The 30th Southeast Games hosted by the Philippines will end on Dec. 11 with a spectacular show, if we are to base our expectations on the opening ceremony. But more than that, as the host country we will have set a new record in terms of the medal harvest — well ahead of runner-up Indonesia, and the other participating countries, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, and Timor Leste (listed according to the number of medals won).
As of this writing, with still a few days of competition left, the Philippine sports contingents have already won 113 golds, 86 silvers, and 90 bronzes compared to Indonesia’s 66 golds, 63 silvers, and 79 bronzes (Thailand also has 66 golds and 79 bronzes, but only 62 silvers).
In the last three places are Laos with no gold, five silvers, and 19 bronzes; Brunei which managed to win a gold plus five silvers and six bronzes; and Timor Leste with two bronzes.
We Pinoys know how it feels to return home from an international sports competition with not much to show for our efforts. The best the Philippines has won in the Olympics have been two silver medals, both for boxing. Anthony Villanueva won a silver in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Mansueto Velasco won a silver at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In Barcelona, boxer Roel Velasco won a bronze medal. Leopoldo Serrantes won a bronze, also for boxing in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
According to Wikipedia, the Philippines first participated in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Then, in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, representing the Philippine Commonwealth under the United States, won a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke event. Yldefonso won another bronze at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Filipino athletes won two more bronze medals in Los Angeles.
The Philippines has never won an Olympic gold, but a person of Filipino descent won two gold medals as a member of the US diving team in the London Olympics in 1948. Victoria Manalo Draves (she married her coach, Lyle Draves) was the first woman to win gold medals for both the 10-meter platform and the three-meter springboard events.
And so the quest for an Olympic gold medal continues. The bountiful medal harvest in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games augers well for Philippine sports — if we do not allow the relative success to go to our heads. In other words, if we do not pat ourselves on the back too much.
In an earlier column, I recalled the advice of a German friend to the effect that if we do something bad, we should slap ourselves on the face. And when we do something praise-worthy, we should pat ourselves on the back.
The 2019 SEA Games started out with the organizers deserving to be slapped. The performances of our athletes are fully deserving of pats on the back.
But not so fast!
You see, being the top gold medal winner in Southeast Asia, while something to pat ourselves on the back for, still falls far short of the standards of the Olympics, and even of the Asian Games.
Consider the current Olympic and world records in the running events. In the 100-meter sprint, which is said to mark the fastest human on the planet, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt set the record of 9.69 seconds. In comparison, the Asian Games record is 9.92 seconds while the fastest recorded in the SEA Games is 10.17 seconds.
Bolt also holds the Olympic record for the 200-meter dash at 19.30 seconds. The Asian Games record is 20.14 seconds while the SEA Games mark is 20.69 seconds.
The men’s 400-meter Olympic record of 43.49 seconds was set by Michael Johnson of the US at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Asian Games record is 44.46 seconds and the SEA Games mark is 46 seconds, established by Kunanon Sukkaew of Thailand.
The holder of the record for the 800-meter run is Vebjorn Rodal of Norway with 1:42.58. The Asian Games mark is 1:45.45 while the SEA Games record is 1:48.29 held by Samson Villabuoy of Malaysia.
The 1,500-meter record is held by Noah Ngeny of Kenya at 3:32.07. Compare that to the 3:45.31 in the SEA Games held by Nguyen Dinh Curong of Vietnam and the 3:36.43 record in the Asian Games.
Among the Philippines’ women runners, SEA Games gold medal winner Kristina Knott set a record of 23.01 for the 200-meter dash while Lydia de Vega of Gintong Alay fame had 11.28 in the 100-meter sprint in the 1987 SEA Games.
Compare those times to those set by Florence Griffith-Joyner: 10.62 seconds in the 100-meter sprint in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 21.77 seconds in the 200-meter dash.
In other words, our athletes, as good as they already are, still have some scrambling to do to hit Olympic standards.
Said to be the fastest runner in the Philippines is Eduardo Buenavista of South Cotabato. He holds a record of 8:40.77 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The men’s Olympic record is 8:03.28 set by Conseslus Kirputo of Kenya in 2016 and the women’s record is 8:58.81 set by Gulnara Galkina of Russia in 2008.
The only Filipino athlete in the 2019 SEA Games who holds a world record is gymnast Carlos Yulo who won a gold and a bronze at the World Artistic Gymnastics championship in Stuttgart, Germany. Expectedly, Yulo has reaped gold medals in the SEA Games.
One should point out that Yulo has been studying and training in Japan, where some of the finest gymnasts in the world are raised. This tells us that our homegrown athletes and gold medal winners could benefit from coaching and training in the sports centers of the world.
The Philippine sports associations, while deserving of pats on the back for the impressive performance of our athletes in the 2019 SEA Games, should not rest on the regional laurels won. There is a whole world left to conquer and the performance of our athletes deserve more than passing praise.
They need the support of the government and the major corporations that have committed themselves to winning that elusive Olympic gold.
Those who rest on the SEA Games gold medal harvest deserve to slap themselves.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.