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CHASING HISTORY — Team Phl starts medal hunt as Asiad goes full blast

EJ Obiena and Margielyn Didal prepare to lead Team Philippines in the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. | Photograph courtesy of POC-PSC POOL

HANGZHOU, China — The quest for a historic finish formally kicks off as Team Philippines plunges into action in the 19th Asian Games here.

Filipino athletes are tipped to be in high spirits when they compete in 12 sports — including boxing, skateboarding, swimming and taekwondo — in the first day of hostilities of this prestigious quadrennial event that was declared open by no less than Chinese president Xi Jingping with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach in attendance.

The country has yet to win more than four gold medals since winning seven gold medals in the Jakarta edition of the Games in 1962. Since then, they won four gold medals four times — Bangkok in 1978, Seoul in 1986, Doha in 2006 and Jakarta in 2018.

Now, they have a golden chance of breaching that barriers as they parade a star-studded cast of competitors composed of Olympians, Asian champions and Southeast Asian Games standouts.

Leading the pack will be the boxers with Olympian Eumir Marcial making his return to the amateur circuit after competing in the professional ranks for the past three years.

Marcial, a four-time SEA Games gold medalist who took home the bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics as a middleweight in 2021, will be facing Ganzorig Badmaarag of Mongolia in the preliminaries of the men’s 80-kilogram class.

Also seeing action will be his fellow Olympian, Irish Magno, who will battle Nigina Uktamova of Uzbekistan in the women’s 54-kg division, as well as Aira Villegas, who will face 21-year-old bet Yesugen Oyuntsetseg of Mongolia in the women’s 50-kg event, and Mark Ashley Fajardo, who will slug it out with Tashi Wangdi of Bhutan in the men’s 63-kg category.

The Filipino boxers will be marching with chip on their shoulders as they aim to avenge their dismal performance in the previous Asian Games in Jakarta and book slots in the Paris Olympics next year.

But all eyes will be on the national swimming team, which is bannered by two-time Olympic medalist Kayla Sanchez.

After changing her nationality from being a Canadian to Filipino and undergoing a one-year residency, Sanchez will finally make her debut for the national squad when she competes in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay with Jasmine Alkhaldi and Teia Salvino.

Sanchez, who has a chance to win up to six gold medals for the Philippines, said she is thrilled to see action in her first ever Asian Games appearance.

“This is my first Asian Games so I’m letting the experience guide me through,” said the 22-year-old Sanchez. “I’m just happy to be here with the team.”

Other prominent athletes plunging into action in the first day of action are SEA Games standouts Jocel Lyn Ninobla and King Patrick Perez of poomsae, Agatha Wong of wushu, Jericho Francisco of skateboarding, Shugen Nakano of judo, Amparo Acuña of shooting, and Juancho Miguel Besana of artistic gymnastics.

Wrapping up the busy schedule of Team Philippines are athletes in beach volleyball, chess, Esports and fencing.

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