KUALA LUMPUR—Three Filipino athletes pumped life into the country’s sagging campaign as the 29th Southeast Asian Games enters its homestretch here.
Chezka Centeno, Samuel Morisson and Mariya Takahashi stepped forward to deliver the gold medals for Team Philippines, which is slowly drifting away from its initial projection of 50 golds.
A 19-year-old prodigy from Zamboanga City, Centeno capitalized on the late-match blunder of Amit to run away with the gold medal in the women’s 9-ball singles’ event, 7-6, at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center.
With the score tied at 6-all, Amit calmly sank the 7-ball in the left corner pocket for a perfect setup on the 9-ball and the gold medal that will serve as a badge of honor after losing this event to Centeno in the previous biennial meet.
But her excitement turned into horror as the cue ball rolled and sank to the opposite pocket, prompting Centeno to grab the golden opportunity to claim the victory.
“Hindi ko akalain na mananalo ako kasi nu’ng na-miss ko ‘yung 3-ball, sabi ko ‘talo na ako,’” said Centeno, who barged into the limelight when she won the gold medal in the World Games in Shanghai in 2015.
Amit, for her part, couldn’t help, but to shake her head after the costly blunder.
But it doesn’t matter as she pocketed the silver, while the gold medal remained in the Philippines’ hands following her victory over a Malaysian foe in the semifinals.
Also turning in a golden finish was Takahashi.
The 16-year-old Takahashi shocked four-time champion Surratana Thongsri of Thailand via ippon in the first 43 seconds of their match in the women’s -70kg event in judo.
Takahashi drew a bye in the preliminaries before clobbering Thi Dieu Tien Nguyen of Vietnam in the semifinals. She then dethroned the Thai judoka en route to awarding the Philippines its second gold medal and fifth overall in judo.
“I’m very happy,” Takahashi’s curt statement through an interpreter.
Morisson, meanwhile, grabbed the gold in impressive fashion after being spurred by the controversial loss of teammate Arven Alcantara.
Morisson vented his ire on Dinggo Ard Prayogo of Indonesia, 28-18, to bag the gold medal in the men’s -74kg class taekwondo competition.
“Nanggigil po ako ng matalo si Arven (Alcantara) kaya sinabi ko babawi ako sa kanya,” said the Olongapo-City born jin, who dedicated his victory to his late grandmother Rosario Barias, who died of a stroke early last year.
Alcantara, a SEA Games rookie, lost in a highly-disputed men’s -68kg finals to hometown bet Rozaimi bin Rozali, who was ruled the winner by “punitive declaration” after the scores were deadlocked at 17-all.
The head judge ruled that the Pinoy jin had accumulated 10 “gamjeoms” or penalties, although the Philippine camp insisted that Alcantara had only nine as indicated by the electronic scoreboard.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr., who witnessed the match from start to finish, was irate over the apparently questionable call that he ordered head coach Dindo Simpao to formally protest the result.
“This (officiating) is not good for the sport. The Malaysian should not get away with it,” noted Cojuangco, who then called up Malaysian Olympic Committee secretary general Low Beng Choo to express his grievance over the outcome.
With 13 seconds left in the third and final round of the match, Alcantara fought valiantly, rallying from a 13-16 deficit with a swift turning long kick to the Malaysian’s head – worth four points – but was penalized for slipping, leading to the 17-all deadlock.
Had the judge allowed the match to proceed, both jins would have gone on to sudden-death, with the first to score a point being declared the winner.
Pauline Louise Lopez, who won a gold in the women’s -57kg class in Singapore, settled for the bronze this time in the heavier -62kg class after dropping a close 3-4 decision to Vietnam veteran Ja Thi Nguyen in the semis.
With these developments, the Philippines remains at sixth with 21 gold, 27 silver and 51 gold medals while host Malaysia is 10-gold medal shy of breaking into the century mark with 90 gold, 61 silver and 59 bronze medals.
Vietnam, Thailand and tiny Singapore are in furious battle for the second spot with 50, 48 and 47 gold medals, respectively, as of 7 pm on Sunday.
Olympian Michael Martinez, meanwhile, settled for the second place of the men’s individual free skating event after crashing in the middle of his routine.