NAY PYI TAW – A first-timer who wants to prove he belongs and a tested veteran whose winning ways rubbed off on his teammates were the stars of the embattled Team Philippines on Tuesday in the 27th Southeast Asian Games here.
Hurdler Eric Shawn Cray and the archery team led by Earl Benjamin Yap came up with the gold medals as the Filipinos try to make one final push in the hopes of averting another embarrassing finish in the biennial meet.
The 25-year-old, Olongapo-born Cray put on a burst of speed in the last 150 meters to overtake three other runners at the finish line in copping his first SEA Games gold while hardly breaking a sweat, with a clocking of 51.29 seconds in the men's 400-meter hurdles.
“It was an easy win,” said Cray, who honed his skills with the Oklahoma Sooners program and is now aiming to realize an Olympic stint in 2016 with the country of his birth.
“I’m just preparing for the Asian Games (next year in Inchon, South Korea). Hopefully, I’ll do better and make it there, as well as in Brazil.”
Those two wins enabled Team Philippines to emerge from the day with a seventh-running 14-gold total, with three more being contested in as many chess events later in the evening.
Singapore continues to deny the Philippines’ bid of retaining sixth with 22 gold medals.
Thailand continues to lord it over the field with 64 golds, followed by Vietnam’s 47, and Indonesia’s 44.
Cray’s victory was as gripping as the one pulled off by the archery team that also included Delfin Adriano and Ian Chipeco.
Trailing leader Malaysia by three going to the last end (three arrows), the Philippine hawkeyes each hit the bull’s eye straight and true for a 30-24 count that resulted in a 221-218 victory.
“It was a very rewarding win because of the difficult conditions,” said Yap, 29, who has previously won two individual silver and one team gold in his SEA Games stint that started in 2005.
“Aside from the Malaysians in the finals, we also had to contend with the crosswinds that sometimes stop just when you’ve allowed for them. That also makes this win more fulfilling,” added Yap, who only last Monday beat Adriano for the compound individual bronze.
The Filipinos actually got free entry to the semifinals when the Laotian team pulled out and the defending champions paved the repeat with a 223-205 breeze over Myanmar.
Mervin Guarte tried, and so did the rowing duo of Roque Abala and Alvin Amposta, but the former could only reprise his silver finish in the 800m, while the rowers also wound up second in the coxless pairs.
There is a glimmer of hope in other fronts going to the last five days of competitions.
Decathlete Jesson Ramil Cid is leading the pack after the first five events.
The Princess Superal-led PHL female golfers are making up for their male counterparts’ balky play by pacing both the individual and team races.
Muay saw Philip Delarmino knocking out Malaysian Muhammad Sikri, and then breezing through to the finals after the Indonesian team backed out, including what would have been his semis foe.
Dennis Orcollo and Carlo Biado also advanced in 10-ball singles and each guns for a medal Wednesday, and so will Diego Virata and Camila Lastrilla in equestrian’s individual showjumping, although their team and Andrea Sophia Belofsky did not.
Judo and taekwondo also start Wednesday with the latter bannered by former world champion men’s and women’s poomsae teams.