When the Philippines showed its best as SEA Games hosts in 1981, 1991 and 2005
Gerry Plaza on Nov 30, 2019 09:59 AM
The 2005 SEA Games Closing Ceremonies (Photo from 2005seagames.com.ph)
Hosting the biennial Southeast Asian Games, just like any international multi-sport competition, offers an opportunity for a country to flaunt its best—in terms of organizing the event, making the tournament stand-out, and unleash a vaunted athletic campaign against the region’s best.
Before this year’s SEA Games, the Philippines has hosted the SEA Games three times—all of which were momentous and ground-breaking. And in each successive staging, the Filipinos went up the medal standings, reaching the top in the country’s most successful showing in international sports when the country last hosted the biennial event 14 years ago.
This was the first time the Philippines took the cudgels in hosting the Games. Already in its 11th staging, the SEA Games became a centerpiece event of President Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, as it highlighted his administration’s heightened focus on sports development. This was through the initiative of Marcos nephew Michael Keon’s Gintong Alay program.
The Games was known as the launching pad of Asia’s sprint queen Lydia de Vega, who marveled everyone with her speed and track prowess that earned her the Gold in record-breaking performances in the 100, 200, and women’s relay teams. Isidro del Prado was another track phenom, ruling the 400 meters also in record fashion.
The Games was the breakthrough year in Philippine sports as it produced a bountiful harvest in Golds from track and field, cycling, bowling, boxing, basketball, swimming, and weightlifting, among others.
The Philippines ended at third, its highest place at the time, with 55 golds, 55 silvers, and 77 bronze medals for a total 187 medals.
Ten years after its impressive first-ever SEA Games hosting, a new government and political climate enveloped the biennial meet. Under President Corazon Aquino, the 16th SEA Games showed the remarkable change the country attained since the 1986 EDSA Revolution, which would be emphasized with an astonishing medal performance, almost topping the 16th edition if not for Indonesia’s marathon gold.
Swimming took the spotlight with ace tanker Eric Buhain capturing a record six golds, making him the most bemedalled athlete, and Akiko Thomson becoming the crowd darling, donning two golds. Bea Lucero also achieved a first-ever milestone of being the only athlete to win medals in two sporting events—two golds in gymnastics in 1987 Jakarta and a gold in the bantamweight division of women’s taekwondo in the 1991 Manila games. A 27 year-old Lydia de Vega-Mercado reclaimed the Asian sprint queen title by winning the Gold in the 100 meters over compatriot Elma Muros and Malaysian Goldivasamy Shanti. Muros, however, won the 100 meter hurdles and won the long jump gold for four successive stagings—a SEA Games first.
The Philippines would rule several sport events with a gold rush in swimming, boxing, basketball, shooting, wushu, track and field, taekwondo, bowling, billiards, among others.
Its 91 Gold, 62 Silver, 84 Bronze, and 237 total medal count was good for second.
It took fourteen years before Manila hosted the SEA Games again. And in 2005, its rise as the regional powerhouse in sports was completed with the contingent under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reaching the top of the medal standings.
The 23rd staging was unprecedented, starting with the Opening Ceremonies being held at the Quirino Grandstand instead of a sports stadium, drawing an immense live audience—estimated as the largest ever for a sports event at 200,000. It was the grandest, having the widest array of sports legends appearing in the grand parade of colors, such as SEA Games legends Lydia de Vega-Mercado and Akiko Thomson, Olympic silver medalist Onyok Velasco, top basketball player Allan Caidic, and champion equestrienne Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski. When the Philippine delegates arrived, they were accompanied by Miss International 2005 Precious Lara Quigaman, actress Angel Locsin, and then World Boxing Council Lightweight Champion Manny Pacquiao.
Best of all, the Philippines erased the stigma of being the “sick man” of Asian sports, as it won golds left and right, even in sport events it was not usually dominant. Diver Sheila Mae Perez, swimmer Miguel Molina, rower Benjamin Tolentino Jr., and billiards ace Alex Pagulayan were the winningest Filipino athletes with three golds each. Wushu had the most golds with 11, followed by track and field, aquatics, boxing, billiards and snooker, taekwondo, traditional boat race, fencing, wrestling, bowling, judo, and archery. In addition, the Philippines won golds in arnis, karatedo, muay, rowing, shooting, lawn tennis, cycling, dance sports, golf, gymnastics, softball, baseball, lawn balls, equestrian, and pencak silat.
In total, the Philippines won the overall championship with an astonishing 113 gold, 84 silver, 94 bronze, and 291 total medal haul—its best ever in international competitions.
Will the Philippines match or eclipse its historic achievement 14 years ago and continue its rise in the medal tally when it hosts the biennial event? Catch the 30th SEA Games in various locations in the Philippines from Saturday, November 30 until Wednesday, December 11 on ABS-CBN S+A, ABS-CBN S+A HD, Liga, Liga HD, iWant Sports, and sports.abs-cbn.com.