Chezka Centeno, Rubilen Amit and the vaunted national billiards squad look to join the Philippine gold rush when they plunge into action of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games today at the Manila Hotel Tent.
Centeno, the gold medalist in the women’s 9-ball event of the Naypyitaw and Singapore editions of the prestigious biennial meet, will take on the cue starting 10 a.m. to kick off what promises to be another massive golden harvest by the Nationals.
The petite Zamboanga native said she is coming into the tournament with zero pressure, knowing that she is prepared and equipped to prevail over the contenders from Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.
In fact, her biggest contender in her pet event — women’s 9-ball — is compatriot Amit who settled for the silver medal in the all-Filipino finals showdown two years ago.
“I don’t feel any pressure, to be honest,” Centeno said.
“It’s more of that I’m excited since the SEA Games will be held in the country. The excitement in my heart is far greater than the pressure that I feel.”
Billiards and Snookers Congress of the Philippines secretary general Robert Mananquil said they are eyeing at least four gold meals to surpass their previous performance of two gold, one silver and two bronze medals in the Kuala Lumpur edition in 2017.
He said Carlo Biado is almost a cinch to deliver together with Amit, Centeno and Dennis Orcollo.
Also part of the squad are Johann Chua, Jeffery Ignacio, Warren Kiamco, Iris Rañola and Floriza Andal.
“That’s four gold medals already,” said Mananquil, who is also a member of the executive board of the Philippine Olympic Committee.
“We still have 9-ball and 10-ball doubles where we also have fighting chances. Of course, I can’t promise that we would also win there, but if luck rolls our way, we might sweep all pool events and win six out of the 10 gold medals at stake.”
Meanwhile, seeing action in snookers are Alvin Barbero, Michael Angelo Mengorio, Jeffrey Roda and Basil Al-Shajjar while Benjie Guevarra and Luis Saberdo will lead the country’s bid in English billiards.
Pool great Efren “Bata” Reyes will campaign in carom together with Francisco de la Cruz.
“What we have is a very stacked and solid lineup,” said Mananquil, who appointed many-time SEA Games winner Rey Grandea and Francisco “Django” Bustamante as head coaches.
“The Malaysians and Singaporeans are tipped to dominate English billiards while carom belongs to the Vietnamese. Despite that, we will still go out and take advantage of our homecourt advantage.”