The 30th Southeast Asian Games started with a few minor kinks and ended in blazing glory.
The glory, of course, belonged to the athletes and the coaches, their families; friends and supporters, who rose above the din of discontent and disappointment to deliver sterling performances that once again placed the country on top of the sporting world.
At the close of the 11-day biennial meet, Filipino athletes won a record 387 medals broken down to 149 golds, 171 silvers and 121 bronzes.
It was a far cry from the measly 24 gold medals the Philippines took home in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, now but a distant memory as the country celebrates its overall supremacy in the region once again.
“It was worth it,” said Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman and Team Philippines chef de mission to the 2019 SEA Games William “Butch” Ramirez.
“I dont have empirical research to show, (but) spending more than one billion this year for our athletes’ foreign exposures helped.”
It was likewise practically a treasure chest of jewels, made more special because for more than two weeks, Filipino athletes did not only display their skills and talents in the sporting field, but showcased that distinct Filipino trademark of hospitality and welcoming spirit.
Forgotten were the initial birth pains that come with hosting of an event of this magnitude, even as politicians will now scramble to discover on what went wrong, if ever, and who made the most money out of the Games.
For the athletes, it was enough that they delivered what was expected of them. It was enough that they have given glory to their country and had proudly given their best.
The Filipinos’ hunt for the gold began in earnest, when triathletes John Chicano and Kim Mangrobang pocketed the gold medals in both the men and women’s side.
The win sparked an avalanche of gold medals, from arnis martial artists, to dancesports enthusiasts, wushu, sambo, taekwondo, gymnastics, karate, judo, pencak silat, track and field, aquatics, cycling, skateboarding, basketball and volleyball – all 56 of them.
Everywhere and every day, the Filipinos struck gold; some settled for silver and bronzes, but all did their utmost best.
More than a few athletes etched their names to immortality with extraordinary performances.
Two athletes immediately come to mind: pole vaulter EJ Obiena and Fil-American track star Kristine Knott.
Obiena, who had already secured a berth in the Tokyo Olympics, leapt to a new SEAG record of 5.45 meters, while Knott completed the 200-m race in 23.07 seconds, also a new SEAG mark.
But there were also performances that would be remembered because they were achieved for the first time, and accomplished despite great odds.
The men’s volleyball team is one perfect example. Facing world-class Southeast Asian opponents, they made it to the finals by beating the mighty Thais that assured them of a silver. The loss to the Indonesians’ notwithstanding, the team’s feat is one for the books, at least for Filipino volleyball players who had to continuously play second fiddle to basketball.
Basketball too had its own version of “miraculous” comebacks at least for the women’s team who finally broke through with a historic 91-71 victory over perennial champion Thailand in the finals for its first ever gold medal.
As expected, the men’s basketball team steamrolled past the opposition, and its 115-81 rout of Thailand served as a mere coronation since it first showed up in the Games.
But victories in both the men’s and women’s 3×3 made it all sweeter for a nation obsessed with the sport, as Filipinos won’t be forgiving if we lose a basketball championship, at least in the SEAG level.
There was also Carlo Yulo, already a world champion, who showcased his talents before Filipino fans and won the gold in the process, as did weightlifter Hidlyn Diaz and skateboarding champion Margielyn Didal.
Arnis too has made a comeback of sorts. It first made an appearance in 2005, but when it returned this year, immediately proved that it had not been forgotten by its masters and practitioners, as it racked up 14 golds, the most by any sports event, and triggered an avalanche of golden performances.
And just like in the opening ceremony when Filipinos rolled out the red carpet for its visitors, organizers led by Phisgoc, sent them off with a memorable night of world-class performances of dances and songs.
Indeed, in the just-ended 2019 SEA Games, there were winners and losers, but as brothers in the region, we all win as one.