MANILA, Philippines — Draped with the Philippine flag, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz profusely thanked the crowd, then executed a snappy salute to the Sun and Stars as the “Lupang Hinirang” was being played in the awarding ceremonies of her event in the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Monday.
With another effort that certainly did not disappoint, this country, it seems, owes her a salute as well.
Diaz ruled the women’s 55-kilogram event before an appreciative hometown crowd at Ninoy Aquino Stadium, as the Philippines’ heroine in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and one of its champions in last year’s Asian Games in Indonesia performed head and shoulders above everyone to lift the country to another productive day that padded the hosts’ lead in the overall standings. (See related stories in Sports, Pages A13-A14.)
First SEA Games gold
The 28-year-old Diaz, who has her eyes fixed on an Olympic title in Tokyo next year, lifted a total of 211 kg to win her first SEA Games gold that will certainly glitter as bright as her Rio silver, her World Championship bronze and that Asiad gold.
“This is a huge deal for me because my parents are here, and the nation watched me and now they know how intense weightlifting is,” Diaz said. “Hopefully they (fans) were able to appreciate the sport.”
Thi Thuy Nguyen of Vietnam was a distant second with an effort of 197—the disparity in the lift total speaking volumes of how far Diaz has progressed compared to her counterparts in the region.
“This year has been so good to me and I’ve made large progress in terms of training and technique,” Diaz said. “We’re on the right track for Tokyo 2020.”
Indonesia’s Juliana Klarisa won the bronze after lifting a total of 175 kg.
With 16 Day 2 triumphs, Team Philippines now has a hefty 38-21-13 (gold-silver-bronze) tally as of 8 p.m. Monday, leading Vietnam, which has 15-20-16 and Malaysia, which has 11-2-6, in the overall race. The Filipinos won just 23 gold medals in the 2017 edition to finish sixth in Kuala Lumpur.
While Diaz delivered as expected, there was a mild surprise on the basketball floor over at FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan where the Gilas Women’s 3×3 team, anchored by a peppery scorer in Afril Bernardino, defeated Thailand, 17-13, for the country’s first gold in women’s basketball.
What happened later was no surprise at all when the Gilas Men bamboozled Indonesia, 21-9, to complete a sweep for the country.
Bernardino was an unstoppable force in the gold medal match, as the Filipinos avenged— in a matter of hours—a 22-20 overtime loss in the elimination round to the same Thai team that put the only blemish on their card.
“I hope that with this win, with this gold medal, all the hard work of the girls will be recognized,” said Pat Aquino, who will also call the shots in the 5-on-5 event where the Nationals will be gunning for their first-ever gold medal. “We’re so proud of them. All their hard work, all their sacrifices. They really love basketball. This is for the country.”
Jack Animam, Janine Pontejos and Clare Castro were the other members of the women’s team.
With a team composed of young stars in the professional Philippine Basketball Association, the men dismantled every opponent they faced, before Mo Tautuaa, Chris Newsome, Jason Perkins and CJ Perez put the finishing touches to an expected gold medal with that rout of the Indonesians for an 8-0 record.
Arnis delivered seven Day 2 gold medals, with Elmer Manlapaz leading a dominant effort in the padded stick division for the men, who won three divisions. The women delivered four gold medals at Angeles University Foundation.
Manlapaz was the featherweight king, joining Jesfer Huquire (bantam), and Carloyd Tejada (welter) in the victory stands. Sheena del Monte won the women’s bantam division of the padded stick, with Jedah Mae Soriano reining in the featherweight division, also in the padded stick event. Ross Ashley Monville and Abegail Abad ruled the women’s feather and light classes, respectively.
Arnis has now won a total of 12 gold medals, surpassing dancesport as the most prolific contributor to the Philippine effort. Dancesport won 10 golds on Sunday.
Triathlon events at Subic Boardwalk concluded with the mixed relay team led by Kim Mangrobang, and John Leerams Chicano, who ruled the women’s and men’s individual events the day prior, destroying the mixed relay field for the country’s third gold—the most available.
Claire Adorna and Filipino-Spanish discovery Fernando Casares were the other members of the squad that clocked one hour, 33 minutes and 47 seconds, beating Singapore, which timed 1:37:58.
The Philippine lineup was so strong the outcome was put beyond doubt by the time Mangrobang built a 50-second lead after her bike leg. The mixed relay event called for the two men and two women each completing a course of 340 meters swim, 6.6 kilometers bike and 1.8 km run, with the anchorman needing to run an extra 200 m to the finish line.
Also contributing to the Philippine gold cache was Monica Torres, the grizzled veteran of many SEA Games, who ruled the women’s duathlon, winning in emphatic fashion in two hours, eight minutes and 44 seconds that made her comeback to the Philippine team worth it.
The 35-year-old Torres left the national squad 10 years ago to pursue a professional career and she returned with aplomb.
Cyclists John Derrick Farr and Lea Denise Belgira touched off the Philippine gold deluge in the morning by thumping their respective fields in the men’s and women’s downhill races of mountain bike.
The country’s gold medal machine is not expected to slow down a bit on Day 3 as billiards is played with the legendary Efren “Bata” Reyes to come up with his swan song, fencing also making its debut and the medal-rich wushu events getting going at World Trade Center.
Edmar Tacuel, a farmer’s son from Iloilo, triumphed in the men’s seni tunggal singles competition earlier in the day, admitting that the victory was his ticket out of poverty for his family.
“All the hard work paid off,” said Tacuel, the sixth of seven siblings, in Filipino. “This is the happiest day of my life. Thank you to all the people who supported me.”
Each gold medalist stands to receive a windfall of P600,000 —P300,000 coming from the Philippine Sports Commission and the other P300,000 from the Philippine Olympic Committee.
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