With new blood, Pinay gymnasts relish finding SEA Games success again

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at May 14 2022 11:55 PM

NOT wanting to be outshone by their men's counterparts, the Philippine women's artistic gymnasts set some milestones of their own in the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games gymnastics meet Saturday evening in Hanoi. 

In her Philippine team debut, Alea Finnegan anchored the squad to the women's all-around team gold medal, breaking a 31-year-old SEAG dry spell in the event by securing the silver medal in the individual all-around at the Quang Ngua Sports Palace.

The former US national team member scored 49.250 points to place a close second behind Indonesian Rifdah Irfanaluthfi (49.650), boosting the team to the top with a total of 184.50 points.

Finnegan and teammates Chiara Andrew, Lucia Gabriel Gutierrez, Cristina Onofre-Loberanes, Ancilla Lucia Manzano and Kursten Roque Lopez witnessed the Philippine flag raised and anthem sung again in the team event for the first time since the 1991 Manila SEA Games.

Former secretary general Bettina Pou said the last time the national women's gymnastics squad achieved the feat was through the squad composed of Catherine Ocampo, Jean Elaine Santos, Jasmine Amanda Valenton, Lilyann Fortajada and Wednesday Reyes.

"We have not won a gold in the women's team event for more than three decades now so this is a significant milestone not only for our gymnasts but also for the the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines program," said GAP president Cynthia from the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. 

"This is absolutely unreal and I am just really grateful that all the hard work we put in paid off," said Andrew, who is the youngest member of the squad at 15 and, like Finnegan, was making her maiden appearance for the PH squad.

Born in Chino Valley, Arizona, Andrew, whose paternal grandmother, who grew up in the Philippines, was recruited and trained in Texas with the national team before it saw action in the 2019 SEA GAmes. 

Carrion revealed that landing Finnegan, 18, who has openly acknowledged her Filipino heritage with pride, proved to be more difficult but nonetheless was satisfied with the initial fruits of her recruitment.

"We hope that Alea and her mother Linabelle can return to Manila after the SEA Games to inspire our budding young gymnasts back home," Carrion said.
It was the second straight fruitful outing for the national artistic gymnastics squad after Carlos Edriel Yulo retained his men's all-around crown, powering the men's squad to the team all-around silver medal last Friday. 

And the Filipino standard-bearers are expecting more in the 31st Vietnam SEA Games artistic gymnastics apparatus competitions starting Sunday with Yulo and Finnegan leading the way. 

The 2019 men's world gymnastics floor exercise champion, Yulo is expected to rule his pet event anew and is also entered in the rings and pommel horse. 

Known as the "Tiny Twister" in international gymnastics circles for his dynamic moves, he is keen on surpassing his performance in the 2019 SEA Games three years ago where he emerged as the country's most bemedalled athlete with 2 golds and 5 silvers.

Finnegan, a gold medalist of the US squad that won the team event in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, is tipped as the athlete to watch in the women's floor and vault events.