MANILA -- Carefully curated sports events and a passionate home crowd helped push the Philippines ahead in the gold medal race in this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
But the Philippines is not likely to duplicate this feat 2 years from now, sports officials concede, when the events shift to Vietnam, which will enjoy the advantages on display in the ongoing edition.
It has become a sort of a pattern in the region’s biggest multi-sports event, host countries usually racking up gold medals but falling behind in the years that followed.
“Definitely, kalimutan na yung 1 (forget number 1),” Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Tolentino told ABS-CBN News, referring to the Philippines' chances in the Vietnam games.
Tolentino, a congressman from Cavite, said finishing anywhere from second to fourth places would be a realistic target in Vietnam, but not 6th or 7th.
The Philippines topped the games with 113 gold medals as host in 2005. But it dropped to 6th place with only 41 gold medals in Thailand, which ruled the regional meet with 183 gold medals 2 years later.
Thailand broke the pattern working against a previous host by again leading in the games held in Laos in 2009.
The Philippines finished a close second to Indonesia during the Manila hosting in 1991, then settled for third in the next 2 SEA Games.
“When we go to Vietnam 2 years from now, I’ll predict to you, we’ll go down to No. 4, No. 5,” said former POC chairman Monico Puentevella, who heads the Philippine weightlifting body.
“We cannot just rest on our laurels... we have events here never played before in the SEA Games.”
Like the Philippines, and other SEA Games hosts, Vietnam will enjoy the option of including sports events where it’s likely to reap gold medals.
“Kahit ako, kung ako nasa position ng Vietnam, bakit ko naman ilalagay yung mananalo kalaban? Uunahin ko muna yung lahat ng mananalo ako,” Tolentino said.
(If I were Vietnam, why would I include those that could be won by my opponents? I will prioritize those where I could win.)
This year’s SEA Games is considered the biggest in the regional tournament’s history with 56 sports events, several of which were picked by host Philippines to boost its gold medal chances.
Among them were 3x3 basketball and arnis, which both delivered gold medals for the hosts. Filipinos also collected gold in obstacle course race and dance sport.
Tolentino said he “designed” all 56 sports events, backed by a team that did “deep research” into the Philippines’ gold medal projections compared to the 10 other SEA Games countries.
As of 2 p.m. Friday, the Philippines still leads the overall tally with 68 gold medals, 50 silver, and 37 bronze.
Vietnam is second with a 33-38-43 medal haul, followed by Indonesia.
“Home court eh. Lahat ng events meron tayong participant,” Tolentino said.
(It's on home court. And in all events, we have a participant.)
“Of course, this is a good ego booster for the host,” former POC president Cristy Ramos said of the Philippines’ strong showing this year.
But sustaining this run will be the bigger challenge for the Philippines, she said, citing the consistency displayed by Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, which have the most number of gold medals in the SEA Games.
“The key is consistency,” she said, citing the need to put more emphasis on sports early in the school curriculum and look at it as “something valuable in our lives.”
Ramos said sports officials also had the tendency to focus on sports only in preparation for the SEA Games or the bigger Asian or Olympic Games.
“You need more time to train and practice because that's the nature of our body, muscular memory,” she said.
“The basic skills in sports, just basic human movement, you have to teach students at a very young age to be able to do that well.”
For the next SEA Games, Tolentino said the Philippines should focus on sports where Filipinos were expected to finish strong, given the new host’s option to include events to its advantage.
Ramos said this privilege also served as an incentive to hosts, given that organizing the regional games entailed huge investments, especially in infrastructure.