Team Philippines will be prepared and ready to win when it marches to the 19th Asian Games that will open on Saturday at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium in Hangzhou, China.
No less than Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino declared their readiness, saying that they will deploy the best and most prepared athletes in the prestigious quadrennial meet that got delayed by a year due to Covid pandemic.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the first Filipino to win an Olympic gold medal, will be at the helm together with other standouts like pole vaulter EJ Obiena, swimmer Kayla Sanchez, and boxers Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam.
Although expectations will be tempered on the chances of Diaz as she will compete in the heavier 59-kilogram category, she is still expected to make her presence felt as she had already warmed up in the World Weightlifting Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia after finishing seventh.
Even the boxers will be ready as they are coming off an intensive training in India and Australia in a bid to dominate the Asian Games that will also serve as a qualifying tourney for the Paris Olympics.
Tolentino said he has high hopes for the 396-man national delegation.
“We are very much prepared. Some of our athletes are coming off from their training abroad,” said Tolentino, who will join Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richard “Dickie” Bachmann in leading the send-off ceremony for Team Philippines on Monday at the Philippine International Convention Center.
In the previous edition of the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018, the Filipinos finished 19th after pocketing four gold, two silver and 15 bronze medals.
It was the country’s best finish since grabbing five gold medals in 1951 in New Delhi, seven gold medals in 1962 in Jakarta, eight gold medals in 1958 in Tokyo and 14 gold medals in 1954 in Manila.
The first batch of Filipino athletes had already left for Hangzhou.
First to leave were Olympian Cris Nievarez and the national rowing team composed of Joanie Delgaco, Tammy Sha, Feiza Lenton, Edgar Ilas, and Zuriel Sumintac with coaches Shukhrat Ganiev, Ed Maerina, Nic Jasmin and Con Fornea.
The rowers will kick off their campaign in the men’s single sculls, lightweight men’s double sculls, women’s single sculls, and lightweight women’s double sculls on Wednesday at the Olympic Sports Expo Center.
Also first to arrive in the bustling city in Hangzhou, the capital and most populous city in Zhejiang Province, are the staff of the national women’s football team, windsurfers and indoor and beach volleyball players.
The national booters, popularly known as the Filipinas, are expected to arrive in the coming days in batches as they kick off their campaign on Tuesday.
Tolentino said exceeding their performance in the previous Asian Games will already be considered as a success.
“This will be the best of the team. We hope to exceed our performance for the last four years,” said Tolentino, who is pinning his hopes on Diaz as well as Asia’s best vaulter Obiena, Olympic medalists Marcial, Petecio and Paalam, and two-time Olympic medalist Sanchez.
“We have high hopes for medals in weightlifting, boxing, swimming, and e-sports, with potential surprises in martial arts as well.”