THE Philippine contingent to the 31st Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam went through an emotional roller-coaster ride on its way to bringing home 52 gold medals, 70 silvers and 105 bronzes.
The harvest was far smaller than the bumper crop of 149 golds, 117 silvers and 121 bronzes in the 2019 Games that we hosted and dominated. But it was good for fourth place, a standing we last had (when the country was not hosting the biennial event) in 2003, when the Games were, remarkably, also played in Hanoi.
The Games that just ended brought Team Philippines to summits of jubilation and depths of heartbreak.
Our world-class athletes did not disappoint and provided a stream of highlight performances.
Carlos Yulo crowned himself king of artistic gymnastics in Hanoi by winning five golds and two silvers.
Ernest John “EJ” Obiena defended his pole vault title at the Games in style, soaring over the bar set at a record 5.46 meters.
Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz brushed off the challenge from a Thai Olympian to retain her title in the women's weightlifting 55-kilogram division. We also saw the emergence of another potential weightlifting star in 18-year-old Vanessa Sarno, who smashed three Games records on her way to clinching the gold in the women's 71kg class.
Boxer Eumir Marcial overpowered his opponent from Timor Leste in the men's middleweight final to successfully defend his title for the third straight time. Two other Filipino boxers ruled their divisions.
The Philippine team collected five golds, five silvers and three bronzes to stamp their supremacy on the dance sport floor.
Billiards was practically an all-Filipino affair, with the men's and women's teams crowding out the competition.
Chloe Isleta became the first Filipino gold winner in swimming in almost three decades, taking the women's 200m backstroke event. And the women's football team ended a 37-year medal drought in the Games by beating Myanmar for the bronze.
In a controversy-tainted decision, the muay thai team was awarded two golds after it protested the points credited to the Vietnamese squad.
The victories, however, were tempered by dramatic defeats and technicalities.
The bodybuilding team was barred from competing for failing to submit the results of its doping test and for not being accredited by the Asian Bodybuilding Federation.
But the biggest disappointment shrouded the Philippines' beloved sport, basketball.
It began with the men's and women's team in 3×3 basketball surrendering the crowns they handily won in 2019.
But the deepest cut was dealt by Indonesia, which ended the Philippines' 33-year reign as Southeast Asia's basketball superpower by downing Gilas Pilipinas, 85-81, in the men's championship game.
The loss was a major shocker because our basketball teams have been invincible in the region for so long. That is about to change; Indonesia and Thailand have been beefing up their rosters with non-native but eligible players.
Gilas coach Vincent “Chot” Reyes readily took the blame for the stinging defeat, but that did not stop calls for him to resign and to bring back Tab Baldwin, who had a short but impressive stint as Gilas' bench mentor.
In an unprecedented move, Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas' (SBP) Al Panlilio issued a statement acknowledging that “we fell short and were not able to give our teams better support that they needed to retain the gold.”
Panlilio promised that “we will bounce back and reclaim our spot to stay ahead.”
Basketball fans will be closely watching the SBP's every move, which has just one year to make the adjustments before the 2023 Games opens in Cambodia.
Overall, a fourth-place finish in the Games is creditable enough, and our athletes deserve the nation's congratulations and gratitude. Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez says it's nothing to be ashamed of “considering the various challenges our national athletes had to face amid the Covid-19 pandemic.”
But the goal must be set higher for the Cambodia Games. Funding has to be source1d not only for the athletes' training, but for hiring coaches, airfare and participation in international competitions.
This time, nothing must be left to chance.
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