RECAP: The highs and lows of Team PH in the 31st SEA Games

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) – Team Philippines bows out of the 31st Southeast Asian Games with a respectable fourth place finish after collecting 52 gold, 70 silver, and 104 bronze medals.

Amid the training challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Filipino athletes delivered impressive finishes and record-breaking feats in the 12-day biennial sports competition held in Vietnam, while others did not live up to the expectations.

Top Filipino athletes assert reign in Southeast Asia

World gymnastics champion Carlos Yulo is the most bemedaled athlete in the Vietnam SEA Games after harvesting five gold and two silver medals.

The 22-year-old artistic gymnast claimed gold medals in vault (an apparatus where he is the world champion), individual all-around, horizontal bar, floor exercise, and still rings. He bagged silver medals in parallel bars and team event with Jan Gwynn Timbang, Juancho Besana, John Ivan Cruz, Justine Ace De Leon, and John Matthew Vergara.

RELATED: How much cash bonus will Carlos Yulo receive after triumphant Vietnam SEA Games stint? 

Yulo’s medal haul highlighted the Philippines’ strong finish in gymnastics with seven gold, four silver, and three bronze medals.

The country’s first Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz shrugged off the jitters from her historic feat in July last year as she defended her title in the women’s 55kg division. The Vietnam SEA Games is Diaz’s first tournament after her monumental Tokyo Olympics stint. 

World No. 6 pole vaulter EJ Obiena was also successful in his title defense after he leaped into a new SEA Games record jump of 5.46 meters. 

Decorated sprinter Eric Cray earned his fifth straight SEA Games gold medal in the men’s 400-meter hurdles after tallying a time of 50.41 seconds in the event’s final. 

Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Eumir Marcial punched his fourth straight SEA Games gold medal in the men’s 75kg/middleweight category after he clobbered Timor Leste’s Delio Anzaqeci Mouzinho in the final to notch a referee stoppage win. 

Rogen Ladon and Ian Clark Bautista are the other Filipino boxers who clinched a gold medal in Vietnam.

Sean Aranar and Ana Nualla successfully defended their crowns in the Tango, Viennese Waltz, and Five Dances events to win three of the five gold medals of the Philippine dancesport team. The country also dominated the event with five more silver and two bronze medals.

Droughts ended, record-breaking feats achieved

Kim Mangrobang is the first Filipino athlete in the Vietnam SEA Games to win multiple medals after she topped the women’s individual triathlon, for the third straight edition, and duathlon events.

Cue artist Rubilen Amit was also a double gold medalist in Vietnam after she ruled the women’s 9-ball and 10-ball pool singles competitions. She beat compatriot Chezka Centeno in the all-Filipino 10-ball pool singles final to clinch her eighth gold medal and 13th medal overall in her SEA Games career. 

The 9-ball and 10-ball pool singles finals in the men’s division were also contested by two Filipino billiards stars, Johann Chua and Carlo Biado. Chua prevailed in the 9-ball pool singles final, while Biado hoisted the 10-ball pool singles title.

Merwin Tan had an unforgettable Vietnam SEA Games stint after he broke the country’s 11-year gold medal drought in bowling when he bested other opponents for the men’s singles crown. He also won his second gold medal in the men’s team of four event with Christian Dychangco, Ivan Malig, and Patrick Nuqui.

Aside from Yulo, former United States gymnastics team member Aleah Finnegan also made a good impression in her Philippine team debut after she took home gold medals in women’s vault apparatus and team event. She also bagged silver medals in the balance beam and individual all-around events.

Chloe Isleta, the country’s lone gold medalist in swimming in Vietnam, became the first Filipina swimmer to win a SEA Games title since Akiko Thomson in 1993. Isleta prevailed in the women’s 200-meter backstroke event, while snaring silver medals in the 100-meter backstroke and 4x100-meter medley relay.

Isleta’s fellow swimmers Jessica Geriane and Miranda Renner also broke the national records in the women’s 50-meter backstroke and the women’s 50-meter butterfly categories, respectively. Geriane won the silver medal when she reset the Philippine record.

Clinton Bautista tallied a new national record in winning his second straight SEA Games gold medal in the men’s 110-meter hurdles with 13.78 seconds, while William Morrison III threw a new games record of 18.14 meters in extending his reign as the region’s shot put king. Aries Toledo also broke the national record in men’s decathlon, where he won the silver medal.

Kayla Richardson unleashed her speed as the region’s fastest woman with a time of 11.60 seconds, while Robyn Brown also reset the national record in her bronze medal finish in women’s 400-meter hurdles with 56.44 seconds. Sarah Dequinan also recorded a new Philippine record in women’s duathlon, where she bagged the silver medal.

Vanessa Sarno, touted as the heir apparent to Diaz’s weightlifting throne, lifted a new games record of 239 kilograms to win a gold medal in the women’s 71kg division in her SEA Games debut. Sarno and Diaz are the only gold medalists for the Philippines in weightlifting. 

The Philippine women’s football team also ended their 37-year medal drought in the SEA Games after a come from behind 2-1 win over Myanmar in the bronze medal match. 

The Philippine muay thai squad won two gold medals in Vietnam, which are all due to the protests filed by team officials in scoring discrepancies favoring the hometown bets.

Islay Erika Bomogao and Rhichein Yosorez ruled the women’s waikru event, while Phillip Delarmino took home the Philippines’ last gold medal in the 31st SEA Games in the men’s 57kg combat category.

Subpar finishes for some PH national teams

The main flaw of Team Philippines’ campaign in the 31st SEA Games is the basketball-loving nation winning only one gold medal in the sport they ruled for many years.

The biggest disappointment was the Gilas Pilipinas men’s 5x5 basketball team settling for a silver medal for the first time since 1989 after losing a close game against eventual gold medalist Indonesia. The Philippines had dominated the event in 18 of the past 21 SEA Games editions.

The Gilas 3x3 teams also failed to defend their gold medal. The men’s team backed by PBA 3x3 first conference champion Limitless Appmasters won the bronze medal, while their female counterparts only finished in fourth place.

The only bright spot in the Philippines’ basketball campaign in Vietnam was the Gilas Women 5x5 team, which clinched the gold medal despite losing their last game against Malaysia.

Rowing, karate, and wrestling national teams are the squads that won many medals for the Philippines but failed to bag a single gold medal in their campaign.

The Philippine bodybuilding team was ruled out of the Vietnam SEA Games after it allegedly failed to submit a doping test result before the competition and the bodybuilders were not accredited by the Asian Bodybuilding Federation.