Sabal wins Milo run with finishing kick
- Abac Cordero () - October 12, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A lot of things must have crossed Eric Panique’s mind as he neared the finish line of the 33rd National Milo Marathon yesterday morning at the historic Quirino Grandstand.

The 21-year-old son on Himamaylan City in Negros Occidental, who has never won a full marathon in his life, was just five meters away from his crowning glory.

But fate wouldn’t have it for Panique as Cresenciano Sabal, 10 years older and so much richer in experience, came from behind to steal the victory on a sunny day.

“Last five meters,” said Sabal an hour after the race, already dressed up and ready to claim his third Milo Marathon crown and the P75,000 check that goes to the winner.

Sabal won the same title in 2005 and 2007 and not until he breasted the Milo tape did he realize he had won it yet another time with a time of two hours, 32 minutes, 54 seconds, just a tick ahead of Panique.

“I was surprised. Hindi ko akalin na ako pa din ang kukuha,” added Sabal after the race, which featured thousands of runners and the closest finish in recent years.

Panique topped the 21-km elims in Bacolod last Aug. 30 and felt that he was ready for the big race -- the full 42.195 km marathon that was fired off under cover of darkness.

He said he’d be happy to land in the top 10 following a top 20 finish last year, not knowing that he’d come so close, really close, barely 15 feet, to the national title and all the bragging rights.

Panique would have joined the likes of Numeriano Titong, the inugural champion in 1974, Jimmy dela Torre, Wilfredo Ballester, Rey Antoque, Herman Suizo, Allan Ballester and Eduardo Buenavista in the Milo Marathon’s scroll of champions.

But Sabal had other things in mind.

Up in the stands, however, during the awarding ceremony, Panique gladly held on to the runner-up check worth P50,000, still the biggest win of his life in the running circle.

Finishing third, more than two minutes behind Sabal and Panique, was Mendel Lopez, followed by Elmer Sabal, the winner’s younger brother, Rene Desuyo, Bernardo Desamito, Roger Sawin-ay, Jeson Agravante, Jujet de Asis and Alley Quisay.

In the women’s side, Christabel Martes, a big name in marathon, won it all with a time of 3:01.20, followed by Grace delos Santos, who was 13 minutes behind, Miscelle Gilbuena, Luisa Reterta, Ailene Tolentino, Estela Diaz, Monalisa Ambasa and Medelyn Carter.

It was the fourth Milo Marathon crown for Martes, who moved closer to the all-time record of five wins posted by Arsenia Sagaray in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997.

Martes, the marathon champion during the 2005 Manila Southeast Asian Games, was so happy to win the race, but may have to pay a hefty price -- her exclusion from the RP team to the Laos SEA Games on Dec. 9 to 18.

She said there’s a memorandum that came out of the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Associations barring members of the national team from competing in any race longer than 10 kms so close to the SEA Games.

But Martes insisted that she can manage, saying she’d file an appeal that she be allowed to race in the coming SEA Games where Filipino gold medalists will get P100,000 from the government.

Yesterday’s victory was worth P75,000 for Martes.

“Masyado na daw malapit ang SEA Games kaya bahala na sila mag-decide (They say the SEA Games is just around the corner so it’s up to them),” said the new four-time champion and mother of one.

Sabal, on his part, said the SEA Games is better left alone for Buenavista, since there are other marathons to take care of, including next week’s Quezon City Marathon and the Subic International Marathon on Oct. 24.

“There will be Kenyans in Subic and just like the SEA Games, I will be there to represent the country. I’m running in the Quezon City race but I will have to feel it out. I tried to conserve my energy today,” said Sabal.

The 31-year-old member of the Philippine Army said he’s been saving up for the future of his two young daughters, aged five and four, who are in Northern Samar, and for a small business of organizing footraces.

“So far I have three races scheduled, where I’m the race director, two in Damasrinas, Cavite and another one in Tagaytay in December,” he said.

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