ANGELES CITY — The launch of the year-long countdown for the country’s hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games on Friday night at the Bayanihan Park here didn’t just signal the start of the preparation for the biennial meet.
It also kicked off the training of the national athletes for the tough grind ahead.
Chief of mission Monsour del Rosario vowed they would go all out in a bid to capture the overall title when the prestigious biennial meet goes full blast at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan next year.
The last time the country won the SEA Games crown was in 2005.
Since then, everything went downhill as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and even tiny Singapore emerged as powerhouse contenders in key sports like athletics, aquatics, gymnastics, taekwondo and boxing.
In the previous edition of the Games in Kuala Lumpur last year, the Philippines finished sixth with only 24 gold, 33 silver and 64 bronze medals.
Malaysia clinched the overall title with 145 gold medals while Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia landed ahead of the Filipinos.
Del Rosario said with renewed optimism brought by the government’s all-out support and the massive home crowd rallying behind, he strongly believes that the athletes will figure prominent even for a top three finish.
“Of course, we want that (overall title),” said del Rosario, who was also at the helm when local athletes clinched five gold medals in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turmenistan last year.
“But I don’t want to promise that we will win the overall crown. Our target is top three.”
“We don’t want to be ahead of ourselves. I want to be modest with our medal projection, which is at least a top three finish.”
Win as one
The celebration for the one-year countdown definitely put members of Team Philippines in fighting form.
With top sports officials led by Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee chairman Alan Peter Cayetano, Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez and Philippine Olympic Committee president Ricky Vargas at the helm, the event appeared like a pep rally of sort as dances, songs and fireworks lit up the night.
Nikko Huelgas, the two-time SEA Games champion in triathlon and chairman of the POC Athletes Commission, expressed their readiness to compete while Cayetano stressed that it’s now time for them to unite for a common goal.
“We stand together here for the SEA Games countdown and pray that after all of these, we win as one,” said Cayetano, the former Foreign Affairs secretary, in front of the dignitaries from 11 participating countries.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea said sports executives should take advantage of the year-long preparation and come up with the biggest, most successful SEA Games hosting ever.
“The next 365 days is more than just a period of anticipation,” said Medialdea who was representing President Rodrigo Duterte.
“It is also a challenge as we prepare for the biggest sporting event in the region.”
A total of 56 sports have been calendared for the Games.
Aside from centerpiece athletics and aquatics and fan-favorite sports like basketball, volleyball, football, boxing and gymnastics, this year’s edition also features some events that local fans would surely enjoy.
For one, eSports would be making its debut with six gold medals at stake while traditional sports like vovinam, modern pentathlon, underwater hockey, kickboxing and kurash would be played for the first time in local soil.
Del Rosario said although they had the luxury of choosing sports that would be disputed, they also wanted to give other countries a chance to play their respective sports and introduce them to the Filipinos as part of promoting friendship and camaraderie in the region.
“A lot of our neighbors are not expected to field a team in all 56 sports. Now, if we can parade formidable team in all sports, then we have a legitimate chance,” Del Rosario said.
No place like home
More than anything, the support of the home crowd will play a major role in the athletes’ quest for an impressive finish.
Del Rosario, a former Asian champion in taekwondo, said playing in front of your friends, relatives, neighbors and countrymen gives local athletes a different kind of boost that leads to victory.
Aside from that, playing at home doesn’t require adjustment period as the athletes are already used to the weather, food and other factors that could affect their performances.
“It’s different to fight in your own home soil. I’ve experienced that. The home crowd adds an unexplainable strength and energy to every athlete who feels like to losing and giving up. It is an extra push,” Del Rosario said.
“I know our athletes will give their best because it’s our time to shine. The next chance for us to host the SEA Games will be in the next 14 years. So let’s go all out and make the most out of it.”