Fil-Am Olympian Eric Cray heads field in Philippine Open Athletics Championships
Eric Cray and other members of the Philippine team battle top athletes from SEA rivals Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Timor Leste, among others. Jerome Ascano

FIL-American Olympian Eric Cray banners the field in the 2017 Ayala Philippine National Open Invitational Athletics Championships opening on Thursday at the Ilagan City Sports Complex in Isabela.

The Texas-based Cray, who participated in the 400-meter hurdles in the Rio Olympics last year, is already in Ilagan and is expected to register for the meet along with Donovant Arriola, Zion Corrales and Marestella Torres-Sunang. That leaves thrower Caleb Stuart and sprinters Kayla and Kyla Richardson as the only members of the Philippine national team who will not see action.

Opening day features 17 gold medal events including the 10,000-meter run, shot put, high jump, 110-m hurdles and long jump.

The event offers slots to the national team that will see action in the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur in August.

Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico said the National Open serves as a selection process that everybody has to go through, including those who have already qualified and emerged with medals in the previous SEA Games in Singapore.

“We require all our national athletes to take part in the National Open meet,” said Juico, who is also a former chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission.

“We don’t want to simply rely on submitted best performance record. We want to see actual performance for Patafa’s benefit and for the stakeholders and general public to see the faces responsible for these performances.”

The only athlete exempted from competing in the National Open is EJ Obiena, who is training in Italy under renowned pole vault coach Vitaly Petrov in a bid to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“He already hit the SEA Games standard. His training abroad supported by the PSC, IAAF and Patafa was rigorously structured several months again with the schedule of the SEA Games as the focal point.”

Also competing are athletes from Brunei, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Kinabalu Montana, Sabah, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Timor Leste.

“We have a total of 12 new national team members that have actually qualified to the Malaysia SEA Games and 19 who brought home medals in the previous SEA Games, so we have now 31 bets in the Kuala Lumpur Games,” said National coach Jojo Posadas, husband and mentor of track legend Elma Muros-Posadas.

“However, they still have to perform in the next four days to justify their inclusion in the national delegation.”

Ninety-eight gold medals are at stake in the meet presented by the City of Ilagan and sponsored by Ayala Corporation with Milo, Philippine Sports Commission and International Amateur Athletics Federation as co-presentors and Foton Pilipinas, UCPB Gen and Run Rio as minor sponsors.


Follow the writer on Twitter: @spinph