Mission is clear: Keep the fire burning in Hanoi Games

Published January 28, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Ramon Bonilla


Ramon Bonilla

The 2019 Southeast Asian Games was a major success for the athletes and officials that persevered to make the hosting of the biennial meet an unforgettable moment in history. But as the country grapples from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the woes extending to the preparations of the national team toward the nearing Hanoi Games, will there be a repeat of podium dominance for the Filipino athletes?

After months of delay, the Vietnamese organizers have set the Games from May 12 to 23 with 526 events on tap in 40 sports. The number pales in comparison when the country hosted the P6 billion showpiece with 56 sports on the plot and the proud Filipino delegation taking the biggest chunk of mints with 149 golds, 117 silvers, and 121 bronze medals.

For sure, the memories and joy brought by the huge outcome of the 2019 SEAG could last a lifetime, but a mirror of triumph in Hanoi is a big question when the challenges imposed by this pandemic are factored in.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” admitted Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham Tolentino. “It could even be as hard to fight for the No. 2 spot.”

Tolentino knew that other participating nations have been ramping up their preparation in order to be battle-ready when May comes. Also at their disposal are cash flows to make the athletes armed to the teeth when action begins.

The Philippine Sports Commission, under the care of chairman Butch Ramirez, has pegged the Hanoi Games budget at P121 million. It originally stood at P200 million, but initial expenses were already disbursed for training and exposure even before the health crisis shook the sporting world apart.

Also, a rerun of the 2019 medal haul could be hindered with a leaner contingent bound to Vietnam. During the 30th edition that was divided into major hubs in Metro Manila, Subic and Clark, the Philippines fielded 1,115 athletes dotted across the 56 sports. In Hanoi only 584 athletes were listed to participate in 39 sports.

Training is also a big concern for the national team. Venues like Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and PhilSports were transformed as quarantine facilities, while athletes were limited to online sessions with coaches and home workouts. The PSC originally set the resumption of training this month, but the surge in COVID cases made life harder for the sportsmen.

Despite the obvious reasons to be worried, the country doesn’t lack the talent to show a competitive fight in Hanoi. Team Philippines has an Olympic champion in weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz to carry the guiding light for the delegation. Diaz is an inspiration to many, and her presence alone serves as a beacon of hope for the athletes. There are also the other Tokyo medallists in boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial, who could all provide the showmanship to lift up the spirits of the Filipino team. Never forget gymnast Carlos Yulo and pole vaulter EJ Obiena, both strong medal prospects in their fields along with the esports players and the stars of Gilas Pilipinas basketball squad.

Coming off from the 2019 SEAG victory and the days of glory in Tokyo, the Filipino athletes are sure to troop to Vietnam’s capital with much courage, all driven by a mission that their performance could bring a piece of pride for the nation. With all these in mind, repeating as the king of Southeast Asia is possible.