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Tabal gives PH 1st gold

KUALA LUMPUR – Rio Olympian Mary Joy Tabal, a 28-year-old runner from Cebu, won the country’s first gold medal when she dominated the women’s marathon Saturday in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Putrajaya, 36 kilometers south of this capital city.

Almost left out of the team following a spat with the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA), Tabal crossed the finish unchallenged in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 26 seconds, some seven minutes ahead of the rest of the field.

Mary Joy Tabal won the first gold medal for the Philippines in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in women's marathon on Saturday morning in this city south of Kuala Lumpur.(photo by ali vicoy)

Mary Joy Tabal won the first gold medal for the Philippines in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in women’s marathon on Saturday morning in this city south of Kuala Lumpur.(photo by ali vicoy)

The victory moved to tears many of those who watched Tabal grab the Philippine flag, hoist it and wrap it on her body.

“Nagpapasalamat ako sa lahat ng naniniwala sa akin,” said a joyful Tabal who was met and hugged by PATAFA president Popoy Juico at the finish line.

Following an appeal by Tabal, Juico decided at the last minute to include Tabal in the SEAG-bound team.

Among those who greeted Tabal was basketball great Ramon Fernandez, now a sports commissioner, who cried unabashedly as he embraced the four-foot-11 runner.

Tabal entered the race supremely confident of victory following a three-month training in Italy under Italian coach Giuseppem Giambrone, Japanese mentor Akio Usami and local counterpart John Philip Duenas.

She made her move after the six-kilometer first loop and widened her lead as the race wore on.

“Nang palapit na, nararamdaman kong bumibigat ang katawan ko dahil sa sobrang excitement,” said Tabal who thanked her supporters.

Interviewed by media, Tabal said she hopes that her victory will inspire Filipino athletes to excel in the Games.

“Ipakita natin na kaya natin, hindi lang sa SEA Games, pati sa mundo, na kaya natin mag-excel,” she said.

Hoang Thi Thanh finished in 2:55.43 to settle for the silver while 2015 winner Natthaya T. of Thailand took the bronze in 2:58.17.

In the men’s race, Guillaume Soh of Singapore captured the gold in 2:29:27, edging Agus Prayogo of Indonesia and Muhaizar of Malaysia.

Jeson Agravante suffered cramps and pulled out of the race, one of three runners who did not finish.

The victory improved the Philippines’ haul to 1 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronzes, going into Day 1 of full-blown action on Sunday.

The celebration, however, was tempered by news that pole vaulter EJ Obiena, one of the country’s brightest hopes, injured his knee in training back home.

Obiena suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that will sideline him the rest of the season.

That left the country without an entry in men’s pole vault.

Late Friday, more Filipino athletes poured into the Malaysian capital, including double gold medallist Eric Cray and the men’s and women’s basketball teams arrived.

Also set to arrive Saturday were the men’s and women’s volleyball teams, fencers, swimmers and tennis players.

Meanwhile, United States-based Denise Dy has reunited with Fil-German Katharina Lehnert for another crack at the gold medal in women’s doubles in the 29th Southeast Asian Games here.

Dy, 28, arrived an hour past midnight and wasted little time to reconnect with Lehnert with whom she won the silver medal two years ago in Singapore.

“It has been two years since, but it felt like just only yesterday,” said Dy who has stopped competing, but stays in shape.

Dy now works as coach of the women’s team of University of Washington.

That gives her opportunity to be on the court four hours a day.

Dy has collected 14 medals in the Games.

Tennis competition gets under way on Monday.