Members of Team Philippines march as the overall champions of the 30th Southeast Asian Games during last night’s closing ceremony with heroic surfer Roger Casugay (left) carrying the Philippine flag at the New Clark City main stadium in Capas, Tarlac. JUN MENDOZA, RUSSELL PALMA
Team Philippines: A job well done
Dante Navarro (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

History. Destiny. Victory.

By nighttime, fireworks crackled and lit up the sky, as dazzling as the nation’s historic finish, and capping its date with destiny after agreeing at the 11th hour to host the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEAG).

A far cry from the gloom of a stormy opener, the 30th edition of the regional sporting show folded up in a splash of colors on a clear December night at the expansive New Clark City Athletics Stadium in Capas, Tarlac yesterday.

Singapore remained the king of pool for the eighth straight time. Vietnam dominated athletics and kurash and kicked its way to the football throne. Thailand conquered cycling and judo and soared in sailing. Indonesia made its mark in shooting and modern pentathlon, and Malaysia topped karate and gymnastics.

The Philippines ruled majority of the rest and emerged the best.

Fourteen years after basking in the glory of its successful hosting of the Southeast Asian Games, Team Philippines is the SEAG king again, winning it all in wire-to-wire, record fashion at home in a victory that was more a triumph of the spirit for a nation hungry for inspiration and hope and reduced to a mere spectator in the succeeding Games after the “Miracle of 2005.”

Sixth in Thailand in 2007, fifth in Laos, sixth again Indonesia and a worst seventh in Myanmar in 2013 then back to sixth again in the next two editions in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. As Brunei withdrew from its hosting turn, Philippine officials grabbed the chance to bring the Games back on home soil and when they did, they didn’t waste time to draw up the master plan.

“It took us one year to prepare, study and implement the plan,” said Philippine Olympic Committee president and Rep. Bambol Tolentino.

That included handpicked sports events where Filipino athletes are strong at, and likely to rake in medals, making up a whopping 530-event schedule in a Games’ record 56 sports spread in cluster venues in Luzon, including state-of-the-art facilities in New Clark City Athletics Stadium in Capas, Tarlac. It also involved a passionate home crowd.

And when everything was set, the Pinoy bets took care of the rest.

True to their battle cry “We Win As One,” the Pinoy athletes, all 1,084 of them, did win as they put up a united stand from Day One when they swept not only the triathlon gold medals but the silvers as well till the last score for Team Phl was recorded in beach handball, a 0-2 prelims setback to Thailand yesterday that still netted the hosts a bronze in the Games’ final event.

It spoiled what could’ve been a fitting ending to a winning campaign that started on the shores and roads and ended on the tennis court in Subic.

But it did seal Team Phl’s final medal tally at 149-117-121 (gold-silver-bronze), way better than its winning 113-85-93 tally in 2005 and more than enough to crush the 2019 opposition, with Vietnam, which took the last gold in beach handball, edging many-time champ Thailand in their spirited battle for runner-up honors, 98-85-105 to 92-103-123.

Indonesia wound up fourth with 72-84-111 followed by dethroned champ Malaysia (55-58-71), Singapore (53-46-68), Myanmar (4-18-51), Cambodia (4-6-36), Brunei (2-5-6), Laos (1-5-28) and Timor Leste (0-1-5).

The nation rejoiced after it was officially declared as the new SEAG champion in last night’s emotional closing rites where the Filipino athletes mingled, danced and mixed it up with their counterparts from the Games’ remaining contingent in a friendly, party-like atmosphere very much unlike in the past 11 days when they didn’t see eye-to-eye in pursuit of the gold medals.

Arnel Pineda, lead singer of rock back Journey, sang the National Anthem to kick of the affair followed by the parade of nations and athletes, the loudest cheers accorded the triumphant Pinoy athletes.

Organizers then paid tribute to the Games volunteers and workforce while a music video of the song “Who We Are” performed by Sarah Geronimo was being played before Pineda did more numbers with the KO Jones band, drawing the huge crowd to dancing and roaring to the beat of each song, capping it with his own rendition of “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” by Queen.

A light drone show flashing some of the sports that were contested in more than 11 days of battle had the crowd in awe, ending it with the Games’ theme “We Win As One.”

The Games actually didn’t only produce the fastest and the strongest as tankers Zheng Wen of Singapore and Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Anh Vien were also honored as the Games’ best male and female athletes with six gold medals and two silvers each.

Recipient of the fair play award was reluctant hero surfing gold medalist Roger Casugay, who was thrust into the limelight after setting aside his gold medal bid to help save a fellow competitor from Indonesia (Arip Nurhidiyat), who broke his ankle leash and was swept by the giant waves in La Union. He also served as the country’s flag-bearer.

Tolentino, PHISGOC chair and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, chef de mission and Philippine Sports Commission chair Butch Ramirez and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea then received the huge SEAG trophy symbolic of the overall championship with Cayetano and Tolentino giving thank you messages and inspirational speeches before Medialdea declared the Games closed.

“We call on the youth of Southeast Asia to assemble two years from now in Hanoi, Vietnam to celebrate the 31st SEAG,” said Medialdea.

The SEAG Federation Flag was then lowered and the torch, which was burning the past 12 days, was extinguished. Cayetano and Tolentino then handed the SEAG flag over to Vietnam, whose national anthem was played before its presentation on what to expect in 2021.

Hanoi will host the 2021 Games from Nov. 21 to Dec. 2 with around 36 to 40 sports to be played, mainly those played in the Olympics.

Then it’s party time.

Fireworks illuminated the sky as the Philippines bid farewell to the 30th SEAG hailed as a “historical success.”

“We all worked hard for this. The Philippine Olympic Committee, the national sports associations (NSAs), the organizing committee, the government, the private sector and the Filipino people all came together to show our team that they have the whole nation behind them. We thank you all,” said Ramirez.

He reserved the best for the national athletes.

“You gave your all and you deserve all the respect and care that we can give you. You made us all proud,” said Ramirez, adding that their (athletes) hard work and achievement produced more than just medals.

“It lifted the spirit of a nation hungry for inspiration and hope. It awakened the spirit of patriotism. The old Filipino values were in full show for the youth to see and emulate,” he added.

For his part, Tolentino said the country “was fortunate to work with some of the most well-meaning and experienced personalities that gave us the chance to stage the biggest SEA Games ever and hopefully, to some semblance of success.”

“I will forever be appreciative of the members of the South East Asian Games Federation for their support and cooperation. All representatives from the 11 countries were single-minded in making the 30th SEA Games a rousing success,” said Tolentino.

“But success does not only mean victory in the field of play, but our ability to impress upon every participant the importance of embracing the values of fairness, dedication, excellence and grace in the face of intense competition,” he added. “We must strive to mold our youth with the proper attitude and develop the strong and righteous character that would serve them well as they grow into being useful members of society.”

“This is a celebration of our success, from the organization, to athletes winning the overall championship to the volunteers, the public and everyone,” said Tats Suzara, chief operating officer of the PHISGOC, which took the brunt of a wave of criticisms that marred the run-up to the staging of the 30th edition of the Games.

But on the eve of the opening, everything was in place with the ceremony earning accolades from all over for its grandiose and which highlighted the country’s diverse and colorful cultures and took pride in its own sports icons.

Four sure, the Pinoy athletes will be hard pressed to duplicate its feat with one official issuing an early prediction of a fourth or fifth place finish.

“When we go to Vietnam in two years time, I’ll predict we’ll go down to No. 4 or No. 5,” he said, referring to the next host nation’s option of including sports events where it’s likely to reap gold medals.

The way the Philippines did when its team in dancesports, making a SEAG return since 2007, racked up all but three of the 13 golds disputed at Royce Hotel in Pampanga. Arnis, which was first and last played in the SEAG in 2005, also helped fuel Team Phl’s strong start of 22 golds with its seven-gold contribution in the first two days before the country’s national martial art went on to finish with a huge 14-gold haul out of the total 20 to emerge as the best performing national sports association (NSA).

From a 12-gold lead over Vietnam after Day One, the Phl padded it to 23 in the next day then stayed on top all the way to the finish with sustained assault in wushu, jiujitsu, muay, cycling, sailing, billiards, judo, gymnastics, fencing, rowing, eSports, karatedo and golf, among others.

More importantly, the Pinoy athletes finished strong in athletics with 11 golds, emerged on top in taekwondo (8) and boxing (7), won six gold medals in skateboarding, and swept the golds in soft tennis (3), basketball (4) and obstacle course (6) on top of triathlon’s feat.

Throughout the campaign, the Filipino athletes stayed focused – even when things had seemed to go awry with all the snafus and controversies marring the run-up to the Games. They faced the challenges in the battlefield head-on and emerged triumphant after six forgettable finishes in the biennial meet.

But for sure, it won’t be the same in 2021, thus putting emphasis on consistency and priority as to where the Philippines would and should focus, given the next host’s option to include events that would boost its gold medal chances.

That has become some sort of a pattern in the SEAG where host countries usually emerge on top only to fall in the years that followed. But with full government support, the state-of-the-art training facilities in Tarlac, the renewed vigor from the Pinoy athletes and the exuberance and fire of future national pool and team members, the Phl could be in for yet another historic SEAG run in Vietnam.

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