Hanoi—What’s a 33-year-old athlete, way beyond his peak form, hampered by injuries for the past two years and bothered by a tightness in his hamstring hours before his biggest race in years, doing in the Southeast Asian Games dominated by the youth brigade?
Running in pain with an injury, ageless Fil-American Eric Cray extended his reign as the region’s 400m hurdles’ king with another blazing show at the track against younger runners to clinch his seventh career SEAG gold medal at the My Dinh National Stadium here on Tuesday.
Cray is by no means an old guy. But in an ultra-competitive Olympic sport of 400m hurdles, where runners peak at age 25 to 27, Cray ain’t exactly what you might describe as youthful.
“I had a slight injury, my hamstring in my sciatic nerve. It flared up,” said Cray, who credited his handlers in managing the pain. “Our trainers, with amazing hands, worked on me, got me loose again, and I was able to push a little bit.”
And push it good.
Given up for dead by critics for failing to join the Tokyo Olympics’ team due to injury, Cray was back with a vengeance as he submitted a time of 50.41 seconds to clinch his fifth straight 400m hurdles’ SEAG gold in a reign that began during the 2013 biennial meet in Myanmar. His other two came in the century dash during the 2015 Singapore games and the 4×100 mixed relay in the 2019 edition at the New Clark City Stadium in Tarlac.
“Man, it’s a blessing (winning his seventh SEAG gold), I thank God for this, I feel that I still got more left in me,” said Cray, whose time fell short of the 50.21 he did in the 2019 Philippine SEA Games, but was enough to foil the challenge of a hometown favorite at the peak of his powers, 27-year-old Cong Lich Quach, who finished with 50.82.
Singapore’s Jun Jie Calvin Quek, 26, bagged the bronze with 51.19.
Cray’s feat was the fourth gold for the athletics’ contingent in the biennial meet, to go with Ernest John Obiena’s record-smashing performance in pole vault, William Morrison’s shotput triumph and Clinton Kingsley Bautista’s new national record of 13.78 seconds in the 110m hurdles that broke his own 13.97 set during the 2019 SEA Games.
Cray, the 2017 Asian Athletics’ champion and the SEAG record holder at 49.40, is expected to be at it again on Wednesday as he begins his bid to shoot for an eighth SEA Games gold when he runs in the 100 meters, where he used to be king seven years ago.
“That would be intense, so I will try to rest up tonight,” said Cray, who at the rate he’s going isn’t about to hang his running shoes yet.
After all, you don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.