June 11, 2023

Redemption, revenge, resilience: Philippines’ best SEA Games moments showcase Filipino spirit

Redemption, revenge, resilience: Philippines’ best SEA Games moments showcase Filipino spirit
Art by Royce Nicdao

The 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is history, and the Philippines gave a good account of itself even if it slipped to fifth place overall. In fact, it eclipsed its 52-gold haul in last year's SEA Games by securing 58 mints of the gold variety.

In all, it was a memorable SEA Games for the country in more ways than one, but as in any grand sporting spectacle, some moments stood out more than the rest. In the Philippines' case, the following seven were arguably the most memorable (in no particular order):

Gilas regains gold, exacts revenge twice over

Like it or not, Gilas Pilipinas’ quest for redemption was a central story in this edition of the SEA Games, and it appeared early on that basketball-crazy Philippines would once again be heartbroken.

But the nationals displayed that now-familiar puso. They got back at Indonesia, their tormentors from last year, in the semifinals, before exacting revenge against Cambodia, the team that beat them in the preliminaries, in the finals.

Relive Gilas' revenge game versus the hosts here:

Cristina Villanueva Vergara defies odds to claim gold

Father Time isn't undefeated (or should we say, Mother Time?).

Cristina Villanueva Vergara wasn't even supposed to compete in Cambodia. She was already 44, and after winning two gold medals in wrestling in 2003 and 2005, she had all but devoted her life to doing other things, including teaching the sport and molding the next generation of Filipino wrestlers.

But one of the wrestlers set to compete in the SEA Games got injured. Vergara stepped up to the plate and the rest was history, with her winning gold in the women's under-65 kg division.

Making things even sweeter for Vergara was that she got to compete with her daughter Cathlyn, who won bronze in the 56 kg weight class. 

Elreen Ando shows who’s queen

No Hidilyn Diaz, no problem.

Olympian Elreen Ando, still smarting from a forgettable stint in the Asian Weightlifting Championships, earned her own redemption in Cambodia, dominating the women’s 59 kg division in record-setting fashion.

Ando not only won gold, but she also set new SEA Games records in snatch (98 kg), clean and jerk (118 kg), and total (216 kg) in a performance that underscores her status as a queen-in-waiting in Philippine weightlifting.

SIBOL completes 3-peat, shares stage with Timor-Leste

SIBOL completing a SEA Games three-peat is not entirely surprising, as the Philippines has been a regional powerhouse in esports for the longest time.

But what it did after made the feat so much more special.

In the awarding of medals, the champs shared the stage with the team from Timor-Leste, which had earlier gifted SIBOL’s players sportsmanship scarves after their preliminary stage match.

The gesture showed there are bigger things in life than sports, er, esports.

Men’s relay team wins in epic photo finish

The Philippine men’s 4x400m relay team won gold in the most nail-biting of ways—finishing the race literally a hair ahead of silver medalists Thailand.

Just how close was this epic photo finish?

Only 0.01 second separated the two teams. That’s as close as it can get!

Watch it here:

Joseph Arcilla secures first-ever SEA Games men's soft tennis gold

That Joseph Arcilla won the country's first-ever men's single soft tennis gold medal in the SEA Games is a feel-good story in of itself.

But the way Arcilla copped gold is the stuff legends are made of.

Hobbled by cramps after playing three matches in the searing Cambodian heat, the veteran needed to dig deep just to play in the final. He dug way deep and made history in the process.  

A star is born in Ivan Cruz

Carlos Yulo is the country's golden boy in gymnastics, and he figures to be that for the next few years. But in Cambodia, an heir apparent may have emerged in Ivan Cruz, who won a most improbable gold in the men's floor—ironically, Yulo's pet event. 

Cruz's show of unbridled passion and raw emotion came next, as the young man couldn't stop crying tears of joy after defying the odds of a poverty-stricken life to becoming a champion gymnast