AS the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games came to a close in festive rites rich in songs, dances and fireworks on a beautiful Wednesday evening, Team Philippines stood proud and mighty in front of its adoring countrymen, an overall champ again after wallowing in mediocrity for the longest time.
And even on the 11th and final day of the region’s biggest sporting showpiece, the Filipino athletes didn’t rest, winning a bronze medal in the last of 55 sports disputed and capping an overpowering show that netted them the overall championship for only the second time.
The bronze courtesy of the beach handball squad gave Team PH an eye-popping total of 149 gold, 118 silver and 121 bronze medals as they posted wins in bunches in the flatlands, in the seas, in the mountains to leave the opposition dead and buried as early as the fifth day.
For the job well done, the Pinoy athletes who numbered 1,115 and competed in 55 sports, are now being toasted and feted by a thankful nation which has stood by them in good times and bad.
And in a few days, these athletes will get an early Christmas gift from no less than President Duterte, who will wait for them in Malacañang and personally award the monetary incentives given to medalists as mandated by law.
The athletes will go home a lot richer since the President will give them additional bonuses, broken down to P250,000 to the gold, P150,000 to the silver and P50,000 to the bronze medalists.
“They deserve all these bonuses. They worked hard and did the country proud,” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman and chef de mission Butch Ramirez, grinning from ear to ear as he celebrated his second personal triumph as chef de mission.
Fourteen years ago, Ramirez also served as CdM when the Filipinos won the overall title on the third time the meet was played here, in a triumph aptly called the Miracle of 2005.
The victory marked a 360-degree turn for the Philippines, which has stayed deep in the cellar in the last five stagings of biennial sportsfest. Two years ago in Kuala Lumpur, it came home with only 24 golds, good for sixth place overall.
Now, it’s standing tall as it reaped the fruits of a long buildup that saw the athletes went to the four corners of the world for training and competed in international tournaments with virtually no questions asked from the PSC.
The total investment in training? A mind-boggling one billion peso.
“They reaped the dividends of their hard work,” Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham ‘Bambol’ Tolentino said in a text message to the People’s Journal the other day. ”We thank our athletes, our coaches for the good job”.
That’s how good Team PH was this time—it medaled even in sports mistaken for a street food, a toy or a name of a street.
It also helped that PH was the host of the sportsfest where the flexible program is traditionally weighted towards the home team. It marked the eighth time in the last 12 SEA Games that the host team has topped the gold medal race.
When Vietnam takes its turn to stage the meet two years from now, Filipino fans are reminded that things will be entirely different there, with the Vietnamese athletes dominating and PH and the rest of the field taking the backseat.
This year, Vietnam gave a good account of itself, finishing second overall with a 98 -85-105 gold-silver-bronze tally. Just imagine how good they’ll be when playing in its own backyard.
You can bet your bottom peso on this—Vietnam will win the overall title in 2021.
And the Philippines? It’ll be lucky if it places fourth or fifth overall.
Thailand, which was neither here nor there in the early goings, took third overall with a 92-49-24 tally, followed by Indonesia with 65-62-71, Singapore with 26-18-29 and fallen champion Malaysia with 22-13-23.
There was no stopping the Filipinos from celebrating in their own party.
Overall, they failed in some but succeeded in most, as they missed to deliver a gold medal in only 11 sports like bowling, the same sport that gave us the great Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo and Arianne Cerdena.
The indigenous sport of arnis with 14 golds and dancesport with 10 stood at the forefront of the gold-winning spree in the first few days, providing the wins that set up what would later become the ‘Massacre of 2019.’
When the meet hit its halfway point, Team PH pulled away from the field, thanks to the track and field, taekwondo and other combat sports squads. And as it entered its closing days, the basketball, jiu-jitsu and boxing squads took over to apply the finishing touches.
In the get-go, Team PH was spewing fire. In the last few days, it was still spewing fire.
So the SEA Games that cost the country almost P10 billion to stage is now a thing of the past, something that will also be remembered for the glitches and controversies that came aplenty in the days leading to the opening rites at the huge Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
But it will also be remembered for overcoming those forgettable incidents like athletes complaining of inadequate foods and teams being brought to the wrong hotel.
Eventually, the organizers staged a SEA Games to remember for 11 glorious days in December.