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Obiena sparkles in the rain

Abac Cordero - The Philippine Star
Obiena sparkles in the rain
Pole-vaulter EJ Obiena sets a new mark of 5.46 meters en route to keeping his SEA Games crown.
Jun Mendoza

Triathletes send rivals down on their knees

HANOI – It was just fitting for Team Philippines’ flag-bearer to win a gold medal in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

Pole-vaulter EJ Obiena yesterday left no doubt that he’s the best in the region, clearing 5.46 meters to set a new SEA Games record under a gentle rain at the My Dinh National Stadium.

Obiena also buried the controversy that almost prevented him from competing in this 11-nation spectacle.

It’s all behind him now.

“I’m relieved and happy as well. I came here as a favorite and delivered,” he said.

By clearing 5.40 in his first attempt, the 6-foot-2 Filipino had the gold in the bag. Then he cleared 5.46 in one attempt to erase his 2019 record of 5.45.

He pushed for more and went for 5.94 but failed on three attempts to surpass his personal best of 5.93. Then he took a bow and waved to the crowd.

Hocket delos Santos, also a Filipino, won the silver at 5.0 meters.

“He’s the man,” said Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino of Obiena.

And as predicted, Team Philippines swept the two gold medals in triathlon then reigned supreme in women’s fencing, jiu-jitsu and gymnastics to make up for painful defeats in 3x3 basketball, wushu and rowing.

Kim Mangrobang, 30, became a three-time SEAG gold medalist when she topped the women’s triathlon at Sunset Bay in Tuan Chau in two hours 13 minutes 31 seconds.

She crossed the finish then broke into a wide smile.

Fil-Spanish Fernando Tan Casares, 26, earlier took the gold in the men’s side in 1:56:57 in the race that started at dawn, and gave Filipinos here an early reason to celebrate.

“It was planned. We really aimed to continue our dominance,” said Triathlon Association of the Philippines chief Tom Carrasco.

Andrew Kim Remolino made it a 1-2 finish for the men’s team while Raven Alcoseba took the bronze in the distaff side. They clocked 1:59:16 and 2:18:30, respectively.

In today’s men’s and women’s duathlon, the team is once again looking at two golds.

Sam Catantan, a 19-year-old fencing scholar at Penn State and bronze medalist in the last SEA Games, struck gold in women’s foil by beating Singapore’s Maxine Jie Xin Wong, 14-12, at the Hanoi Indoor Games Palace.

Then Meggie Ochoa, the 2018 world champion and 2019 SEA Games gold medalist at -45 kg ruled the women’s jiu-jitsu gold at -48 kg. Shortly after, Annie Ramirez booked her own gold in the women’s -62 kg.

The women’s gymnastics team of Chiara Andrews, Charlie Manzano, Luica Gutierrez, Cristina Loberanes, Kursten Lopez and Finnegan Cruz bagged the gold in the team all-around with a score of 184.500.

Cruz snared the silver in individual all-around with a 49.250, the pair of medals adding up to Caloy Yulo’s gold in the men’s all-around and the silver in the team all-around the previous day.

It was the finest day so far for Team Philippines with seven gold, four silver and six bronze medals in this Vietnamese capital still feeling the effects of the pandemic.

Late Friday night, just as most members of Team Philippines were already tucked in, Gina Iniong Araos (women’s low-kick 60kg) and Jean Claude Saclag (men’s low-kick 63.5 kg) delivered gold medals in kickboxing. The team also delivered four silvers.

The big show of force in these disciplines gave Team Philippines its 12th gold medal to go with 13 silver and 17 bronze medals, just enough for fourth place overall behind host Vietnam (31-18-26), Indonesia (13-15-3) and Malaysia (13-5-15). Thailand is right behind the Philippines at 6-12-22 but is expected to strike heavily in athletics offering 47 golds.

As it is, the Vietnamese are bound to win the overall crown the way they did in their 2003 hosting when they stashed away 158 gold, 97 silver and 91 bronze medals inside their vault.

The Filipinos won the overall title in 2019 with a massive medal haul of 149-117-121. On the first day of action alone back then, they collected 22 gold, 12 silver and nine bronze medals to set the tone.

It would take a miracle for Team Philippines to duplicate or even get near those numbers.

But there are nine more days of battle in this SEA Games, and as long as the Filipinos win in events closest to their hearts like men’s basketball, boxing, gymnastics, athletics, billiards, cycling, taekwondo and weightlifting, through Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz, then they can keep their pride.

However, that was not the case yesterday when the Gilas Pilipinas squads missed the battle for the gold in men’s 3x3 following a 21-17 loss to Thailand in the semis and the women’s side after a 21-14 setback, also in the semis against the Thais.

The men’s team will go home with the bronze after a 14-10 win over Indonesia while the women’s team empty-handed following a 16-10 loss to Indonesia.

The stunning development in basketball left the men’s and women’s 5x5 squad with no other choice but to defend their titles here. Members of the star-studded team of coach Chot Reyes arrived in town the other night proudly wearing their Gilas shirts with a bullseye on their backs.

A defeat in men’s 5x5 which kicks off tomorrow will be unacceptable.

Agatha Wong, the three-time SEA Games gold medalist from wushu since 2017, and Cris Nievarez, the Tokyo Olympics veteran and SEAG champion in 2019, were also dethroned on a drizzling Saturday.

The 23-year-old Wong kissed her throne goodbye in women’s taijiquan, which she ruled in 2017 and 2019, when she scored 9.69 at the small but packed Cau Giay Sporting Hall.

The charming wushu artist performed to her expectations but bowed to Alisya Mellynar of Indonesia who got the crowd going and the judges handing her a 9.71 for the gold.

Nievarez, who made ripples back home when he qualified to the Tokyo Olympics, was only good for the bronze in rowing’s lightweight singles sculls, the same event he won back home.

Joanie Delgaco took the silver in the women’s single sculls as the gold remained a target for the Pinoy rowers using borrowed boats. They couldn’t bring their own boats here because of serious logistical problems.

Rowing chief Pato Gregorio said it was nobody’s fault since rowers from other countries are in the same boat.

Also winning bronze medals were Jones Inso in wushu (men’s taijijian), Edgar Ilas and Zuriel Sumintac in rowing (men’s lightweight pair) and sprinter Kayla Richardson in the 200m race.

In golf, Lois Kaye Go bounced back with a three-under 69 (145) while Mafy Singson submitted a 70 (146) and remained on course for a bronze medal finish at the par-72 Heron Lake golf course. Thai Natthakritta Vongtaveelap fired a second straight 67 and moved closer to the gold, seven shots ahead of compatriot Eila Galitsky (74-67).

Rianne Malixi, backed by ICTSI, had a 74 after a 76.

The men’s team, however, bowed out of contention as Jet Hernandez had an even 72 after a 74 for 146, Gab Manotoc a 75 for 149 and Jed Dy a 76 for 150. Kristoffer Arevalo submitted a 79 for 157.

EJ OBIENA

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