Olympic veterans Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna lead a solid cast of swimmers that will represent the country in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
Alkhaldi, the University of Hawaii standout who has been representing the country in the past two editions of the Summer Games, will be at the helm to finally capture the elusive gold medal in the prestigious 11-nation tournament that the country will host from 30 November to 11 December at the New Clark City in Tarlac.
She will be joined by University of Texas standout Remedy Rule, who is still fresh from representing the country in the World Aquatics Championship in Gwangju in South Korea, as well as other standouts like Nicole Oliva, Chloe Isleta, Roxanne Yu, Joy Rodgers, Thanya de la Cruz, Desirae Mangaoang, Jazlyn Pak, Georgia Peregrina, Miranda Renner and Rosalee Santa Ana.
In the men’s side, Lacuna, who also saw action in the London and Rio de Janeiro Olympics, will take the cudgels together with Miguel and Rafael Barreto, Alberto Batungbacal, Jonathan Cook, Sacho Ilustre, Jarod Hatch, Jerard Jacinto, Jean-Pierre Khouzam, Jaden Olson, Justin Peregrina and Rian Tirol.
Also making the roster are James Deiparine, the prolific Filipino-American tanker who clinched the silver medals in the 50-meter and 100-meter breaststroke events of the previous SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur and Luke Gebbie, who set the Philippine record in the 100-meter freestyle during the recent World Aquatics Championship.
“These are the best among the best swimmers in the country,” said Philippine Swimming Institute president Lani Velasco, who became the first national sports association leader to release a SEA Games roster.
“I promised the swimming community to release the lineup as early as 9 September to give these qualifiers enough time to prepare. After all, winning a swimming medal is not an overnight process. It requires long preparation.”
Velasco said the swimming competition in the biennial meet would be extra special — and very competitive — after the International Aquatics Federation (FINA) ruled that it would serve as an official qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
With that, the national tankers are set to embark in an extensive training both in the country and abroad.
“This is the first time for FINA to make the SEA Games a qualifier for the Olympics,” Velasco said, adding that the brand-new aquatic center in the New Clark City passed the FINA standards.
“That’s why we are working hard in the training and preparation of our swimmers. Those who are based abroad would go on foreign training while those who are here will be handled by a foreign coach.”
The last time the Filipinos won a gold medal in the SEA Games was in 2009 in Laos when Daniel Coakley, Miguel Molina and Ryan Arabejo connived for four mints.
Coakley, who saw action in the Beijing Olympics, ruled the men’s 50-meter freestyle while Molina copped the mints in the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley.
Another former Olympian in Arabejo, for his part, dominated the men’s 1500-meter freestyle.
But this time, Velasco refused to make any prediction.
“Making prediction only puts pressure on the athletes,” she said. “But rest assured that we will do our best and prepare our athletes for the SEA Games.”