CLARK, Pampanga – For the first time in 14 years, the Philippines emerged as the overall champion of the Southeast Asian Games.
The host country reclaimed the top of the table with an all-time high 149 golds – a massive bounce back effort from its 24-gold medal haul in the 2017 Kuala Lumpur Games.
"It was worth it," said Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman and Team Philippines chef de mission to the 2019 SEA Games William "Butch" Ramirez.
"I dont have empirical research to show, [but] spending more than one billion this year for our athletes' foreign exposures helped."
Arnis, the country's national sport, contributed 14 golds – the most from any team in the Philippine contingent.
Bouncing back from its 2017 haul of 5 golds, centerpiece sport athletics clinched 11 gold medals highlighted by performances from Tokyo 2020 Olympics-bound EJ Obiena and quadrennial meet hopefuls Eric Cray and Kristina Knott.
Right on opening day, dancesport took centerstage with 10 gold medals in the sport's return to the regional biennial meet after 12 years.
Gymnastics star Carlos Yulo capped his stellar year as the most bemedalled Filipino athlete in the SEA Games with 2 golds and 5 silvers, which will reward him a total of P3.2 million worth of cash incentive.
Aside from Yulo, the country's Olympic hopefuls Hidilyn Diaz, Kiyomi Watanabe and Junna Tsukii also captured golds in front of their countrymen.
Philippines' favorite sports basketball and boxing also lived up to expectations as Gilas managed to sweep both 3x3 and 5x5 events in both the men's and women's divisions, while the Pinoy pugs copped 7 golds to avenge their two-gold haul in 2017.
'Greater than gold'
Gold-winning surfer Roger Casugay also took the spotlight after his story of saving his Indonesian opponent from getting swept by the waves won the hearts of people, including Indonesia president Joko Widodo.
"Roger Casugay has shown genuine friendship and respect of a brother competitor. The act of helping and saving one's life is greater than gold," said Ramirez of Casugay, who was named as the Philippine flag bearer in the closing ceremonies.
"It was an act of heroism and concern of life. SEA Games is not about medals, but about character and many lessons learned." – Rappler.com
More commonly known as “Bee”, Beatrice is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Phillippine sports governance, national teams, football and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.