JAKARTA – The Philippines pulled off an unexpected four-gold medal harvest in the 18th Asian Games that came to a close on Sunday — but the improved performance was still lacking in almost all departments.
The gold medals in weightlifting, golf and skateboarding placed Team Philippines at No. 19 among 37 of the 45-nation Games that clinched at least one bronze medal.
Filipino athletes also bagged two silver and 15 bronze medals in these games that favored the hosts who got their wish of finishing in the magic five with 31 golds, 15 of them won in the subjective sport of pencak silat, an Indonesian traditional martial art.
And with the campaign over, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Ricky Vargas said there is so much work to do.
“I realized that despite the improved performance, there are so many things that we still need to do,” Vargas said on Sunday morning, hours before the closing ceremony of the Asian Games Indonesia has hosted only for the second time since 1962.
“By all indications, the Asian Games was a success for Team Philippines — total medal count improved, gold count quadrupled,” Vargas said. “The ranking went up from 22nd to 19th, although short of the goal of 15th, but still acceptable.”
Vargas, however, threw caution into the air. The Philippines does not look prime to emerge as overall champion of the 30th Southeast Asian Games that the country is hosting in November next year.
“To be honest? No!” Vargas said a few hours before the last man standing for a possible gold medal, boxer Rogen Ladon, fought — and eventually lost to a head-butting Jasurbek Latipov of Uzbekistan, on Saturday.
“To aim for No. 1 is very difficult, but to aim for the top three is possible — it depends on how we manage the events and the sports,” he added.
The Indonesians sweep of the 14 pencak silat gold medals, Vargas said, is a clear indication of the advantage a host country gets.
He also mentioned strong chances for the gold medal in arnis, an indigenous martial art, as well as basketball, taekwondo, boxing, bowling, billiards, among others.
“But if you factor in athletics and swimming, we’re in trouble,” he said.
Athletics in these Asian Games staked 45 gold medals while swimming had 44 with the Philippines failing to bag a single bronze. These two sports’ events are compulsory not only in the Olympics and Asian Games but in the SEA Games as well.
“Look at Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore they’re all above us in the medal tally of the Asian Games. And look at their silvers and bronzes, they’re golds in the SEA Games.”
The Asian Games were an accurate reflection of how the SEA Games overall medal rankings went since 2007, two years after the Philippines claimed the championship on home soil in 2005.
Under Jose Cojuangco Jr. as president of the POC, the Philippines was sixth or seventh place in 2007 Nakhon Ratchasima, 2009 Laos, 2011 Palembang, 2013 Myanmar, 2015 Singapore and 2017 Kuala Lumpur.
There was no difference at all in these Jakarta and Palembang Asian Games.
Indonesia was the topnotcher with 31 gold, 24 silver and 43 bronze medals for a total of 98 medals. Perennial SEA Games champion Thailand was 12th place with an 11-gold, 16-silver and 46-bronze tally, while Malaysia was a close 14th place with 7-13-16. Vietnam placed 17th in with 4-16-18, a 4-4-14.
The Philippines sent 272 athletes that competed in 31 sports in the 16-day Games and got four gold, two silver and 15 bronze medals for a total of 21 medals.
Cambodia was in 24th place with 2-0-1, Laos at 31st with 0-2-3 and Myanmar at 35th with two bronze medals.
The Incheon 2014 campaign where a smaller delegation of 159 athletes who participated in 24 sports yielded a poor one-gold, three-silver, 11-bronze performance for the Philippines.
“It is obvious that grassroots development and talent identification have to be ramped up,” Vargas said.
“NSAs (national sports associations) need to clean up their act. We cannot allow bickering and power struggles to weigh down our athletes’ efforts. They [NSAs] must foster inclusivity, transparency and accountability,” he added.
“Cooperation with the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) is vital — this is a no brainer. Coaches’ development should be given impetus. We need to look at improving in sports where we can be competitive in,” he added.
“In the end, it’s all about the athlete. Train them well, provide for their needs, keep them motivated, inspired and focused — and shield them from politics. They can and will deliver,” Vargas said. (PSC Media Pool)