NAY PYI TAW – New life was breathed into struggling Team Philippines’ campaign in the 27th Southeast Asian Games here, no little thanks to a trio of boxers and a young but equally determined karateka.
Sinag Pilipinas also moved within a win of clinching the gold medal in the sport Filipinos love the most, basketball, further fanning the hopes of an entire nation the national team would avert its worst-ever finish in the biennial meet.
Without a gold to show the previous three days, Team Philippines received a veritable avalanche when light-flyweights Josie Gabuco and Mark Anthony Barriga and bantamweight Mario Fernandez stood at the top of their respective class following the boxing competitions at the Wunna Theikdi Indoor Stadium.
Ramon Antonino Franco chipped in his own share right on his SEAG debut, his road to the top of the podium highlighted by an 8-6 victory over a Brunei opponent in the -55kg kumite finals, in the process somewhat making up for the sport’s string of heartbreaks for the day.
Still it was Gabuco who broke the ice by carving a 40-36, 40-36, 38-38 victory over Beatrix Suguro of Indonesia before Barriga followed suit with a 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 triumph over Konelis Langu of Indonesia, and Fernandez eking out a 30-29, 30-29, 30-29 win over Donchai Tathi of Thailand.
Those victories in the boxing ring also eased the sting of the finals losses suffered by lightweight Junel Cantancio, light-welter Dennis Galvan and, most especially, welterweight Wilfredo Lopez and lady featherweight in Nesthy Petecio.
Although busier and landing the more powerful punches, Petecio lost to Myanmar’s Ngwe Ni Oo, 37-39, 37-39, 38-38, while Lopez’s fight against Kristianus Ina, also of the host country, was ordered halted by the ring physician due to the Filipino’s cut over the right eyebrow, despite Lopez maintaining he is able to fight.
“Lamang na lamang tayo pero itinigil ng referee nu’ng makita iyung putok. Wala tayong magawa,” rued head coach Nolito Velasco.
The boxers wound up the competitions with three gold, four silver and three bronze medals, just a gold shy of their pre-Games target.
Yet with Franco’s share, Team PHL more than matched the total it has had since plunging into action last week and now has a total of seven gold medals for seventh place from eighth in the overall standings.
Velasco’s sentiment echoed what the other Filipinos mostly want to say out loud earlier in the day.
Angeline Magdaena of Indonesia ran roughshod over two Filipina champions to emerge with the 9-ball singles gold.
Cool and collected on the outside in each of her matches, Magdaena capped her winning run with a 7-2 victory over reigning 10-ball titlist Rubilen Amit. The Indonesian also fashioned a 4-7 triumph over 2011 champion Iris Ranola, still grieving over the death of her father last Wednesday, in the quarterfinals.
“May mga araw talaga na ganyan, pero babawi kami ni Iris sa 10-ball,” said Amit.
Another former world champion, Efren “Bata” Reyes, and Francisco dela Cruz could only advance as far as the semifinals before vowing to their respective Vietnamese opponents and settling for a share of the bronze.
Bronze medals were also won by karatedo Joanna Mae Ylanan in the -68kg kumite and GM Joey Antonio in International individual blitz and the ones formally awarded flyweight Maricris Igam and bantamweight Irish Magno.
Worse off were weightlifter Jeffrey Garcia, fourth in the 62kg class, karatedos John Michael Badil (-75kg), Rexor Romaquin (-67kg) Princess Diane Sicangco (-61kg) and Jason Macaalay (-60kg).
Macaalay’s first round exit in the day’s initial match was as bitter as Petecio’s, for although he was clearly superior to San Toe, they still emerged with a 5-all tie. The decision went to the Myanmar bet.
Even 2003 champion Joey Barba miserably fared in his favorite downhill race in cycling, landing only sixth in the 11-man field.
Team Philippines now look for more gold medals as action in billiards, chess, cycling’s road race, weightlifting through Hedilyn Diaz, and karatedo continues while athletics kicks off with its first nine golds, four being chased by Filipinos.