Obiena sails to new SEA Games record as PHL scoops golds

HANOI—Ernest John “EJ” Obiena could have blindfolded himself and still come out winner in men’s pole vault he easily dominated to highlight a productive Saturday for Team Philippines in the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

The Tokyo Olympian Obiena was simply a cut above the SEA Games field. He easily cleared 5.40 meters while his rivals struggled to clear the bar, thus securing the gold medal he won three years ago at the New Clark City before his countrymen.

But Obiena, one of the world-class stars on the national team funded by the Philippine Sports Commission, wasn’t done yet and sailed to a new SEA Games record of 5.46 meters for the gold medal-clinching leap—one of several golds also won in triathlon, jiu-jitsu, fencing and gymnastics that kept the Philippines in the thick of the fight.

A shot at the Asian record of 5.93 which he owns perhaps? He went for 5.94 but the drizzle that rendered his pole and the entire My Dinh Stadium wet prevented him from making a highlight performance in these Games that are a far cry organization-wise as compared to 2019 when the Philippines was host.

“I’m relieved and happy to win the gold. I came here as a favorite and finally delivered,” Obiena said. “Mission accomplished.”  

“Almost there, but masyado pa maaga ‘yung volume ng training, he is not that well rested pa,” Obiena’s father and coach Emerson said referring to his son’s attempt at a new continental standard.

Kim Mangrobang, at 30 still agile as she was during her SEA Games debut in 2015, won her third straight SEA women’s gold medal, while Filipino-Spanish Fernando Tan Caseres, 26, was an able successor to compatriot John Leerams “Rambo” Chicano as he topped the men’s race in triathlon.

The twin victories, which duplicated the two-gold sweep by triathlon in the 2019 Philippine Games, started the ball rolling for the Filipinos, who also got gold medals from jiu-jitsu fighters Meggie Ochoa in the women’s minus 48kg class and Annie Ramirez in the women’s minus 62kg division and fencer Samantha Catantan in the women’s foil event.

Samantha Catantan beats Vietnam’s Thu Phuong Nguyen Thi. NONIE REYES/Canon R6

Filipino-American Aleah Finnegan, a former US national team member, led the Philippines to the team gold medal in women’s artistic gymnastics at the Quan Ngura Sports Palace with a score of 184.500. Vietnam settled for the silver with 183.800 while Singapore was third with 182.500 points.

Finnegan also won the all-around silver medal, scoring 48.250 points in four apparatus—balance beam, floor exercise, vault and uneven bars—with the gold going to Indonesian Rifda Irfanaluthfi (49.650).

The last time the Philippines won a medal in women’s artistic gymnastics was in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Games with Pia Adelle Reyes leading the way.

The seven-gold medal haul raised the country’s total to 12, counting the gold medals retained by kickboxers Gina Iniong-Araos and Jean Claude Saclag after midnight last Friday.

Obiena, one of the world-class stars on the national team funded by the Philippine Sports Commission, found no worthy opposition and handily won the gold with a leap of 5.46 meters at the My Dinh National Stadium, his every leap lapped up by the appreciative crowd.

Wushu practitioner Agatha Wong wins silver medal. NONIE REYES/Canon R6

Filipino athletes added six more silver medals to the coffers, two of them courtesy of triathlete Andrew Kim Remolino and wushu practitioner Agatha Wong, along with six more bronze medals for an overall tally of 12-18-17, good for fourth.

With its athletes boosted by hometown fans, Vietnam improved to 34-21-28, with Indonesia a distant second (13-16-4) and Malaysia a fighting third (13-7-20). Thailand was running a close fifth with a 10-13-25 tally.

What started out as a good day, however, ended badly for the Philippines as the men’s and women’s 3×3 teams failed to retain the crowns won in 2019, depriving the Philippines of at least two more gold medals.

The women’s team was beaten by Thailand in the semifinals, their 14-21 loss reducing some team members to tears. Thailand eventually won the gold at the expense of Vietnam while Gilas was shut out, losing to Indonesia 10-16 in the battle for third.

The quartet of Janine Pontejos, Afril Bernardino, Clare Castro and Angelica Surada, who also lost by the same score to the vastly-improved Thai side last Friday, finished with an even 3-3 mark in the eliminations for the No. 4 spot in the semifinals, being ranged anew against the Thais.

CLAIRE CASTRO tries to box out her Malaysian rival. NONIE REYES/Canon R6

The Thais got back at the Filipinas, who defeated them for the gold medal three years ago in the Philippine SEA Games. 

The men’s team of Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, Jorey Napoles, Marvin Hayes and Reymar Caduyac lost to Thailand 17-21 in the semifinals and settled for the bronze after beating Indonesia 14-10.

Basketball action takes a one-day break before the start of the 5-on-5 tournament on Monday.

Remolino of Cebu, 22, retained the silver medal he won in the 2019 Philippine SEA Games by clocking 3:59.16 while Wong, considered the face of wushu after dominating the taijiquan event in the 2017 and 2019 games, lost her grasp on the gold, scoring 9.69 points for the silver. The gold went to Alisya Mellynar of Indonesia, who scored 9.71.

Also in athletics, Kyla (23.56) and Kayla Richardson (23.87), subbing in for injured sprint queen Kristina Knott, settled for the silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the 200 meters, behind Singaporean champion Shanti Perreira (23.52 seconds).

Vietnamese Nguyen Hoai Van unseated Filipino Melvin Calano for the javelin gold with a hurl of 70.87meters. Calano settled for the bronze with 66.86 meters. 

Matching Calano’s feat was Alfrence Abraza, who bagged the bronze in the men’s 1500m with a time of three minutes and 56.35 seconds; Joida Gagnao, who placed third in the 5000 meters with a time of 17:36.

The victory of the women’s gymnastics team came a day after Caloy Yulo won the men’s all-around individual title.

Yulo will be back in action Sunday, competing in the floor exercise finals where he once reigned as world champion; pommel horse and rings. The action starts at 2 p.m. 

On Monday, he sees action in the vault, where he is the reigning world champion; parallel bars, and high bar.