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Sports

Grizzled Gonzales still at it

Joey Villar - The Philippine Star
Grizzled Gonzales still at it
Richard Gonzales.
Russell Palma

MANILA, Philippines — While Philippine pool icon Efren “Bata” Reyes is showered with accolades from his throngs of fans, there is another Filipino living legend quietly and effectively making the country proud minus the glitz and glamor of “The Magician.”

Meet 51-year-old paddler Richard Gonzales, the face of Philippine table tennis.

In a field where most of the competitors were not even born when he first suited up for the national team more than two decades ago, Gonzales continued to defy time as he delivered a silver medal in men’s doubles of the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

Gonzales, whose frail, stooped body failed to hide his big heart and indomitable spirit, gave it his all as he and 26-year-old partner, former UAAP MVP John Russell Misal fell to Singaporeans Zhe Chew and Shao Feng Pho, 5-11, 11-8, 11-4, 12-10, in the finals at the Hai Durong Gymnasium in Hai Durong, Vietnam.

There was a silver lining to it though as the result surpassed the country’s lone medal effort in the 2019 edition in Subic – a bronze captured by Gonzales.

And it could have been a breakthrough gold for a country that has never won one in the history of its participation in the sport.

Hours before, Gonzales and Misal brought down Singapore’s Pang Yew En Koen and Josh Chua in a pulse-pounding game that saw the Filipinos claw back from a 1-2 set deficit and six match points before courageously stringing together six points in row to snatch a 6-11, 11-8, 8-11, 11-9, 12-10 win that ensured them a silver.

Pang, 20, was the 2019 singles gold medalist while his partnership with Chua, 21, resulted to a doubles mint also in Subic.

In the finale, Gonzales and Misal took the first set but conceded the next two before coming close to seizing the fourth and forcing a winner-take-all set when they reached set point, 10-9.

It wasn’t meant to be, though.

The silver hiked Gonzales’ SEA Games total to 10 medals – the most by any Filipino. He had two singles silvers in 2005 in Manila and 2015 in Singapore and seven bronzes, including his first that came in 1999 in Bandar Seri Bagawan, Brunei where he first made his SEA Games debut.

Track and field secretary-general Pong Ducanes said they never asked Gonzales, who will compete in the singles starting today, if he’s retiring, but if he’s playing or not.

“He’s a living legend and we respect his decision if he wants to play. It’s really up to him,” said Ducanes.

RICHARD GONZALES

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