By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Sports officials have already set their sights on the more challenging event – the Asian Games – following the country’s strong showing in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games, which drew to a close Wednesday, May 17, with a lively ceremony at the 60,000-seater Morodok Techo National Stadium here.
Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino said they’re going to use the biennial meet as a gauge in selecting the finest athletes that would compete in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China late September.
“This is a good indication for our campaign in the Asian Games. We will tweak a bit. We will base the delegation depending on who bagged the gold medals in the SEA Games or up to silver, maybe,” Tolentino said.
Though it slipped to fifth overall from last edition’s fourth-place finish, the Nationals surpassed their previous gold-medal performance by coming home with 58 gold, 86 silver and 116 bronze medals.
In Vietnam last year, they amassed 52 golds, 70 silvers and 105 bronzes.
Vietnam clinched the overall title with 136 golds, 105 silvers and 114 bronzes, followed by Thailand with 108-96-108, Indonesia with 87-80-109, and host Cambodia with 81-74-127.
Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Richard Bachmann, who watched and supported the athletes throughout the two-week meet, also lauded the PH team’s efforts.
“I am proud of our athletes,” said Bachmann, who is in his first SEAG as the leader of the government sports agency.
“I saw how they worked hard with my own eyes while preparing for the Games and when they did battle in Cambodia. Each moment our flag was raised in honor of a win was a proud moment for every Filipino,” he added.
The Games saw Olympians like pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo, boxers Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio, weightlifter Elreen Ando, hurdler Eric Cray, and taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa, to name a few, anchor the Nationals to victories, as well as surprise performances for teams like soft tennis, wrestling and little-known kun bokator.
Wrestling delivered four golds this time after coming home with no golds in Hanoi, soft tennis returned and delivered anew with three golds, while while ancient Khmer martial art kun bokator, which was included for the first time this year, managed with two golds.
It also saw Gilas Pilipinas reclaiming the gold medal at the expense of heavy favorite Cambodia fueled by five naturalized players.
Taekwondo and arnis became the best performing PH team by collecting six gold medals apiece, followed by squads from athletics, boxing, gymnastics and obstacle race with four golds each.