MANILA, Aug. 9 – Filipino athletes have the natural talents, the skill and stamina to  fight for Flag and country.

Days, the skill and mental toughness of  each of the 495 Filipino athletes will be tested to the hilt, as they embark a tough challenge in the 29th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

As early as  August 14, some eight sports disciplines -- football and netball, among others, which most of our athletes are competing, will start its preliminary games, before the official opening ceremonies on August 19 at the refurbished multi-million dollar Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

To recall, Olympic silver medalist weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, during the launching of Philippine Sports Institute (PSI) -- a government initiative, through the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), said in the local dialect: “I believe in the fighting spirit of Filipino athletes. They fight and fight to the finish.”

 Diaz, who made million Filipinos proud and gave the country its third Olympic silver (first for a Filipina) since the Philippines first participated in the 1924 Paris Summer Games, emphasized that “they (athletes) just have to believe themselves and trust God.”

“Discipline, proper training and well-rounded sports program like the science-based PSI could boost the morale of an athlete.”

For the record, aside from Diaz, the other two Olympic silver medalists are boxers  featherweight Anthony Villanueva (1964 Tokyo), and lightflyweight  Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco (1996 Atlanta). It highlighted the 0-3-7 (gold –silver-bronze) all-time medal harvest of the Philippines in the quadrennial and biggest sports show on earth-Summer Olympics.

Swimmer Teofilo Ildefonso gave the Philippines its first Olympic medal (bronze- 200 meter breast stroke) during  the 1928 Amsterdam (Netherlands) games.

Filipino bowling legends, Paeng Nepomuceno and Bong Coo, also during the launching of PSI, shared common views – Filipino athletes have the natural capabilities.

Both our bowling greats shared  “It is high time” that this kind of sports program have been established to improve the skills of our athletes, recalling their struggles in the past, but quick to express their gratitude to the support of  millions of Filipinos whose taxes gave them the backing and  opportunity to represent the country in countless foreign competitions.

In the 80s, trackstars Lydia de Vega (Mercado), from Bulacan,  a product of school-based Palaro and “Gintong Alay”  dominated the 100 meter competition in several editions of  SEA Games. She was  once dubbed  the Asia’s fastest woman.

Long jumper specialist Elma Muros, daughter of a fisherman in Romblon, also a product of Palaro and “Gntong Alay, years ruled her  favorite event. In the 90s, she was acclaimed the “Iron Lady” of the Southeast Asian Games.

Muros protegee, Marestella Torres-Sunang, who specialized also in long jumping  will carry the countrys banner in this year’s biennial meet.

Running barefoot in his early competitions, Hector Begeo, pride of the Cordilleras,  pushed himself to the limits to reach top honors in the steeplechase event of the regional meet to become an  Olympian.

The renowned “Bicol Express” led by long distance runner (400m and 800m), Isidro del Prado, proved themselves the team to be beat by arch rival Thailand in several stagings of the  regional biennial meet,

Aside from athletics, boxing has become the traditional medal potentials for the Philippines in the meet, since it joined in 1977. Boxers like the Serrantes and Cantancio’s made a marked, among others.

 In 2005, amid the challenges -- hosting, training and natural calamities, Filipino athletes greatness and resiliency have proven time and again as they captured the overall championship title in that year of the regional sports conclave.

For this year’s edition, the PSC, a  government sports body, created 27 years ago, said the agency will be watching the performance of the Philippine delegation and the various National Sports Associations (NSAs) , a key in assessing the future of Philippine sports. (PNA)