SEA Games: Underdog Filipino wrestlers’ mantra? Fight smart

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at May 17 2022 06:34 AM

Because of a lack of sufficient preparations for the SEA Games, federation chief Alvin Aguilar says the national wrestlers face an uphill battle in Hanoi. AFP
Because of a lack of sufficient preparations for the SEA Games, federation chief Alvin Aguilar says the national wrestlers face an uphill battle in Hanoi. AFP

ONE of the casualties of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February – believe it or not – was the Philippine national wrestling team, which had looked forward to sparring with strong Russian wrestlers in the last stage of its preparations for the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games.

“They (the Russian wrestlers) were supposed to be here at the end of March and April but could not because of the war in the Ukraine. Sayang talaga. (It’s a pity),” said wrestling chief Alvin Aguilar of the missed opportunity of the Filipino wrestlers having top sparring partners before competing in the regional sportsfest.

For Aguilar, this was just one of the many challenges his wrestlers were forced to face in the build-up to the Games.

He said these included training with sparring partners who were unable to join the workouts with the national athletes because only those bound for the Vietnam SEA Games were allowed to train at Philippine Sports Commission facilities, such as the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex and Philsports Complex.

The Wrestling Association of the Philippines president said they trained as a team together with their sparring mates at the Inspire Academy in Calamba, Laguna with the support of the MVP Sports Foundation.

“We chose the Inspire Academy because it's far from everybody and one of the best training centers in the country. We’re fortunate and very happy that the MVP Sports Foundation took care of us,” he said. 

He said, before the wrestlers had the training bubble at the Inspire Academy, “we used the training gym I had in Paranaque,” referring to the Universal Reality Combat Championship gym for the URCC mixed martial arts fighters seeing action in the competition he founded. 

Aguilar was also concerned that the Vietnamese organizers declined their bid to send accredited Filipino referees to regional Game, which was one way of leveling the playing field and giving the Filipino bets a fighting chance against biased officiating.

“Usually other countries are able to send referees to the SEA Games but our and those of Singapore’s were not allowed. The Vietnamese hosts told us that they already have more than adequate referees without explaining to us the reason why,” he rued.

Making matters worse, Aguilar said, was that their regional rivals resumed training faster since the COVID-19 pandemic struck more than two years ago while the local wrestlers were restricted due to the country’s several lockdowns to stem the virus crisis. 

The wrestling association is fielding nine men – five in Greco-Roman and four in freestyle – and four women to the Vietnam SEA Games wrestling tournament to be held from May 17 to 19 at the Gia Lâm District Sporting Hall in Hanoi.

Making up the Greco-Roman squad are Margarita Angana, Noel Norada, Jason Baucas, Jefferson Manatad and Jason Balabal while the freestyle team is composed of Alvin Lobrequito, Jhonny Morte, Ronil Tubog and Elvis Julius.

Jia Pingot, a silver medalist at the 2019 SEA Games, Grace Loberanes, Minalyn Foy-os and Noemi Tener comprise the women’s squad. 

He said, despite the series of problems, “we hope to match if not surpass our tally of two golds, 10 silvers and one bronze medal” in the last regional meet held in the country three years in the country.

“We actually were eyeing for four golds then but Jia, who thought she already had won gold, was inexplicably recalled to play again the Vietnamese she had beaten and then lost while Lobrequito was leading but lost in the dying seconds,” Aguilar said. “We will fight smarter next time.

“Medyo dehado tayo ngayon (We are the underdogs now). But wrestlers are used to adversity. So we will be ready for whatever happens in Vietnam.”