Rampagin’ tracksters buck odds, capture four golds

Gerry Carpio - The Philippine Star
Rampagin� tracksters buck odds, capture four golds

Anthony Beram hoists the Philippine flag as he makes the ceremonial run after ruling 200m dash. JUN MENDOZA

KUALA LUMPUR – The track and field team capped a week of surprises for a Philippine contingent scraping the bottom  in search of gold on various fronts  in the halfway mark of the 29th Southeast Asian Games.

Four unlikely heroes emerged from the 38-strong athletic team, with Mary Joy Tabal  overcoming the odds off and on the tracks back home to win the women’s marathon in runaway fashion.

Her exploits, a vast improvement over her silver medal finish in 2015, affirmed her status both as the undefeated Filipino marathon queen of the Philippines the last four years and as new champion of the SEA Games 42.195 km endurance race which ended in a cloudy morning and ended in fierce sunshine at the Palace of Justice in  the rich enclave of Putra Jaya.

Eric Shaun Cray, born in Olongapo and bred in Texas, put in a performance just enough for him to win the 400m hurdles to reserve his best for the defense of his 100m crown.

He almost lost the 400m crown that was virtually in the bag, judging from his time of 49.40, a SEAG record, in winning the event on his first try in 2015 and as a rookie of the track and field team.

He blasted off the starting blocks to lead by a stride, unleashed his staying power over the hurdles and coasted home to what looked like a breezy finish when he looked at the giant monitor to see he had company right behind.

He gave everything he’s got in his legs and in his heart to win in a photo finish in 50.03 seconds, but it cost him a chance to annex the 100m sprint barely an hour and 20 minutes later. a cause for celebration for the new Malaysian champion and over 80,000 local fans that packed the national stadium.

Through all this, athletics chief Popoy Juico took everything in stride.

Triple jump silver medalist Mark Diones (left) and decathlon winner Aries Toledo. JUN MENDOZA

He admitted he really didn’t expect Cray to retain his century crown. Neither did he put all his hopes on Tabal. Both players were handicapped by the proverbial homecourt advantage.

“There are many events you just cannot be so sure of winning. There are those you expect to lose but you win, and there are those you think you will win but eventually lose.

“I had put a question mark on the win of Joy (Tabal) and Cray in  the 100m dash,” said Juico, who didn’t rule out the pressure of competing under the rules of the host country. “You lose some and win some, you just have to live by it.”

Two other wins came at the least expected time, in the late hours Wednesday when all the Philippines could show  in the gathering dusk  were silver medals in karatedo, gymnastics and the 800m run in athletics.

The first surprise of the day was long-time hammer thrower Arnel Ferreira whose days as SEAG champion ended years ago and now serves as national coach.

With Fil-American Caleb Stuart a no-show in the National Open, a qualifying tournament for Malaysia, Ferreira was forced out retirement to fill in the void. He had a fighting bronze medal effort in the event.

T. Anthony Beram, a Fil-American here as a last minute backup in the sprints and as substitute anchor to Cray in the 4x100m relay, made a surprise debut, winning the 200m run in 20.04 seconds.

Beram’s name popped up only in the National Open in May but he was not prominently mentioned as he competed in the relay which did not achieve the qualifying time of below 40 seconds for the Malaysian Games.

He was taken in nevertheless because he could also be tapped for the 4x400 meter relay in partnership with Cray  and probably in the sprints too.

He showed his athleticism in his long strides, which carried him all the way to the finish line to become the first winner of the event in a long while.

The other surprise winner of the night was Fil-American decathlete Aries Toledo whose commanding performance in the decathlon was good for the gold. He finished with 7433 points.

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