No more wake-up calls

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

POC president Abraham “BambolTolentino said yesterday its not acceptable to continue describing setbacks in international competitions as “wake-up callsbecause its as if “were always asleep.” Tolentino said there were surely lessons learned from the recent Hanoi SEA Games but its time to move forward and stop the never-ending cop-out of a “wake-up call.”

While Tolentino hailed the Filipino athletesperformance in the SEA Games, he said several NSAs that bombed out must reform, adjust and calibrate their programs to bounce back with a bang. He cited the delegations 52 gold medals as the most in 27 years, excluding the two editions that the Philippines hosted in 2005 and 2019. But Tolentino couldnt help but exclaim “ouchwhen reminded of sports that failed to duplicate their gold finishes in the previous edition. Despite COVID and half the delegation that competed in 2019, Tolentino called the campaign in Hanoi successful.

There were heartaches, disappointments and upsets along the way. Tolentino mentioned that the Philippines’ 52nd and last gold medal won by Philip Delarmino in muay mens 57 kg combat came only after a protest. “We fought a Vietnamese who happened to be the son of a high government official,” he said. “When it ended, they declared the Vietnamese the winner although he clearly lost. So we protested and demanded a video review. Fortunately, the decision was reversed.” Another instance was in gymnastics where Caloy Yulo ruled the horizontal bar but a Vietnamese managed to squeeze into the gold picture. Without computers, the gymnastics judges took a while scoring manually and eventually gave two gold medals in an unprecedented compromise.

Tolentino said for NSAs that didnt meet medal expectations, the only option is to level up against the opposition, “not just two times but 10 times.” He said bringing in foreign expertise through coaches to guide athletes three to six months before a competition is a priority consideration. “Our SEA neighbors are doing it,” he said. “We cant get left behind.” Tolentino said the Philippinesloss to Indonesia in the mens basketball final was a shock and “a mortal sin.” He noted that the clamor of the Filipino fans is “matalo sa lahat, huwag lang sa basketballbecause of their love for the game. “Parang minaliit natin ang kalaban,” he said. “This should never happen again. Because of the public outcry, the Senate and Congress might consider passing a law mandating athletes to prioritize the national team wherever they are.”

PSC commissioner and chef de mission Ramon Fernandez was just as dismayed at the outcome in the sport he played. “It boils down to training and preparation,” he said. “I thought we shouldve set up more plays for June Mar (Fajardo) at the post because hes unstoppable and wouldve fouled out (Marques) Bolden if he attacked more. During the game, I went up to JuneMar when he was on the bench and told him when the guard penetrates and tries to score a layup, dont catch him below but on top, just jump high up and trap the ball sa gilid ng basket. Indonesia and Thailand have improved a lot in basketball and we cant take them lightly.”

Fernandez said the athlete who showed enormous promise as a future Olympian was womens 71 kg weightlifting gold medalist Vanessa Sarno. “She broke three SEA Games records and according to weightlifting president Monico Puentevella, was just five kilograms short of the Olympic record and shes only 18,” said Fernandez. “Weightlifting isnt a subjective sport, ang kalaban ay yung bubuhatin mo kaya its measurable. Of course, were impressed by Caloy Yulo, Hidilyn Diaz and our other top performers. This was all about the athletes. As chef de mission, I felt more pressure than when I was with the national team kasi when youre playing, you forget the pressure. In Hanoi, I was first man in, last man out.”


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