With the close of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Oct. 8, the Philippines can take solace in the fact that with four gold medals, it has at least matched its harvest in the 2018 edition of the quadrennial tournament held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
With 4 gold, 2 silver, and 12 bronze medals, the Philippines finished 17th of the 38 nations that participated. This is an improvement on its 19th ranking in Jakarta, when it brought home 4 gold, 2 silver and 15 bronze medals. This is also its highest ranking since it placed 14th overall in the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, Japan.
While this may be regarded as a lackluster performance considering the number of gold-medal contenders sent this time, the historic win of the national basketball team under head coach Tim Cone, Gilas Pilipinas, served to defuse public disappointment.
In the Philippines where basketball is a national passion, the gold medal that Gilas won on Oct. 6, the fourth for the country in the tally, is perhaps the most important. It is the first since 1962: Gilas trounced a previously undefeated Jordan, 70-60, in the men’s 5×5 basketball match held at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium.
For years the Philippine basketball team had failed to get past the elimination round; when it came to medals, it bagged a bronze in 1986, a silver in 1990, and another bronze in 1998 (a particularly memorable game for Cone, who also led that squad).
And again, the road to the basketball finals was not easy. In the group stage on Sept. 30, the Gilas boys were pummeled, 87-62, by the same Jordanian squad that they eventually beat for the gold. Because of that defeat the Philippines had to hurdle tough qualification matches including with powerhouse Iran which it beat, 84-83, thanks to the heroics of naturalized player Justine Brownlee. That win set up Gilas against host China in the semifinal. As in the game against Iran, it was Brownlee who saved the team: He sank all his five triples in the fourth quarter and completed a comeback from a 20-point deficit to dethrone the eight-time Asian Games basketball champion, 77-76.
Earlier the Philippines’ hopes began to fade as its strongest gold-medal contenders came up short in their respective fields. Skateboarding sensation and Tokyo Olympian Margielyn Didal finished last among eight finalists on Sept. 27. Didal, who had undergone surgery on her left ankle that was fractured during the Red Bull Stake Levels tourney last year in Brazil, was evidently still bothered by her condition. She could not complete her tricks and eventually decided to skip the rest of the stage to prevent another injury.
Another heartbreaker was 18-year-old tennis sensation and world No. 195 Alex Eala, who had to settle for the bronze in her Sept. 28 semifinal match against world No. 23 Zheng Qinwen of China. Zheng, 20, advanced to the final and eventually claimed the women’s singles gold medal after defeating compatriot Zhu Lin, 6-2, 6-4.
The next day, Eala and her partner, Francis Casey Alcantara, snatched the bronze medal in the tennis mixed doubles after sweeping the duo Luksika Kumkhum and Maximo Jones of Thailand.
On Sept. 29, Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Nesthy Petecio made a surprising early exit when she lost her opening bout to top-seed Lin Yu Ting of Chinese Taipei via a split decision in the women’s boxing 57-kilogram category.
But the Philippines’ hopes were lifted when pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena gave his country its first gold medal on Sept. 30. No one could come close to his feat of clearing the 5.75-meter mark.
Not content with his gold achievement, Obiena proceeded to clear 5.90 meters—25 centimeters higher than what his nearest challengers could achieve—and reset the Asian Games mark of 5.70 m set by Japan’s Seito Yamamoto in 2018. (Obiena finished seventh in that tournament.)
At home, Filipinos thought Obiena’s gold was the spark that the country’s campaign needed.
Unfortunately, world boxing champion Abdumalik Khalokov of Uzbekistan proved too much for Olympic silver medalist Carlo Paalam, who lost by unanimous decision, 5-0, on Oct. 3.
Projected as a surefire multiple-medal prospect, 22-year-old Kayla Noelle Sanchez failed to get a podium finish in the women’s 50m and 100m freestyle as well as in the 50m and 100m backstroke.
But Sanchez managed to break two individual Philippine records in the 50m backstroke and 100m freestyle. Together with fellow swimmers Xiandi Chua, Teia Salvino and Jasmine Alkhaldi, she registered a new national mark in the 4x100m freestyle relay.
Filipino American athletes Lauren Hoffman and Robyn Brown were also unable to win a medal in the women’s 400m hurdles on Oct. 3.
In the men’s 4x400m relay, the squad of Umajesty Williams, Frederick Ramirez, Joyme Sequita and Miguel Carlo Del Prado reset the national mark on Oct. 4 despite placing fifth in the final. They clocked 3:4.89 seconds, eclipsing the previous record they generated a day before (3:06.15).
The women’s 4x400m made up of Robyn Brown, Angel Frank, Maureen Emily Schrijvers and Lauren Hoffman also ended up fifth in the final as they collectively clocked 3:40.78.
The Philippines’ first and only Olympic gold medalist, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz-Naranjo, fell short of a podium finish in the women’s 59 kg division, placing fourth in the Oct. 2 match. But this was not the division she reigned in during the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. Her usual 53 kg category was scrapped; she had to adjust to a new and heavier weight class and, at the same time, deal with other contenders who had been competing for years in that weight category.
Eumir Marcial, who is heading to the Paris Olympics, settled for silver in the men’s 80kg boxing final after bowing to China’s Tuohetaerbieke Tanglatihan by a 5-0 unanimous decision on Oct. 5. His achievement was nevertheless remarkable considering that he had to move up in weight with the scrapping of the weight class (75 kg) in which he won a bronze in the Tokyo Olympics.
Women’s jiu-jitsu became the saving grace as Meggie Ochoa snagged the Philippines’ second gold medal after ruling the 48kg division—via advantage—over Balqees Abdulla of the United Arab Emirates on Oct. 5.
Ochoa, 33, regards this victory as special because it is her first-ever Asian Games gold. But she is already a two-time world champion, having topped her category in the 2018 Jiu-Jitsu International Federation Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in Sweden and in the 2022 JJIF Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in the UAE.
On Oct. 6, it was Annie Ramirez’s turn to bring the Philippines its third gold after defeating Kazakhstan’s Galina Duvanova, 2-0, and ruling the women’s jiu-jitsu 57kg division. Ramirez is also a three-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist (in 2019, 2022, and in 2023).
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) should take note of the rest of the Filipino medal winners and consider their respective sports disciplines that may be needing more support and development:
Arnel Mandal (silver in wushu men’s 56kg); Patrick King Perez (bronze in taekwondo men’s individual poomsae); Jones Llabres Inso (bronze in wushu men’s taijiquan/taijijian all-around); Gideon Fred Padua (bronze in wushu men’s 60kg); Clemente Tabugara Jr. (bronze in wushu men’s 65kg); Patrick Bren Coo (bronze, men’s cycling BMX racing); Elreen Ann Ando (bronze, weightlifting women’s 64kg); the team of Rheyjey Ortouste, Jason Huerte, Vince Torno, Mark Joseph Gonzales, Ronsited Gabayeron, and Jom Lerry Rafael (bronze, sepak takraw men’s quadrant); Sakura Alforte (bronze, karate, women’s individual kata); Jenna Kaila Napolis (bronze, jiu-jitsu women’s 52kg); and the team of Rheyjey Ortouste, Jason Huerte, Mark Joseph Gonzales, Ronsited Gabayeron, and Jom Lerry Rafael (bronze, sepak takraw men’s regu).
The POC sent 395 athletes who competed in 37 sports disciplines at the Hangzhou Asian Games.