As the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games reach the halfway mark, Filipino athletes are hoping to deliver a strong finishing kick to emerge at the second spot of the medal tally.
Chief of mission Ramon Fernandez yesterday said dislodging Thailand in the second spot of the medal tally serves as their motivation entering the second half of the biennial meet that is being held in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.
As of press time, host Vietnam had completely pulled away from the rest of the pack with 91 gold, 55 silver and 57 bronze medals, setting the stage for a heated sprint for the second spot among Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia.
The Thais, a super power in the region with 10 Olympic gold medals, are at far second with 36 gold, 38 silver and 56 bronze medals while the Filipinos are trailing it closely with 32 gold, 35 silver and 44 bronze medals.
Indonesia is at third with 25 gold, 36 silver and 33 bronze medals while Singapore and Malaysia are at the fourth and fifth spots with 25 and 20 gold medals, respectively.
Fernandez, one of the country’s greatest basketball players, said emerging as No. 2 behind the host country will not be easy — but very doable.
“We’re on track for a Top 3 finish. We just have to maintain our performance until the end. But being No. 2 will be great,” said Fernandez, also a commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission which bankrolled the training and participation of members of the national delegation.
“I hope our winning streak continues as we enter the second half of our campaign. Our running joke is that it’s better to lose to Vietnam than to Thailand or Indonesia because it will affect our goal of having a second-place finish.”
He said the Thais are tipped to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming days.
They are expected to harvest more gold medals in upcoming sports like athletics, boxing, taekwondo, cycling, judo, shooting and archery while the Filipinos are tipped to win a handful more from weightlifting, billiards, athletics, taekwondo and basketball.
Among the Filipinos who are expected to chip in to the country’s golden harvest are Olympians Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando of weightlifting, Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno of boxing, Kurt Barbosa of taekwondo, Eric Cray of athletics and Grand Slam champion Alex Eala of tennis.
Fernandez said dislodging the Thais, who finished with 92 gold medals in the previous SEA Games in Manila in 2019, for the No. 2 spot will not be easy.
“But we will try our very best. We’re hoping and praying,” Fernandez said in an interview from Hanoi.
“We still have several sports where our athletes can win medals and, hopefully, they can deliver.”
The head of delegation added that finishing at No. 2 will be a moral victory since the host country traditionally emerge as overall champion.
Aside from that, the training of the athletes was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, prompting them to temper their expectations heading into the SEA Games.
“In the SEA Games, being No. 2 feels like being No. 1,” he said.
“If finishing third is our goal, finishing second will be a very big achievement.”