HANOI – Olympian Ernest John Obiena easily retained his pole vault title and the Philippines, in its most productive day yet, also struck gold in triathlon, jiu-jitsu, fencing, and gymnastics Saturday to boost its bid for a top-three finish even as host Vietnam moved out of reach in the 31st edition of the Southeast Asian Games here.
Kim Mangrobang, at 30 still very much competitive, broke away from the pack in the bike leg of the 1.5K swim, 40K bike, and 10K run event and won her third straight SEA Games crown pulling away while Fil-Spanish Fernando Tan Caseres, 26, proved to be a very able successor to compatriot John Leerams “Rambo” Chicano, topping the men’s race in 1:56.57.
The twin victories, which duplicated the two-gold sweep by triathlon in the 2019 Philippine Games, started the ball rolling for the Filipinos, who also got gold medals from jiu-jitsu fighters Meggie Ochoa in the women’s minus 48kg class and Annie Ramirez in the women’s minus 62kg division and fencer Samantha Catantan in the women’s foil event.
As dusk set in, Fil-Am Aleah Finnegan, a former US national team member, led the national team to the gold medal in women’s artistic gymnastics at the Quan Ngura Sports Palace with a score of 184.500. Vietnam settled for the silver with 183.800 while Singapore was third with 182.500 points.
Finnegan also won the all-around silver medal, scoring 48.250 points in four apparatus – balance beam, floor exercise, vault, and uneven bars – with the gold going to Indonesian Rifda Irfanaluthfi who scored 49.650.
The last time the Philippines won a medal in women’s artistic gymnastics was in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Games, with Pia Adelle Reyes leading the way.
The seven-gold medal haul raised the country’s total to 12, counting the gold medals retained by kickboxers Gina Iniong-Araos and Jean Claude Saclag after midnight last Friday.
Obiena, one of the world-class stars on the national team funded by the Philippine Sports Commission, found no worthy opposition and handily won the gold with a leap of 5.46 meters at the My Dinh National Stadium, his every leap lapped up by the appreciative crowd.
He tried to set a new Asian mark, raising the bar to 5.94 meters, but failed after three tries although this hardly mattered as he successfully defended his title won in a breakthrough performance in 2019 back home.
“I’m relieved and happy to win the gold. I came here as a favorite and finally delivered. Mission accomplished,” said Obiena, 26, the Asian record holder at 5.93 meters.
Pinoy athletes also added six more silver medals to the mix, two of them courtesy of triathlete Andrew Kim Remolino and wushu practitioner Agatha Wong, along with six more bronze medals for an overall tally of 12-18-17, good for fourth.
With its athletes boosted by hometown fans, Vietnam improved to 34-21-28, with Indonesia a distant second (13-16-4) and Malaysia a fighting third (13-7-20). Thailand was running a close fifth with a 10-13-25 tally.
What started out as a good day, however, ended badly for the Philippines as the Gilas men’s and women’s 3x3 teams failed to retain the crowns won in 2019, depriving the Philippines of at least two more gold medals.
The Gilas women’s team was beaten by Thailand in the semifinals, their 14-21 loss reducing some team members to tears. Thailand eventually won the gold at the expense of Vietnam while Gilas was shut out, losing to Indonesia 10-16 in the battle for third.
The quartet of Janine Pontejos, Afril Bernardino, Clare Castro, and Angelica Surada, who also lost by the same score to the vastly-improved Thai side last Friday, finished with an even 3-3 mark in the eliminations for the No. 4 spot in the semifinals, being ranged anew against the Thais.
The Thais got back at the Filipinas, who defeated them for the gold medal three years ago in the Philippine SEA Games.
The Gilas men’s team of Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, Jorey Napoles, Marvin Hayes, and Reymar Caduyac lost to Thailand 17-21 in the semifinals and settled for the bronze after beating Indonesia 14-10.
Basketball action takes a one-day break before the start of the 5-on-5 tournament on Monday.
The Gilas Pilipinas men’s squad, backed by a mix of players from the PBA, Japan B. League, and the cadet pool of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, arrived here early Saturday morning.
The Gilas Pilipinas women also arrived here, even going to the 3x3 tournament to support their teammates that will also be playing in the 5-on-5 battle.
Remolino of Cebu, 22, retained the silver medal he won in the 2019 Philippine SEA Games by clocking 3:59.16 while Wong, considered the face of wushu after dominating the taijiquan event in the 2017 and 2019 games, lost her grasp on the gold, scoring 9.69 points for the silver. The gold went to Alisya Mellynar of Indonesia, who scored 9.71.
The victory of the women’s gymnastics team came a day after Caloy Yulo won the men’s all-around individual title.
Yulo will be back in action Sunday, competing in the floor exercise finals where he once reigned as world champion; pommel horse and rings. The action starts at 2 p.m.
On Monday, he sees action in the vault, where he is the reigning world champion; parallel bars, and high bar. (PR)