Wrestlers ready to storm mat

Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA,Philippines — Three months of hard training with world champions under freezing conditions in Yakutia, Russia, will be the investment that the Philippine wrestling team is banking on to reap a golden harvest in the coming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Wrestling Association of the Philippines (WAP) president Alvin Aguilar said yesterday 13 of 14 athletes participating in the SEA Games endured a mentally and physically challenging grind in a city near Siberia to prepare for battle. Yakutia has an average temperature of -8.8 degrees C and is the world’s second coldest city next to Norilsk, also in Russia.

The 14 wrestlers in the SEA Games are: (Greco-Roman) 55 kg Michael Cater, 23, 63 kg Noel Norada, 34, 63 Margarito Angana, 36, 87 kg Jason Balabal, 33, 72 kg Jason Baucas, 22 and 77 kg Jefferson Manatad, 24; (men’s freestyle) 57 kg Alvin Lobrequito, 27, 65 kg Jhonny Morte, 29, 61 kg Ronil Tubog, 26, 70 kg Joseph Angana, 27 and 125 kg Robertson Torres, 30; and (women’s freestyle) 50 kg Jiah Pingot, 20, 55 kg Minalyn Foy-os, 23 and 62 kg Noemi Tener, 32. Except for Margarito Angana who was injured and stayed home, the other wrestlers trained in Russia. They were accompanied in Yakutia by WAP secretary-general Marcus Valda, coaches Jimmy Angana and Rene Rapisora and another wrestler Grace Loberanes.

“We’re grateful to PSC and POC for their all-out support because without them, we wouldn’t have been able to gain the valuable experience training in Russia,” said Aguilar. “It was three months of sacrifice. The weather was freezing and our athletes trained thrice a day, facing world champions in sparring and getting beaten up. Two months into their training, we were advised that wrestling would be taken out of the SEA Games. Our wrestlers cried. They were demoralized. But I assured them we would appeal for wrestling to be reinstated, to just continue training hard and gain experience because working with world champions was a chance of a lifetime.”

Aguilar said he spoke with POC president Bambol Tolentino who spearheaded efforts to get wrestling back in the calendar after a disagreement involving the SEA Games organizers and the international federation United World of Wrestling (UWW). Within 1 1/2 weeks, PHISGOC confirmed that wrestling was back in the SEA Games. A strong lobby by Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines persuaded UWW to reconsider its previous decision of withdrawing sanction.

“All of our athletes are homegrown,” said Aguilar. “They’re all potential gold medalists. How they perform will depend on their mindset on the day of competition. They’ve all trained so hard and have dealt with so much adversity.” Aguilar said Lobrequito, a bronze medalist in 55 kg freestyle in the 2013 SEA Games, was impressive in Russia and even beat a world junior champion, 10-0, on technical superiority in the Yakutia Open. “It was a difficult Open and not a single US wrestler scored a point,” said Aguilar. “The Russians offered scholarships to five of our wrestlers. One of our wrestlers, Jhonny Morte, suffered an injury in Russia and went down with a dislocated elbow but we’re hoping he’ll be ready for the SEA Games.”

Wrestling wasn’t in the last two SEA Games calendars. The last SEA Games where wrestling was a sport was in 2013 with the Philippines bringing in two silvers and four bronzes. The silvers were from Greco Roman with Margarito Angana in 55 kg and Balabal in 84 kg. The bronzes were from men’s freestyle with Lobrequito in 55 kg, Morte in 60 kg, Joseph Angana in 66 kg and Balabal in 84 kg. In 2011, the Philippines claimed two golds in Greco Roman with Margarito Angana in 55 kg and Balabal in 84 kg, two silvers in Greco Roman with Michael Baletin in 74 kg and Torres in 120 kg, a silver in men’s freestyle with Roque Mana-ay in 66 kg and two bronzes in men’s freestyle with Jimmy Angana in 74 kg and Balabal in 96 kg.

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