MANILA – The Philippines claimed its first gold medal in the 2023 World Combat Games following the triumph of ju-jitsu fighter Kaila Jenna Napolis at the King Saud University Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
"It's my first time to qualify in such an event. It feels surreal to be able to get a gold medal especially here in the World Combat Games," the 25-year-old Napolis told the Philippine News Agency on Thursday.
She scored a 2-0 victory over Anael Pannetier of France in the final of the women's -52kg Ne-Waza.
"She looks intimidating by her stance and she's a bit bigger than me so I'm very nervous going into the match. I feel like throwing up but I had to focus and give it my all because it is finals already," shared Napolis, who defeated Adriana Cruz of Colombia, 6-0, in the quarterfinal and Mongljin Ganbaatar of Mongolia via submission in the semifinal.
"When I stepped on the mat, my mind was cleared already. I just wanna execute my techniques first and have a very good control on her," added the 2023 Cambodia SEA Games gold medalist and Hangzhou Asian Games silver medalist.
Napolis was grateful to national coach John Baylon for accompanying her in the tournament.
"It's my first time to travel alone without a teammate so I'm super thankful to coach John for helping me with the training here, assisting me with the schedules, being my corner man and masseur," said Napolis, a member of the Paranaque-based Checkmat Manila Club headed by coach Manny Jimenez.
"Kaila deserved the gold medal, she trained hard and came here prepared," said Baylon, a nine-time judo gold medalist in the SEA Games. He also competed in the 1988 (Seoul) and 1992 (Barcelona) Olympics.
The Philippines now has seven medals, including two silvers (Agatha Wong and Clemente Tabugara Jr.) and two bronzes (Jones Llabres Inso and Thornton Quieney Lou Sayan) in wushu and two bronzes (Fierre Afan and Maria Aisa Ratcliff) in wrestling.
"We got the first gold in the World Combat Games after no medal in the Philippines' first try here back in 2010. All of the athletes we sent so far will be going back with medals from wushu to grappling. We are all looking forward to bringing more honor to our country," said Team Philippines Chef de Mission Alvin Aguilar, also the wrestling association president.
A total of 1,657 athletes (913 male and 744 female) from 80 countries are competing in the tournament being held for the first time in the Middle East. (PNA)