Around this time last year, Philippine sport was a mess.
Ranking officials of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) were bickering over the mysterious existence of an organizing body that aims to spearhead the staging of the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
The rift in the Olympic council was so massive that its president in Ricky Vargas stepped down, paving the way for the arrival of representatives from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to supervise the special elections.
With POC in shambles, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) was tasked to disburse the P6-billion budget that would be used for the biennial meet.
Holding such incredible money wasn’t easy.
The sports agency faced a lot of adversities and a lot of pressure while racing against time to make sure that all expenditures will be covered without sacrificing the training of the athletes.
The PSC was juggling a lot of balls.
And the political turmoil in the POC didn’t help in ironing out what was billed to be the biggest, grandest and most expensive SEA Games ever.
With accusations flying, egos crushed and reputations damaged, Vargas became the first sport official to declare that the country doesn’t have a chance to win the overall title in the SEA Games.
PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez, the chief of mission of Team Philippines, tried to correct his statement as he believes that Filipino athletes have the ability to turn a major crisis into a golden opportunity, into a rallying point to dominate the best athletes from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the rest of the region.
For him, all they needed was just a little spark to turn things around.
All they needed was a small miracle to transform a complete disaster into an overwhelming victory.
True enough, Filipino athletes delivered.
Triathletes kicked off the gold rush when Rambo Chicano went wild in the men’s singles event while Kim Mangrobang defeated her namesake and compatriot Kim Kilgroe to rule the distaff side.
Filipino competitors refused to take it slow from there as athletes from cycling, basketball, athletics, arnis, taekwondo, boxing, fencing, judo, archery, billiards, dancesports, muay and karate all followed suit, strongly kicking the floodgates of victory wide open for those competing in team sports to enter.
Even the men’s volleyball squad, a team that has yet to win a medal in more than two decades, suddenly became the talk of the town as it dominated powerhouse Thailand at surrendering the gold medal to Indonesia at the Philsports Arena.
The swimmers were also impressive.
Filipino-American James Deiparine ruled the men’s 100-meter breaststroke to emerge as the first Filipino gold medalist since Miguel Molina dominated the pool in the biennial meet in Vientiane, Laos in 2009.
“It was such a miraculous feat. All we wanted was to come up with a good game, but the athletes fulfilled their promise and delivered a great performance,” said Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico, whose wards churned in a record of 11 gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals.
“Despite everything that happened this year, the athletes still stood their ground and delivered a performance of their lives. They really wanted this win. And that hunger carried them through.”
All in all, the Filipinos ran away with 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals for its best-ever performance.
Ramirez couldn’t help but feel proud.
He attributed the win to President Rodrigo Duterte’s all-out support and the willingness of sports leaders to call for a truce while their athletes troop to battle.
He also credited it to the countless coaches, team officials medical staff and other unsung heroes who made sure that the athletes are at their best to deliver the performances of their lives.
More than anything, he credited the win to the athletes.
If not for their sacrifices, passion and dedication, this win — the Miracle in Manila — will never happen.