Mary Joy Tabal delivers first gold for Philippines in KL SEAG with big win in women's marathon
Mary Joy Tabal takes an early lead and holds on for the win in front of the Palace of Justice. Jerome Ascano

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Mary Joy Tabal won the first gold medal for the Philippines in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games when she ruled the women's marathon on Saturday morning in this city south of Kuala Lumpur.

The 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympian began to break free in the third of five loops of the course in front of the Palace of Justice, beating the eight-woman field by a mile.

Tabal bags gold following a controversial lead-up to the SEA Games in which she was dropped from the national team before being reinstated after coming to terms with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association. It was an auspicious start for the Philippines in athletics on the day the SEA Games formally opens.

Tabal clocked two hours, 48 minutes, 26 seconds — more than seven minutes ahead of the Vietnamese runner.

Thailand’s Natthaya Thanaronnawat, SEA Games champion two years ago in Singapore, settled for the bronze.

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