A pair of battle-scarred warriors in pole vaulter EJ Obiena and skateboarder Margie Didal will be at the helm when a strong, fighting Team Philippines declares war in the 19th Asian Games.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino made the announcement during the send-off ceremony on Monday at the Philippine International Convention Center, saying that he had chosen Obiena and Didal to serve as flag bearers in the traditional parade of colors on Saturday at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center Stadium.
Obiena and Didal have what it takes to lead the 396-strong Filipino contingent.
The 27-year-old Obiena, for one, is the second-best pole vaulter in the world and holds the Asian record of six meters that makes him a cinch for a gold medal in this prestigious quadrennial event.
He is coming off an impressive performance in the Wanda Diamond League in which he clinched the silver medal behind the record-breaking Armand Duplantis of Sweden.
Didal is also expected to deliver.
The 24-year-old pride of Cebu made history when she became the country’s first skateboarder to win a gold medal in the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018.
Now, she is returning to the biggest sports spectacle in the continent not only to defend her women’s street skate title but also to serve as the ambassador of the sport in the country.
Obiena and Didal, who both represented the country in the Tokyo Olympics, were not in attendance during the ceremony that was graced by other ranking sports officials like Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richard “Dickie” Bachmann, Philippine Paralympic Committee president Michael Barredo and Senator Christopher “Bong” Go.
“The flag bearer of the Philippine delegation for females is Margielyn Didal, who got gold in the last Asian Games. For the male, multi-medalist EJ Obiena,” said Tolentino during the glittery event attended by around 500 athletes, including Tokyo Olympics medalists Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio and promising weightlifters Vanessa Sarno and Elreen Ando.
Tolentino, who is known for his hands-on approach in managing the athletes, said he is optimistic over their chances as they aim to surpass their haul of four gold medals in the previous Games five years ago.
“We still have athletes who are ready to showcase themselves. Beating the four golds back then is possible,” Tolentino, also the mayor of Tagaytay City and president of the Integrated Cycling Federation of the Philippines, said.
“Our target will be getting at least four golds. The boxers will definitely be motivated as this Asian Games is an Olympic qualifier.”
Although stars like Carlos Yulo of gymnastics, Yuka Saso of golf and Samantha Catantan of fencing will not be around, Tolentino is hopeful that new heroes will emerge.
One of the rising stars is Filipino-Canadian swimmer Kayla Sanchez, a two-time Olympic medalist who will be making her debut for Team Philippines.
Bachmann said they are ready to provide the logistical needs of the athletes in the Asian Games.
“The PSC will also have its own Medical and Scientific Athlete Services there, a small PT room for the athletes so that in case if the machines aren’t enough there, then at least we are ready,” Bachmann, a former professional basketball player, said.
“From the doctors to the masseuse, we’re going extra for the athletes.”