TEAM PHILIPPINES, WITH around 840 athletes, placed fifth in the overall standings out of the 11 Southeast Asian contenders of the 32nd edition of Southeast Asian (SEA) Games held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, last May 5 to 17. 

Four years after securing the overall crown, the Philippines continued to drop from its former glory; obtaining a fourth place in last year’s event, and now increasing the gap to fifth spot with a total of 260 medals won. On the other hand, Vietnam accumulated 359 medals in total and was hailed as the overall champion in the current edition. 

The chief of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, pressed that the Philippine delegation was smaller compared to the top three countries in the medal tally board.  

Tolentino went on to say that 40 of the 87 silver medals won by Filipino athletes came from subjective sports where the results are decided by the judges. As a result, Tolentino can’t help but be disappointed that the Philippines didn’t break the 60-gold mark.  

Nonetheless, amid unfortunate circumstances, the team still prevailed with a good rank which Tolentino regard as “…really a strong performance,” during the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.  

Malakas na talaga ang Team Philippines. Nag-evolve na talaga ang atleta natin, nag-level up na. Sumabay na tayo doon sa mga malalakas,” emphasized by the POC chief. 

To set out, Filipino athletes brought home 58 gold medals, 85 silvers, and 117 bronzes.  which surpassed last year’s 52-70-105 haul in Hanoi, Vietnam. This year’s medal output was just one gold medal short of the 59 that the country won in the 1987 SEA Games in Jakarta.  

Ahead of the Philippines were the host nation, Cambodia with 81-74-127 medals, Indonesia with 87-80-109 medals, Thailand with 108-96-108 medals, and Vietnam with 136-105-118 gold, silver, and bronze respectively.  

Among this year’s most-followed games are those of Filipino athletes Eric Cray, EJ Obiena, Nesthy Petecio, Agatha Wong, Carlos Yulo, and Teia Salvino. 

Filipino-American track and field athlete, Eric Cray, got his eighth SEA Games gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles title.  

While athlete EJ Obiena, on the other hand, took home his third SEA Games gold medal and set a new meet record of 5.65m in the pole vault event.  

In addition, Nesthy Petecio secured her second SEA Games gold medal after winning against Indonesia’s Ratna Sara Devi in the gold medal match of the women’s 57kg finals in the field of boxing.  

Even, Agatha Wong secured gold after earning 19.263 points in taijiquan and 9.580 in taijijian.  

Acclaimed Filipino gymnast, Carlos Yulo, bagged two gold medals and two silver medals.  

Teia Salvino grabbed the 100m backstroke gold medal finishing at a record-breaking 1:01.64. 

While Olympic boxers Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio lived up to their billing upon powering the Philippines with four-gold loot in boxing.  

And team Gilas Pilipinas, led by Justin Brownlee, beat Cambodia 80-69 to win SEA Games 2023 gold in Men’s Basketball 5×5.  

In the finale on May 17, the two-week spectacle came to a close as Cambodia drew the curtains on its first-ever hosting of the SEA Games.  

Still aiming for that 60-gold mark, Tolentino is now looking forward to the Asian Games scheduled from September 23 to October 8 in Hangzhou, China.  

(with Gian Marcel Chiu) 

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