HANGZHOU – Veteran para swimmer Ernie Gawilan achieved the coveted golden breakthrough for Team Philippines Tuesday night, retaining the men’s 400-meter freestyle S7 crown in runaway fashion at the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games swimming championships here.
Relegated to the bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter individual medley race the previous day, Gawilan made certain that the gold would not slip from his grasp, powering his way to the front at the 150-meter mark to clock a winning time of 4 minutes and 58.29 seconds at the Hangzhou Olympic Center Aquatic Arena.
Singaporean rival Soong Toh Wei finished a distant second (5:12.16) while China’s Huang Xiangquan (5:16.33) took the bronze, as the diminutive but dynamic swimmer from Davao City delivered the country’s first gold medal here in the stint supported by the Philippine Sports Commission.
His victory capped a fruitful day for the Filipino bets after wheelchair racer Jerrold Mangliwan snatched the silver medal from South Korea’s Jeong Jondae in the men’s 100-meter T52 finals of the 4th APG trackfest at the Huanglong Sports Stadium oval.
Racing on the outside lane, Mangliwan bided his time before putting on a burst of speed in flashing past the South Korean in a personal best time of 18.65 for his first medal in the continental meet after placing fourth in the same event in the 2018 edition held in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Japan’s Ito Tatsuya retained his title in clocking a new meet record of 17.41 meters while Jeon, who clocked 18.67, settled for the bronze.
“Masayang-masaya po ako dahil nakabawi ako sa pagkatalo ko kahapon (I’m so happy because I bounced back from loss yesterday),” Gawilan said. “Malaking tuwa ko na hindi lang ako yung unang atleta na nakapagbigay ng unang medalya, ngayon unang ginto na rin. Bihirang-bihira mangyari yun (I’m really happy that aside from being the first medal winner for our country, I also won the first gold medal. That rarely happens).”
National para swimming coach Tony Ong said the strategy was for Gawilan to size up the opposition early then make his move around the halfway mark of the race.
“I told Ernie that our goal was to go for the gold and not the record this time. Kailangan natin mag-kaginto so yun ang naging approach namin (We need to win gold, so that’s our approach) for this race. And, thank God, nasunod naman (it happened),” the coach said, referring to the swimmer’s APG record of 4:51 when he won the same event in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Para Games.
Gawilan, 32, hopes to add another gold to his collection when he swims in the men’s 100-meter backstroke on the final day of the 4th Asian Para Games swimming championships on Thursday. (PR/PNA)