By Nick Giongco
After 14 long years, the Philippines returned to the summit of Southeast Asian Games supremacy when it garnered 149 gold medals in the 30th staging of the SEAG on home soil.
Banking on the potent support of the government and the public, the host country went on a blistering pace and even with four days of competition remaining in the 12-day event, it already had the overall crown in the bag.
Pulling it off wasn’t actually rocket science.
All the Philippine Olympic Committee did, led by its intrepid president Bambol Tolentino, was focus on sports where the Philippines had genuine chances of winning not just a medal, but a gold at that.
The formula worked wonders for the Philippines since the SEAG Federation Council members—the 11-member SEAG countries—almost always agree to allow the host to pick sports where they excel in.
Partnering with the Philippine Sports Commission, whose chairman Butch Ramirez also took the job of chief of mission of the Philippine team and whose office pumped in hefty funding for the athletes’ training and overseas exposure, and the Phisgoc, which organized the SEAG, there was simply no turning back for the Philippines in gunning for the overall championship.
When the mushroom dissipated, Vietnam, the host of the 2021 edition, could only grab 98 while Thailand, the undisputed champion of the biennial sportsfest, was a distant third with 92.
Arnis, danceport and athletics provided the oomph in the Philippines’ total gold tally with a combined production of 34.
But taking the spotlight still were the marquee sports with basketball staging a coup with the unfancied women’s team winning alongside the all-pro men’s squad.
World champion gymnast Carlos Yulo also delivered by taking two gold and five silver medals while Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz lived up to her lofty billing by capturing the gold in her 55 kg event in weightlifting.
Boxing, the traditional provider, had 12 out of 13 fighters winning medals with seven bagging gold, two silver and three bronze medals.
Taekwondo took eight and wushu had seven while skating and obstacle racing chipped in six each.
There were also breakthroughs in other sports with squash finally winning its first-ever gold; swimming ending its 10-year gold drought; and combat sports Muay, kickboxing, judo, jiujitsu, karate, sambo, kurash and wrestling refusing to be outdone.
But there were big letdowns as well with bowling, whose history is stuffed with legends, failing to strike even once.
Table tennis and badminton remained stagnant.
Still, the SEAG, particularly this one which the country hosted, transcended not just feats of strength and endurance, speed and sheer skills.
It also marked the display of man’s often-forgotten trait of caring for humanity that was personified by surfer Roger Casogay, who came to the rescue of an Indonesian rival whose leash broke after being pummeled by heavy waves.
Casogay came to the aid of Arip Nurhidayat during the heats just two days before he gave the Philippines a gold.
Casogay’s humanitarian deed didn’t escape the eyes of President Rodrigo Duterte, who warmly received him at Malacañang.
Even Indonesian president Joko Widodo was so touched by Casogay’s act that he praised him to high heavens upon learning of Nurhidayat’s rescue.
“Winning the competition and upholding sportsmanship is important, but humanity is above all,” Widodo said in a statement.
Tags: #SEAGames2019, 30TH SEA GAMES, 30th Southeast Asian Games, Bambol Tolentino, Butch Ramirez, Carlos Yulo, Hidilyn Diaz, Philippine Olympic Committee, Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee, Philippine Sports Commission, PHISGOC, POC, PSC, Roger Casogay, SEA Games, SEA Games Federation Council, Southeast Asian Games