MANILA, Philippines -- After dominating the 30th edition of the Southeast Asian Games at home, Filipino athletes will try to finish in the Top 3 when they compete in Vietnam later this year.
The 31st SEA Games will be held in Hanoi from November 21 to December 2, and Team Philippines is determined not to fall behind even as the head of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) admits that retaining the overall crown will be a tall task.
"Well talagang mahirap po 'yan, mga kasama, mahirap pong kunin 'yan," POC president Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino said of a second straight overall championship in the biennial competition.
"Subalit inaasam po natin na, sana, top 3," he added during an appearance on the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum this week. "Kung hindi po natin makuha 'yung first, top 3."
Filipino athletes were dominant on home soil in 2019, winning a record 149 gold medals. Vietnam came in second place, with 98 golds.
Tolentino expects Vietnam to build on their strong performance in 2019 and be even better when they host the SEA Games in November.
"Nakapaghanda na po ang Vietnam diyan, tulad ng ginawa natin before," he pointed out.
Tolentino, also the representative of the eighth district of Cavite, further admits that Filipino athletes have not trained for the SEA Games as well as they could have due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most national team athletes were inactive for the bulk of 2020, settling for virtual training while their competitions were postponed or cancelled entirely. A few who were abroad -- particularly Olympic-bound athletes Caloy Yulo and EJ Obiena -- kept training, but also had less than ideal schedules.
The national boxing, taekwondo, and karate teams are set to hold a training camp in a bubble at the Inspire Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna starting this weekend, but other teams are still waiting for the go-signal for them to begin training in person again.
"Iilan pa lang ang pinayagan," noted Tolentino. "Actually, hindi pa nga nagi-start 'yung mga pinayagan."
"Ang mga nagi-start pa lang 'yung mga nasa abroad, na qualified sa Tokyo. And ang pinayagan pa lang 'yung qualifying for Tokyo. Hindi pa natin dini-discuss 'yung all teams, all delegates going to Southeast Asian Games," he added.
Thus, Filipino athletes will be hard-pressed to duplicate their dominant performances in Vietnam.
"Yes, we still have the time, but 'yung mga kalaban natin, katunggali natin sa ibang bansa, I think nagi-start na sila," said Tolentino.
In the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand, the Philippines finished in sixth place with 41 gold medals -- just two years after winning the overall championship at home, where they won 113 golds.