KUALA LUMPUR—A big team with big hopes started making its way into this bustling Malaysian capital, looking to pull off a miraculous performance to regain its lofty status in the Southeast Asian Games.
A group of windsurfers quietly arrived early this week to test its new equipment and acclimatize before members of the national netball, sepak takraw and football squads landed last Friday, three days before starting the country’s gold-medal rush in the 29th edition of this biennial athletic conclave.
The national men’s U23 football squad will be facing Cambodia at the Selayang Stadium, while the women’s squad will clash with the home team at the UiTM Shah Alah Stadium to formally mark its return to the regional stage after skipping the tourney in 2015.
The national netball squad will also plunge into action against Thailand on Tuesday in quest for its first-ever victory after a winless performance in the Singapore edition two years ago.
The sepak takraw team, meanwhile, will see action on Wednesday where the tournament’s first two gold medals – on top of two more mints from archery – will be disputed.
The national archery team is set to leave Manila on Monday together with the medical team from the Philippine Center for Sports Medicine and some members of the national secretariat from the Philippine Sports Commission.
PSC executive director and SEA Games task force chief Atty. Carlo Abarquez said athletes from muay thai, squash, swimming, volleyball, basketball, judo, tennis and triathlon comprise the main bulk of the biggest contingent that would touch down here on Saturday, just in time for the opening ceremonies of what promises to be the most glamorous hosting of the Games since the Malaysians last had their turn in 2001.
“The main bulk of the Team Philippines will be arriving in Kuala Lumpur on the 19th,” said Abarquez, adding that Olympian Eric Shawn Cray and other stars will no longer pass by Manila and would be coming to Malaysia straight from their respective training destinations.
Cray, who is set to defend his title in the men’s 100-meter run and 400-men hurdles, will be flying from London after competing in the IAAF World Athletics Championship.
Also flying straight to Malaysia are the Richardson twins, Kyla Ashly and Kayla Anise, who is set to dominate in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter runs as well as 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays.
Olympian Mary Joy Tabal, meanwhile, will be landing on Wednesday, giving her three full days to prepare for her golden quest in the women’s marathon competition, where she finished silver in the Singapore SEA Games.
The rest of the athletics squad will arrive on Thursday.
“However, other athletes who are athletes who are either training or competing abroad as part of their foreign exposure will go straight to Kuala Lumpur. We’re monitoring their arrival and we’re confident that everything will be hassle-free as the tournament draws near,” Abarquez said.
After plummeting to a sorry seventh-place finish in Myanmar in 2013 and a sixth-place meltdown in Singapore in 2015, hopes are high on the king-sized national delegation as the PSC opened its wallet wide open and spent P87 million while providing all the support it needs.
Chief of mission Cynthia Carrion initially pegged the country’s golden haul at 50, nearly half of the 29 mints they harvested in the previous SEA Games.
But in a discussion with top Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) officials, national sports association (NSA) leaders and some national coaches, Carrion said she was promised to receive up to 63 gold medals, a bold prediction that, if delivered, would give the country a good fight for the fourth spot in the 11-nation athletic battle.
Carrion stressed that bulk of the medal haul will be coming from the Philippines’ traditional goldmines like athletics, boxing, triathlon, taekwondo, judo and billiards as well as team sports like men’s basketball and rugby sevens.
“My personal goal is at least 50 gold medals,” said Carrion, also the president of gymnastics and board member of the POC.
“But after conferring with NSA leaders and coaches, they promised to deliver at least 63 gold medals. We’re ready to for battle. Everybody is upbeat and ready to compete.”