Tonight, while Hanoi lights up the sky with an extravagant display of fireworks, a vibrant show of cultural presentations and the final words of gratitude and goodbye to thousands of athletes will close the 31st Southeast Asian Games.
The athletes braved the threat of the pandemic and flocked the Vietnamese capital for the two-week sports fest where the Filipino athletes have shown the world that they can compete at an elite level despite the obstacles along the journey. It is a strong signal of readiness and a symbol of promise for the nation that will be yearning for more success when Paris holds the Olympics in two years.
The image of pride among the men and women of the Philippine contingent during the closing ceremony of the 31st Southeast Asian Games should come as a sign of victory regardless of the contrast of harvest in this edition from the 2019 medal haul which earned the national team a total of 149 gold medals.
With competitors across the sports hubs going for a curtain call on Sunday, the Filipino teams could make a final push in boxing, esports and basketball, and bring the gold count above 50 for a decent finish inside the top five of the overall rankings.
An underwhelming number for the prying eyes, the performance could trigger public reactions. But for those who have followed the stories of hardships of these athletes, making it to Vietnam is already a portrayal of courage that is worthy of admiration.
Hidilyn Diaz, Carlos Yulo and Ernest John Obiena—all notable names in the field—performed at their best despite the limitations brought by the pandemic. These famous athletes had gone through the toughest of training camps with less resources, much like the path of the other sportsmen who endured life under the threat of the virus.
Diaz, the Tokyo Olympics champion, successfully defended her weightlifting title. The diminutive Yulo wowed the entire nation after winning five gold medals along with two runner-up finishes in gymnastics. Obiena leapt so high for a new SEA Games record in pole vault.
There are other equally rousing victories from other fronts, including Diaz’s “heir apparent” Vanessa Sarno, double gold medalists Rubilen Amit of billiards and Merwin Tan of bowling, and the huge contributions from the dance athletes.
At 67 years old, Efren “Bata” Reyes also made headlines for standing his ground against younger foes, while the women’s football team will head home with much honor after bagging bronze after a 37-year wait.
Gold medals might have eluded the Philippine team at the SEA Games, but there are plenty of reasons why we should look forward to the Paris Summer Games in 2024.
For sure, medals give a hint of fulfillment, but the real lessons that should be embodied by the sports fans, the Olympic hopefuls, and the generations to come are the memories, the stories of perseverance amid the trials, and how these Filipinos in Hanoi rewarded us with a fight to remember—win or lose.