"It's the season to get together with friends and family."
It's Christmas and it's the “coming home” time of the year in this majority Christian country in ASEAN. Families are coming around together with members far and wide making their way to reunions and the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Or, in a number of occasions, the Christmas day lunch specially if some members are coming from overseas. Batchmates even from pre-school or kindergarten days are also having their own gatherings, boosting restaurant sales and cornering events places no end. Indeed, all kinds of gatherings for all kinds of remembrances are giving people from all walks of life the excuse to call friends and relatives to bonding sessions.
At this time, immediately after our athletes' solid performance in the just-concluded Southeast Asian Games, is also a coming home of sorts. It is getting around to appreciate the hard work and sacrifices they, their trainers and coaches took to get this far. And what an awesome achievement it really was. For the first time in any international sporting event we took in a total of 367 medals—almost double that of second-running Indonesia—with 149 golds, 117 silvers and 123 bronzes. Not only did we get such a huge haul, our athletes also broke records in a number of events putting the record breakers into the ranks of qualifiers or would be qualifiers to next year's Tokyo Olympics. True grit and truly masterful for "love of the game and of country" as pole vaulter E. J. Obiena said after clearing the bar at 5.45 meters which was good for gold and a new record. And that was not even Obiena's personal best. Reports have it that in an event in Europe where he is training he cleared 5.81 meters just a few centimeters shy of the 6.03 gold medal finish of Brazilian Thiago da Silva in the Beijing Olympics.
Reports have it that even as he broke the games' record, Obiena and his coach, Ukrainian Vitaly Petrov, expressed disappointment with the result that they both flew back to Italy right after his leap. He never got a chance to stand on the platform, get his medal and have the national anthem played before an obviously highly appreciative crowd. In fact, he never got a chance to get to meet with the President for another medal and prize giving in Malacañang as he had to immediately start training again in Forma, Italy where Petrov presently lives in preparation for next year's Olympics.
Our other gold medalists are back to the grind as well. Our surfers, including gold medalist Roger Casugay who was hailed as a hero by the organizers when he abandoned his quest for gold to rescue an Indonesian surfer being swept by the waves while the competition was ongoing, are as raring to train as Obiena noting that surfing will make its Olympic debut in the Tokyo Olympics. Casugay's heroism and eventual gold medal finish is one for the books. But that will be another story.
Meantime, Casugay and fellow gold medalist Nilbie Blancada together with six other surfers who got silvers and bronzes are back in training. As United Philippine Surfers Association president Dr. George Canlas said while the closing ceremonies were ongoing the goal was to qualify at least one surfer in the Olympics. From the looks of it, if the dedication shown by Casugay and his fellow surfers is any guide we will surely have a good fighting chance against the best surfers i the world come the Tokyo Olympics.
Which brings us to another coming home kind of thing. With the recognition accorded by the participating foreign delegations on the manner by which the organizing committee conducted the games we have somehow arrived. That recognition was our coming home of sorts after getting all the brickbats even before the games started on the "…haphazard, unplanned and very expensive construction and supply arrangements made.." for its staging. Well, after smarting from that initial barrage of criticisms from various quarters including such teeny, weeny bits of trivia which went viral (..kikiam for breakfast, late or no transport services provided, messing of hotel accommodation, etc. etc..) most if not all of which turned out to be either fake (the food issue was debunked by the Singapore delegation) or half truths as the arrangements turned out to be worked out well.
For a while there, we were concerned that our sports officials would be more interested in protecting their respective turfs and interests rather than promoting a dedicated, national sports development program. Rather than improve our facilities and get our athletes all the best possible support we can afford to provide, we were concerned that our officials will instead engage in endless debates and skirmishes over their hold on the sports associations. In fact, no less than all star volleyball player Alyssa Valdez sounded the warning bell when, after the volleybelles played their hearts out in close contests against their more seasoned rivals, she sadly noted that perhaps it was time for the warring volleyball groups to come around and be one. To, in effect, come home and do the sports and for that matter the country, some good. Out of their egos and their power plays and on with the real sports development program. For our country and people. Oo nga naman. For once.