Obiena, Didal lead PH parade as Asian Games officially open
HANGZHOU, China—Postponed for a year chiefly due to the pandemic, the delay that hit the 19th Asian Games was worth the wait and made incredibly stunning by the lavish and space-age opening ceremony on Saturday night.
Shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, a festival of lights immediately took over and a dazzling visual show featuring splendid cultural attractions and the best China could offer.
This is the third time the biggest nation on the continent has staged the 45-nation quadrennial sports spectacle where the Philippine team of 395 athletes from 40 sports aims to leave an indelible mark and another lasting legacy.
World No. 2 and Asia’s topnotch pole vaulter EJ Obiena and Asian Games champion skateboarder Margielyn Didal valiantly carried the nation’s colors ahead of the 90 Filipino athletes who proudly showed up in the traditional parade of nations.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and other top sports officials strode with the athletes, signaling the start of the country’s bid of at least equaling its gold production during the previous 2018 Indonesia version.
Deputy CDMs (chef de mission) Karen Tanchanco Caballero, Nikki Cheng and Donaldo Caringal also marched on the sprawling glass-free 3D flooring inside the 80,000-seat venue along with POC legal counsel Atty. Wharton Chan.
Philippine Sports Commission Chairman Richard “Dickie” Bachmann was likewise present during the two-hour fanfare that ushered the start of the Games where a record attendance of 12,417 athletes will contest the 481 gold medals at stake over the next two weeks until the closing ceremony on October 8.
As for Team Philippines, matching the four gold medals before the COVID-19 global health crisis struck will be enough.
Golfer Yuka Saso was one of the stars of that 2018 edition after winning the women’s individual play before leading the women’s team to another victory along with Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz likewise bagged her first Asian Games gold medal back then before Didal put on a triumphant show that punctuated the nation’s four-gold, two-silver and 15-bronze collection.
Obiena, the current continental two-time champion and Asian record holder of six meters, should find winning the gold much easier than the World Athletics Championships where the Filipino pole vault celebrity landed second before Armand Duplantis of Sweden.
Boxer Carlo Paalam saw his confidence soar after performing silver in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics while Eumir Marcial, who won all four professional fights, claimed a bronze medal in the previous global Summer Games.
Boxing Olympic silver medalist Nesthy Petecio is also a favorite in her weight class.
Medals should likewise come pouring from combat sports taekwondo courtesy of two-time Asian Games bronze medalist Kirstie Elaine Alora, jiujitsu’s Meggie Ochoa and Annie Ramirez, Asiad silver medalist Kiyomi Watanabe of judo and weightlifters Vanessa Sarno and Diaz.
Much of the expectations, however, have been pinned on swimmer Kayla Noelle Sanchez, who helped the Canadian swim team capture a silver and bronze in the women’s relay of the Tokyo Olympics.
The 22-year-old Sanchez can end Philippine swimming’s medal drought of nearly three decades in these Games in the women’s 50-meter and 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke.
The athletes, coaches and officials that comprise the Philippine contingent wore Barong Tagalog designed by world-class Pinoy designer Rodolfo “Puey” Quinones during the opening rites.