HANGZHOU, China — From record-breaking feat to historic win and painful setbacks, Team Philippines had a roller coaster campaign in the 19th Asian Games that came to a close on Sunday night at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center here.
Despite minor troubles with accreditation, the high quality of competition, absence of chief of mission, and bickering among top sports officials, Filipino athletes still delivered as they finished with four gold, two silver and 12 bronze medals in the biggest staging of this prestigious quadrennial meet in history.
Their ranking of No. 17 in the 45-nation overall standing is their best since placing 14th in the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994. It also matched their gold medal production of four that they posted during the Jakarta edition of the Games in 2018.
EJ Obiena, the second-best pole vaulter in the world, was as good as advertised as he treated the crowd to a dazzling performance en route to a record-breaking 5.90 meters.
The 27-year-old pride of Tondo, Manila was so impressive that Hussain Al Hizam of Saudi Arabia, his training partner under Ukrainian legend Vitaly Petrov, branded him as a “superstar.”
Still, Obiena remains hungry, saying that the real goal is to get the Olympic gold medal in the Paris Olympics next year.
“I would want a medal but I would want to win. I would want to get a gold, it’s something that I believe is still doable, it’s achievable,” said Obiena, who is facing a titanic challenge from world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden in the Summer Games.
“Success would be winning a medal. Bigger success if I win.”
Also delivering for Team Philippines were the jiu-jitsu duo of Meggie Ochoa and Annie Ramirez.
Ochoa and Ramirez admitted that their journey to the title wasn’t easy as they had to battle stress, anxiety, sickness and injuries just to assert their dominance in the Asian Games.
“This is different. I went through a lot. My struggles make the victory even sweeter,” said a tearful Ochoa after winning the gold medal in the women’s 48-kilogram class.
“This is so overwhelming because a lot has happened here. Until last night, I had a fever. I thought I couldn’t make it. Until today, I took a lot of medicines just to feel better. Then, during the semifinals, I suffered a hip injury. It was painful.”
Ramirez, who won the women’s 57-kg category, also has a similar story as she admitted that she suffered stress and anxiety after bombing out early in the previous Asiad in Jakarta.
“It was tough. I was in a dark place for quite a long time,” Ramirez said.
Still, the biggest winner was Gilas Pilipinas as it gave the country its first men’s basketball title in 61 years.
Gilas coach Tim Cone admitted that their journey wasn’t easy as they had to change their roster at the last minute following the decision of the organizers to scratch their new additions in Calvin Abueva, Terrence Romeo, Mo Tautuaa and Jason Perkins.
With that, the replacements in Kevin Alas, CJ Perez, Chris Ross and Arvin Tolentino had difficulty getting their accreditation cards and nearly got off-loaded in their flight to Shanghai.
“After beating Iran by a point, then finding a way to complete that miraculous win over China, and then turn around and win this game against Jordan, it’s explainable. The feeling that we have right now is unexplainable to win this gold medal,” Cone said shortly after giving the country its fifth men’s basketball crown.
“We know that this is a big deal to everyone back home, we are passionate about basketball. So to be able to do that was such a huge thing. We can’t wait to get home and share this victory when we get back.”
But not everything was rosy for the Filipino contingent.
Superstars like Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting, Eumir Marcial of boxing, Margielyn Didal of skateboarding, and Kayla Sanchez of swimming all failed to contribute to the country’s golden harvest.
Diaz, the first Filipino to win an Olympic gold medal when she ruled the 55-kg event of the Tokyo Summer Games, struggled in the heavier weight class of 59-kg while Marcial fell prey to a hometown decision against a Chinese foe in the final of the men’s 80-kg event.
Didal, for her part, had to quit in the middle of battle due to injury while Sanchez, a two-time Olympic medalist for Team Canada, is still adjusting after undergoing a one-year residency to be eligible to play for the Philippines.