BAGUIO CITY — All eyes will be on reigning Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) marathon queen Christine Hallasgo as national track and field stars return to action from a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic in the Ayala Philippine Athletics Championships here at the Athletic Bowl.

Ms. Hallasgo headlines the pack of select national team members against capable aspirants in the first event of the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) since the national open and the SEAG in 2019 highlighted by an impressive 11-gold medal haul.

The Malaybalay, Bukidnon native will compete in the 10,000-meter run, looming as a heavy favorite to rule anew after winning the event in the 2019 national open in Ilagan, Isabela as part of her SEAG buildup in New Clark City.

But more than just a title defense, the event will serve as a performance trial for Ms. Hallasgo and the rest of the nationals coming off a long hiatus only a few months before the 31st SEAG next year in Hanoi, Vietnam.

“I want to see improvement on the 10,000 run. Then, we’ll go from there all the way to marathon preparations until the SEAG. We’re after a good time for a good basis moving forward,” said national coach Eduardo “Bertek” Buenavista.

Ms. Hallasgo hits the track at 3:30 p.m., a few hours after national sprinter Anfernee Lopena guns for the crown of the centerpiece 100-m dash — without SEAG gold medalist Eric Cray — at 9:35 a.m.

Four-time SEAG women’s long jump queen Marestella Torres-Sunang opens the two-day trackfest at 9 a.m. for a shot at the first gold medal in 32 events that feature over 100 participants.

Other SEAG champions Sarah Dequinan (heptathlon), Clinton Bautista (110-m hurdle) and Aries Toledo (heptathlon), who have been training in Baguio since October, are also poised to reign supreme in their respective events.

Sprinters Mr. Cray and Kristina Marie C. Knott along with pole vault aces Natalie Uy and Ernest John Obiena, meanwhile, have been practicing overseas as part of their own SEAG preparations. — John Bryan Ulanday