Win some, lose some. The Philippines sits in fourth place in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games’ (SEA Games) medal tally, with 19 gold, 28 silver, and 31 bronze medals as of the evening of May 8, and that ranking will expectedly be challenged by several factors in the remaining nine days.
As host country, Cambodia had the privilege of choosing which sport and how many events to include in this year’s SEA Games. The exercise of that privilege limited the Philippines from fielding more athletes and narrowed the number of events in which Filipinos could participate.
No wonder Cambodia even included indigenous sports like kun bokator that should give its athletes the advantage in the medal race. This full-contact fighting style, with roots in the Khmer Empire that ruled over much of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries, utilizes the entire body as a weapon employing strikes, kicks, throws, joint locks, and grappling techniques.
While Cambodia left out chess despite the region needing to produce world-class players, it decided to include ouk chaktrang, an ancient form of chess played in that country since 800 AD, and xiangqi or Chinese chess.
Yet, the Philippines was able to beat the SEA Games host at its own game. On May 4, 19-year-old Angel Gwen Derla delivered the second gold medal for the Philippines, topping the women’s bamboo shield form of kun bokator and frustrating Cambodia’s bet by 0.03 point (8.5 points vs 8.47 points).
Despite the short preparations, the Philippines still bagged one silver in the women’s 60-minute doubles category and one bronze in the men’s 60-minute Quadruple Team events of the ouk chaktrang competition.
In what may be regarded as a heartbreaker, the men’s Gilas Pilipinas bowed to a heavily-reinforced Cambodia team, 20-15, in the final of the 3×3 basketball event on May 7. The host country’s team, composed mainly of players eligible for the US National Basketball Association, was just too much for the quartet of Philippine Basketball Association stars Almond Vosotros, Lervin Flores, Joseph Eriobu, and Joseph Sedurifa, who settled for silver.
Coach Lester del Rosario lamented in a postgame interview that they were caught by surprise as the names of the three naturalized (formerly American) players were excluded in the Cambodian roster.
That same day, women’s Gilas Pilipinas also settled for a silver medal after losing to Vietnam, 21-16.
But not everything is sad news for the Philippines as Kaila Napolis beat her highly-favored foe and hometown favorite Jessa Khan in the women’s jiu-jitsu ne-waza nogi 52-kg discipline on May 4 to claim the first gold medal for the Philippines. With that win, Napolis redeemed herself from a heartbreaker against the same rival back in the 2019 SEA Games held in Manila.
Team Philippines (men’s and women’s category) completed a sweep of all four gold medals in the obstacle course race event. By grabbing all the available golds, it replicated its output in Manila when the national obstacle racers went six of six.
As the third day of the SEA Games was about to conclude, the pair of Bien Zoleta-Mañalac and Princess Catindig gave the Philippines another gold after winning the soft tennis women’s doubles final event against the Thais, 5-2.
Completing the 14-gold haul for the Philippines last weekend, the Sibol League of Legends: Wild Rift men’s team defeated Vietnam, 3-1. The Filipino e-sports athletes scored several unanswered kills to open the match and then secured one of the game’s most important monster, Baron Nashor, to eventually take control of the game.
Monday, May 8, proved fruitful for the Philippines as five golds were added courtesy of triathlete Fernando Casares, gymnast Carlos Yulo, mixed martial arts veteran Robin Catalan, swimmer Xiandi Chua, and pole vaulter EJ Obiena.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated events was Obiena’s. The two-time SEA Games gold medalist did not disappoint as he claimed his third gold medal in the men’s pole vault late in the afternoon. Not only did he top the event but he also set a new meet record of 5.65m, breaking his previous mark of 5.46m that he set in Vietnam last year.
Carlos Yulo, another athlete Filipinos are keeping an eye on, once again ruled the artistic gymnastics men’s individual all-around event with a score of 84, completing his SEA Games three-peat (he previously won in 2019 and 2021).
But Yulo’s efforts in the team event were not enough to unseat Vietnam in the artistic gymnastics men’s team all-around event. Yulo, together with Juancho Miguel Besana, Ivan Cruz, Jan Gwynn Timbang, and Justine Ace de Leon garnered just 305.25 points and settled for another silver finish behind Vietnam’s 313 points.
In the women’s 200-meter backstroke final, the Philippine swimming team completed a 1-2 finish as Chua captured the gold and Chloe Isleta the silver.
Catalan, the 32-year-old ultimate fighter, ruled the men’s combat kun bokator 50-kg event, besting Indonesia’s Ada Permana who took the silver.
Meanwhile, Casares’ back-to-back wins (his first was in 2022 in Hanoi) continue the Philippines’ dominance of the swim-bike-run event for five straight times as Nikko Huelgas (2015 in Singapore, 2017 in Kuala Lumpur) and John Leerams Chicano (2019 in Manila) also hauled in gold medals.
The Philippines’ luck did not extend to the women’s triathlon event as Kim Mangrobang fell short of bagging her fourth straight gold. She settled for a silver behind Cambodia’s Margot Garabedian, a naturalized triathlete from France who is currently 192nd in the world triathlon ranking. Mangrobang, who ruled this event in 2017, 2019, and 2021, is ranked 230th.