olympics next year in Paris to fulfill an unfinished objective of snaring the gold medal.
Paalam is likewise determined to seize an Olympic berth through the Asian Games, installed as the continental Olympic qualifier in the sport.
The challenge will be much greater though, since Paalam was forced to go up from his normal fighting weight of 51kg to featherweight (57kg) after the flyweight division was expunged from the Paris program.
He put his gloves on as a bantamweight (54kg) in the Cambodia SEA Games early this year and easily struck gold. Paalam was a flyweight bronze performer at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, making the work in the coming Asiad cut out for him.
EUMIR FELIX MARCIAL (boxing)
Turning professional prior to the Tokyo Olympics skillfully worked in Eumir Marcial’s favor with an Olympic bronze medal to boot.
The 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist in the middleweight division has been dying for a return trip to the Olympics in 2024 Paris and will use the Asian Games as his springboard to success.
Without a single defeat in four professional fights, the four-time SEA Games champion Marcial sees the possible Paris stint as his swan song in amateur boxing.
But similar to Carlo Paalam’s dilemma, Marcial has no recourse but to go up the ladder in the light heavyweight division (80kg) at the Asian Games, making it a possible trip wire to his Olympic golden dream.
The 27-year-old slugger from Zamboanga City, however, maintains an ultra positive mindset of getting the job done since the light heavy class is, in fact, his walking weight.