Olympian Eric Cray, SEAG record-holder Caleb Stuart banner Ayala-PH National Open meet
Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico leads the official launching of the 2017 Ayala Philippine National Open Invitational Athletics Championships in Ilagan, Isabela. Gerry Ramos

THE country’s finest tracksters pit skills against each other for six days with the staging of the 2017 Ayala Philippine National Open Invitational Athletics Championships in Ilagan, Isabela.

The Open will be held from March 29 to April 2 at the Ilagan Sports Complex, where close to 1,000 athletes, including foreign bets, are set to see action including Rio Olympics semifinalist Eric Cray and SEA Games hammer throw record holder Caleb Stuart.

The meet will be preceded by the 12th Southeast Asian Youth Athletics Championships in featuring athletes aged 15 to 17 years old from 10 neighboring countries.

This year’s Open will serve as the final selection stage for the Philippine track and field team seeing action in the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games set this August.

“They’re all coming for the Open which is the start of partnership that is designed to help Philippine sports,” said Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Ella Juico during the media launch of the twin meets Thursday at the Orchids Garden Hotel.

“The National Open will be a good gauge (for our athletes) in the coming SEA Games,” added Juico, who was joined in the media presentation by former Isabela Mayor Jay Diaz, representing his wife Mayor Evelyn Diaz, and other PATAFA officials.

Apart from Cray and Stewart, all eyes will also be on SEA Games long jump bronze medalist Donovant Arriola, long jumper Tyler Ruiz, and upcoming Fil-Am sprinter Trenten Beram, who’s eyeing to make his mark in the 200m and 400m events, respectively.

Foreign entries are expected to give the field a stiff competition.

Malaysian hurdler Raja Azhar leads the way in the women’s 100m, so does Sri Lankan Nimali Liyanarachchi in the 400m hurdle, while middle distance runner Savinder Kaur Singh is expected to give Fil-Am Jessica Barnard a good fight in the 800m run.

Other foreign bets coming over include those from South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Guam, and Brunei.

A host of crack athletes from across Asia and the Pacific are also expected to mount opposition against members of Team Philippines-Iligan City, who  will also be made up of those from the national training pool and collegiate leagues such as the UAAP, NCAA, and SCUAA.

Competition proper starts at 6 a.m. and then takes a six-hour mid-day break and resume at 4 p.m. onwards. The break is aimed at giving competitors and technical officials a respite from the extreme summer heat and to follow international conventional practice.

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This year’s Open also officially marks the forging of a long-term partnership between the Ayala Corp. and PATAFA.

“PATAFA will use these resources to help our athletes train well and perform competitively in the 2017 SEA Games, the 2018 Asian Games,  the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and more importantly, at the 2019 Manila SEA Games, where the Philippines is hosting the biennial sports meet,” PATAFA said in its official statement regarding its partnership with Ayala Corp.

Other than Ayala, the event is also co-presented by MILO, the Philippine Sports Commission, and the IAAF, with Foton Philippines, UCPB Gen, and Run Rio as minor sponsors. 

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