IT’s getting to be boring and predictable—Team Philippines collaring gold medals here and there in popular or lesser-known sports, much to the chagrin of an opposition that’s taking it on the chin.
Like soldiers sent to a mission, the Filipino athletes went to different battles fully armed and ready to fight as Day 6 began and returned to base carrying a bagful of gold medals, giving their countrymen another moment to celebrate in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
It marked the sixth straight time that the Filipinos produced a rewarding day as they continued to herald their return to prominence in the biennial meet after stumbling to mediocrity in the last five stagings of the region’s biggest sporting showpiece.
From golf to track and field to obstacle course, the Filipinos delivered again on Friday as they raised their total number of medals to 69 gold, 52 silver and 43 bronze medals as of 7 last night to pull away from Indonesia (37-38-44) and Vietnam (36-38-40-49) in a remarkable showing that virtually gave them the overall title as early as Day 5 of the 12-day meet.
Mary Joy Tabal was marathon queen no more, but a proud Filipina mother named Christine Hallasgo took over the reign, Bianca Pagdanganan dazzled in golf, the obstacle course team went perfect, Fil-Japanese judoka Mariya Takahashi struck, and Michael Comaling topped the beach triathle event to join the long list of Filipino champs in this year’s meet.
When practically everybody was expecting Tabal to win, Hallasgo showed her time has come, pulling away in the final stretch in a show of strength and endurance to hit the finish line inside the new Clark City stadium all by her lonesome.
The early morning crowd erupted in cheers when Hallasgo, a native of Malaybalay, Bukidnon, raced into view in the main entrance of the stadium, raising her hands in triumph as she breasted the tape.
“Gusto ko lang makadagdag sa medalya ng Pilipinas lalo na at kami ang unang tumakbo sa athletics, “ Hallasgo told sportswriters, smiling as sweats dripped down her face.
Competing for the first time in a meet of this magnitude, Hallasgo, who has a 3-year-old kid, timed 2 hours, 56 minutes and 56 seconds for the 42-km run to surprisingly beat Didal (2:58.39) in the early morning run.
Tabal collapsed shortly upon crossing the finish line and was taken out of the track on a stretcher, her reign as marathon queen of the meet hitting the end.
“Pagod na pagod ako,” Tabal later said once she recovered inside the medical clinic.
As Hallasgo was pounding the well-paved streets leading to the stadium, the obstacle course squad was busy putting the final pieces to a magnificent sweep of the event which made its debut in the Games.
Mervin Guarte and Sandi Abahan jumped, swung and clambered their way to victory in the 20-obstacle race at Filinvest City in Muntinlupa, completing a perfect 6-of-6 haul in the outdoor event which included a balance beam, tilting ladder, monkey bar and a slip wall covered in water.
Over at the Luisita Golf Club in Tarlac, Pagdanganan made her last tournament as an amateur worth remembering as she won the women’s individual play.
But the win didn’t come easy for Bianca, who had to hold off the spirited challenge of two Thailand golfers to top the event with a final round 71 for 7-under par 209 as she lived up to her billing as the biggest local hope for the gold.
“We knew that Bianca would be able to catch up in the closing holes as she’s always proven to do when she’s behind, “ said golf president Martin Lorenzo, in a tribute to the University of Arizona product, who earned a playing card in the LPGA Tour last month.
The 22-year-old Pagdanganan was part of the team that won the gold in the 2018 Asia Games in Jakarta.
Pagdanganan lost a two-stroke lead in the face of Tai Kan Bunnabodee’s fiery charge in the last nine holes at the front and fell by one with a costly bogey on the par-3 No. 6.
But it was Thai who cracked in a pressure-packed finish as she double bogeyed the par-4 No. 8 that enabled Pagdanganan to regain control with a routine par and the Filipina ace completed her romp with a kind of finish that wins big-time championships.
The Thai went for broke on the closing par-5 ninth in a desperate attempt to score a birdie and possibly force a playoff but paid dearly for it as she hit it into the rough twice and ended up with a bogey instead for a 72.
“I feel very happy to see my teammates on the final hole watching,” Pagdanganan said after delivering the first SEA Games golf gold for Team PHI since Princess Superal dominated the 2013 Games in Myanmar. “I felt like we won as a team.”
Cheers reverberated inside the Laus Event Group center in Angeles City as Takahashi defended her -70 category crown in women’s judo by beating her Thai foe via ippon with a minute and 56 seconds left in the bout.
Redemption was completed when Comaling ruled the beach triathle event of modern pentahlon in a swift return to form after finishing in seventh place on Thursday in the laser-run individual event.
A native of Ormoc City, the 19-year-old Comaling dominated the event that had the competitors compete in a shoot-swim-run course, timing 17 minutes and 8.87 seconds at the Boardwalk in Subic Bay.
“Actually kaya naming ipanbalo ‘yung laban kahapon pero hindi ako kumain,” rued Comaling. “And I learned my lesson sa mga coach na nag-inspire sa akin na today learn from it, forget the past and focus on today.”
And focus Comaling did.
There were good news too in other fronts.
The great PH Blu Girls continued their unstoppable march to the title, blanking second-ranked Malaysia, 12-0, at the The Villages inside the Clark Freeport on a clear, sunny afternoon to reach the finals as expected.
The Blu Girls, backed by Cebuana-Lhuillier, will have a long rest as they await the winner of the stepladder series among Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, held to select the other finalist in women’s softball championship.
There was a sure gold in lawn tennis.
The tandem of Francis Alcantara and Jeson Patrombondefeated Daniel Csao Ngyen and Van Phuong Nguyen, 6-3, 6-1, and US-based Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales beat Vietnamese Quoc Khanh Le and Hoang Nam Ly. 6-1, 6-3, to arrange an All-Pinoy duel in men’s doubles event.
Like the softball teams, the tennisters are being supported by businessman-sportsman jean Henri Lhuillier.
(With reports from AFP, SEAG News Service, Lio Cinco and Theodore Jurado)