The nation of just over 17 million people hosts the SEA Games for the first time, and POC president Abraham 'Bambol' Tolentino sees a wide-open race for the overall title.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame,” said Tolentino in Tuesday’s Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) online forum.
“With due respect to Cambodia, of course,” added Tolentino, who vowed to send a full contingent to the next SEA Games, which comes 12 months after the Hanoi edition that was rescheduled from 2021 due to the pandemic.
The Philippines is coming off a fourth-place finish in Hanoi with 52 gold, 70 silver and 104 bronze medals, its biggest medal haul in the last 11 editions when it was not the host.
“We are proud of our athletes. Thank you, athletes. It was very successful,” said Tolentino barely eight days after the Hanoi Games, where Filipino gymnastics world champion Caloy Yulo won five gold medals, came to a close.
The Filipino winners are expected to return in less than a year to defend their titles.
In Hanoi, the Philippines bagged 70 silver medals, 40 of them in subjective sports and 27 of them against Vietnamese athletes.
“We have to accept reality na sila ang host,” added Tolentino during the forum presented by San Miguel Corporation (SMC), Milo, Philippine Sports Commission, Philippine Olympic Committee, Amelie Hotel Manila, Unilever, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).
The POC chief said Cambodia will come up with the final list of events this coming month, and from there, the various national sports associations (NSAs) in coordination with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) can start planning.
Proper training, overseas or on home soil, and under foreign coaches are on top of the agenda as Team Philippines prepares to challenge Vietnam, Thailand and the host country.
The incoming administration, and perhaps a new set of officers in the government sports agency, should also play a key role preparing the athletes for the next SEA Games, a tune-up for the Asian Games, which will be held next year after its postponement this year.
“Magkaroon na sana tayo ng mas-mahabang training,” added Tolentino, who lauded the most Filipino athletes for performing well in Hanoi despite limited time to train and the absence of foreign exposure.
“Salihan natin lahat sa Cambodia. We’re just waiting for the final list of events,” said the POC chief.
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