From 44-year-old mom-wrestler to 16-year-old e-gamer boy, Team Pilipinas showed grit in Cambodia
The Philippines has collected its biggest medal haul as a visiting team at the conclusion of the 2023 Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia, collecting 260 medals, easily surpassing its 228 haul in Thailand in 2007.
However, the Filipinos were just a gold medal shy of beating the 59 gold haul in Indonesia in 1987.
All in all, the Philippines captured 58 gold, 86, silver, and 116 bronze medals at the final day of the biennial meet on May 16, good for fifth place.
Vietnam defended their distinction as Southeast Asia’s top sporting nation, besting the eleven-country field with 136 gold medals.
Coming in at second to fourth place are Thailand, Indonesia, and host Cambodia, respectively.
Tokyo Olympic silver medalist boxers Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio, alongside fellow Tokyo veterans pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo, were true to their world-class distinction by toping their respective sports.
Yulo, in particular, was the winningest Pinoy athlete for a second straight year, with a gold each in individual all-around and parallel bars, and a silver each for team all-around and rings, for a career total of nine gold medals.
Swimming’s Jasmin Alkhaldi was the most bemedalled with three silver and three bronze medals, but the gold medal remains elusive to her since her first SEA Games stint in 2013.
The Philippines topped the competition in arnis, soft tennis, obstacle race, endurance race, and basketball, as the latter sport saw the men’s basketball team reclaim the gold medal with an 80-69 win over a reinforced Cambodian team in the final.
The FIBA World Cup-bound team became the only team ballgame team to have won a gold medal.
The taekwondo team has also improved vastly, getting six gold, a silver, and eight bronze medals, which was a huge bounce back from their paltry two gold medals in Vietnam last year.
Team Philippines had its contribution of inspiring stories and sports heroes that epitomize the triumph of Pinoy grit.
Most notable is 44-year-old wrestler Cristina Vergara, who defeated Cambodian bet Sambat Vannak in the women’s 65 kg. freestyle wrestling.
Vergara, who came out of a nine-year retirement, has won her third SEA Games gold medal, after winning the top prize in 2003 and 2005.
Her daughter, Cathlyn Vergara, also bagged a bronze medal in the 59 kg. category, making her and Cristina the first Filipino mother-and-daughter pair to win SEA Games medals.
36-year-old Jason Balabal has also won his first gold medal since 2011 in the 82 kg. Greco-Roman category.
As for the young, 16-year-old Marco Requitano was the youngest gold medalist, winning in the Mobile Legends: Bang Bang men’s team competition in e-sports.
Among the youngsters who grabbed gold was endurance racer Kira Ellis, who is just two months older than Requitano, in the mixed aquathlon team relay.
The women’s soft tennis team led by sisters Bambi and Bien Zoleta also won the gold, which featured Tawi-Tawi pride Fatima Amirul.
In athletics, the men’s 4×400 m. relay team of Michael del Prado, Frederick Ramirez, Joyme Sequita, and Umajesty Williams had literally the most exciting run in the games, winning the gold by just 0.01 seconds past the Thai quartet.
Regulars Kim Mangrobang of duathlon and Agatha Wong of wushu taijiquan+taijijian won their sixth and fifth SEA Games gold medal, respectively.
Weightlifter Lovely Inan, an 18-year-old scavenger from Angono, Rizal, won the silver medal in the 49 kg. division in her SEA Games debut.
Inan was discovered in 2015 by weightlifting coach Richard Pep Agosto, who saw the child roaming around the streets of Angono with sacks of scrap material in her back. Amazed by what he saw and driven by a desire to help a child through sports, Agosto trained Inan as the lady eyes to follow the footsteps of Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz.
Also among the notable silver medalists were the women’s cricket team, who won two runner-up finishes. The team is partly composed of overseas domestic helpers based in Hong Kong.
World Cup-bound Philippine women’s football team failed to repeat a podium finish, after finishing their group stage with two wins and a loss, but having a -2 goal difference from eventual silver medalist Myanmar in Group A.
The Filipinas had this setback despite winning against eventual gold medalist Vietnam, 2-1, for the first time in the SEA Games and for a second straight fixture.
The under-22 men’s football team likewise had a poor performance, finishing the tournament with a draw and three losses, which included a 0-3 shellacking from minnow team Timor-Leste.
The young Azkals scored only one goal courtesy of Ateneo star Dov Cariño.
But the biggest letdown was in billiards as the Philippines, once the best in the world in the sport for decades, failed to win a gold medal for the first time.
The duo of 2017 world champion Carlo Biado and Johann Chua bagged the bronze medal in 9-ball doubles while Francisco dela Cruz got the same medal in three-cushion carom.
The Philippine women’s basketball team likewise failed to defend the crown after a loss to Indonesia, 68-89, while the men’s beach volleyball team were the lone medal winners– a bronze in volleyball.
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