TEAM Philippines at the 30th Southeast Asian Games.

WITH Vietnam getting all the advantages as host country, the 31st Hanoi Southeast Asian (SEA) Games set on May 12-23 has been reduced to a race to second place for the rest of the 11-nation field including defending champion Philippines.

“It will be a fight for No. 2 among Thailand, Malaysia and us Philippines,” said Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham Tolentino in Tuesday’s online Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum.

The congressman from Tagaytay said the Vietnamese would be hard to beat considering they retained the sports they are strong at and even added new ones favorable to them while removing disciplines they are a hard time striking gold.

Add to that the fact that Vietnam did their preparation much earlier compared to the Filipinos who would only resume preparations possibly next month.

“Vietnam never stopped training,” said PhilCycling chief.

Mr. Tolentino, however, said retaining the overall championship is not far-fetched.

“We has a chance to successfully defend, but it would be an uphill battle,” he said.

As host, the Filipinos ran away with the overall crown in the 2019 SEA Games division with a record haul of 149 gold, 117 silver and 121 bronze medals.

Mr. Tolentino mentioned as among the country’s possible gold mines in Hanoi are boxing, Carlos Yulo in gymnastics, wrestling, karate, taekwondo, weightlifting, basketball, and e-sports.

The country will field in a total of 663 athletes including 80 who are self-funded due to budgetary contraints. — Joey Villar