A SLEW of world-class Filipino athletes led by gymnast Carlos “Caloy” Yulo joins the Philippine team flying to Hanoi for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, with the delegation hoping to conduct a successful overall title defense after topping the medal haul in the 2019 edition.

Headlining the team being deployed to the 31st Southeast Asian Games is Mr. Yulo, who won the world title in floor exercise and vault, and his Japanese coach Munehiro Kugiyama. They count themselves among the 193-strong team members scheduled to land in Hanoi on Tuesday, two days before the biennial games officially stat at the My Dinh National Stadium in the Vietnamese capital.

Also in that group are some of the country’s best and brightest like world billiards champions Efren “Bata” Reyes, Carlo Biado and Rubilen Amit, two-time tennis junior Grand Slam titlist Alex M. Eala.

The star-studded group is looking for a repeat of the 2019 edition, when the Philippines posted a historic haul of 149 golds, 117 silver and 121 bronzes.

Host Vietnam, however, has promised to stage Games that is more in line with the events contested in a typical Olympics.

Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham Tolentino said he was pleased part of the delegation could cast its vote in the May 9 election before departing for Hanoi.

“Most of them will have exercised their right of suffrage. We are prepared and comfortable with their arrival because our staff will have gained experience from the first wave,” Mr. Tolentino said.

Mr. Tolentino cast his vote on Monday in Tagaytay, which he represents in Congress.

Other athletes flying to Hanoi on Tuesday are the volleyball, badminton, bodybuilding, fencing, table tennis, athletics, wushu, and swimming teams.

A six-man medical team and 12-member media contingent will travel with the same wave.

“We are ready to receive our athletes and coaches and extend the assistance they need once they arrive here. They have to be free of distractions so they can focus on their respective competitions ahead,’’ according to Ramon Fernandez, the country’s chef de mission and Philippine Sports Commission board member.

Already settled in Vietnam are the kickboxing, handball, men’s and women’s football, rowing, chess, kurash, pencak silat, men’s 3×3 basketball, women’s basketball, golf, triathlon/duathlon, and beach handball teams, as well as the lone diving entry, Fil-Am Ariana Drake.

The bulk of track and field athletes and officials (50) will fly ahead of the big group on Wednesday, including pole vault Asian record holder EJ Obiena.

Joining them are the esports, bowling, cycling, golf and jiujitsu contingents, and parts of the swimming team. — Joey Villar