LAUREL, Batangas — With the wounds created by the setback of Ariana Dormitorio still fresh, a pair of young riders wasted no time in exacting revenge as they clinched the gold medals in the downhill mountainbike events of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games Monday at the Tatlong Bungo trail area in Barangay Niyugan here.
Lea Denise Belgira cleared the route in just three minutes and 9.78 seconds to snatch the gold medal for the home squad, which suffered a massive upset after top bet Dormitorio failed to finish the women’s cross country event in the opening Salvo last Sunday.
Tiara Andini Prastika of Indonesia and Vipadee Deekaballes of Thailand clocked 3:16.98 and 3:17.60 to settle for the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
In the men’s side, John Farr emerged victorious with a clocking of 2:41.14 while compatriot Joey Barba tallied 2:42.50 to cop the silver medal and Indonesian Andy Prayoga registered 2:47.86 to settle for the bronze medal in the race that was flagged off in Aguinaldo Highway.
Nobody expected Belgira to win, especially since she was ranged against the prolific Deekaballes, who ruled the event the last time it was held in the Naypyitaw biennial meet in 2013.
But the 23-year-old rider refused to get intimidated as she gunned not for the crown, but for a faultless run.
“All I was wishing for was to have a clean run,” said Belgira, who bowed to the Thai powerhouse in the Philippine Mountainbike Championships and Asian Invitationals in 2017 in Danao City.
“But when I finally had a good run, I prayed for the gold medal. It’s not every day that we get to host the SEA Games. I want to win it in front of our countrymen.”
Belgira said her win was a perfect payback for the sorry loss of Dormitorio, who was leading in the first three laps until suffering a crash and mechanical trouble that kicked her out of contention.
She said by avenging Dormitorio’s setback, it could be a perfect avenue for cycling to be finally treated as a mainstream sport like basketball for men and volleyball for women.
“The feeling is surreal, especially since I am now the first Filipina downhiller to win a SEA Games gold,” she said.
“We have a lot of downhill cyclists before, but I think this is our first time to win a gold medal.”
But at the end of the day, Belgica believes that it was her prayers and trust in God that gave her the victory.
“It was all about the prayers and trust. We have a beautiful racetrack here, and I think it served as an advantage,” Belgira added.
Meanwhile, Farr proved that Filipino cyclists have what it takes to dominate.
“I’m very proud of this win,” said the 23-year-old rider.
“It only proves that we can shine in other sports other than basketball.”
“This is the right time for cycling to be recognized in the country.”