Huelgas' SEA Games success was ten years in the making
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 07, 2015 04:45 PM
“It was spectacular, it was sweet and fulfilling,”
SINGAPORE – Niko Huelgas overcame a bad swim leg and an early spill in the bike stage and gave the country its second gold medal in the 28th Singapore Southeast Asian Games with a come-from-behind win in the men’s triathlon at the East Coast Park here on a rainy Sunday.
Lagging in fourth place after the 1.5-kilometer swim race, Huelgas made up for lost ground in the last two stages to clinch the gold in a time of two hours, 34 minutes and 32 seconds, 1:03 ahead of Malaysia’s Rikogoro Shinozuka., who took the silver in 2:05.35.
Singapore’s Rong Loo ChuanÂ salvaged the bronze medal (2:07.01) while Jonard Â Saim, the other Filipino entry, lost his energy bar during the course of the competition and struggled into sixth place (2:10.18).
“It was spectacular, it was sweet and fulfilling,” said the 23-year-old Huelgas later after matching the gold-medal performance of Claire Adorna in the women’s triathlon a day earlier, and cap a Philippine sweep of Â event.
“I was not really expecting anything (because) at the beginning I really had a bad swim. I went from T1 (swim) to T2 (bike) felling dizzy,” he added. “That put me mentally down, and then I slipped in the first 100 meters of the bike.”
A La Salle business management graduate, Huelgas cited the help of Saim in the bike leg to settle him down “and without him, this would not be possible.”
Aided by Saim, Â the mestizo-looking athleteÂ finished the bike event in second spot and Â just 16 secondsÂ behind erstwhile Thai frontrunner Wuthiwhat Â Hemwet, who eventually faded into eighth place overall (2:12.33).
Getting his second wind, Huelgas finally surged ahead after just first loop of the 10-kilometer run and never looked back on the way to the comeback triumph.
“It took me 10 years to achieve this. Years and years of trial and error, to be resilient and Â recover from your mistakes,” said newly-crowed SEA Games triathlon champ who disclosed that he was inspired to dream of competing in the sportsfest when the Philippines last hosted the Â event in 2005.
Aware that he one of the favorites in the event, Huelgas disclosed that he only 15 minutes the night before “and I had to take melatonin (a tranquilizer) to calm me down.Â I felt I was the most pressured guy not only in the triathlon but in the entire SEA Games.”
He showed his relief after crossing the finish line all alone on top by kneeling and raising his hands to heaven. Â Â
Philippine Olympic Committee chairman Tom Carrasco, who is also the Triathlon of Association of the Philippines president, that success of his athletes “is the result of a two-year journey in identifying who our athletes to prepare for the SEA Games and prepare and fund them well.”
“We were able to identify Huelgas, Mangrobang, Adorna and Saim as our SEAG hopefuls so sent them for intensive training overseas,” said Carrasco, who thanked the Philippine Sports Commission for the supporting the buildup of Huelgas and Mangrobang at the elite training camp in Rio Maior, Portugal.
On the other hand, Saim and Adorna were sponsored by pharmaceutical company for their serious training in Australia.
All four triathletes will be competing in the Asian Triathlon Championships next weekend in Taiwan, he added, to earn world ranking points.Â
Triathlon has thus far been the saving grace of the Philippine campaig here, garnering three out of a possible four golds.
Â The Filipino triathletes will go home proudly with two golds and a silver courtesy of Kim Mangrobang, who finished second to Adorna last Saturday.Â