NOT too many were aware that Clinton Kingsley Bautista’s record-breaking victory in the men’s 110-m hurdles last Monday at the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi was the epitome of triumph over adversity.
Just more than a month left before competition, Bautista’s bid to retain the title he won in the Philippine edition of the sportsfest three years ago at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac was in jeopardy after suffering a serious shin injury during practice at the PhilSports track oval in Pasig.
“Nagkaroon po ako ng malalim na sugat sa left shin ko po sa practice ng tumama sa hurdles. Halos kita na po ’yung buto. (I suffered a deep gash on my left shin during practice when it hit the hurdles. The bone was nearly showing),” he said.
The 29-year-old pride of Camiling town, Tarlac said the accident occurred two weeks before the Philippine Athletics Championships organized by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association on April 27 and 28 at the same oval, as the final tuneup of the national team before the Vietnam SEA Games.
“Napakataas nu’ng stress nu’ng time na iyon kasi talagang nawalan na ako ng pag-asa. Kulang na lang aawayin ko ’yung mga coach ko. (My stress was so high because I had lost hope. It was such that I nearly quarreled with my coaches),” Bautista recalled.
“But coach Darry (head coach Dario de Rosas) said that I should not give up and I entrusted everything into his hands on how I could recover.”
With the Philippine Sports Commission’s approval, the entire national athletics team quartered and trained in a bubble inside the PhilSports Complex at the start of April as a health and safety precaution before the squad left for the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi last May 11.
Sidelined for two weeks while the wound healed and limited to doing light workouts, Bautista said he only had two days of practice before the tuneup.
“Malaki ang nawala sa endurance ko dahil hindi ko maigalaw kaagad ’yung paang nasugatan. Buti na lang hindi naapektuhan ’yung training sa hurdles. Pero ng sinubukan ko sa starting block bago ’yung tuneup meet namin, nangangapa pa. (I lost a lot in my endurance because I could not move my injured foot. It was a good thing that my hurdles training was not affected too much. But it was hard getting used to the starting block again,” Bautista explained.
“Mabagal ang naging oras ko sa hurdles mga 14 second plus ata. ’Yung mga kalaban kong runner na nag-monitor akala siguro eto lang ang kaya kong takbuhin (I had a slow time in the hurdles of about 14 seconds plus. My overseas rivals who were monitoring my time may have thought this was what I was capable of),” he said.
Bautista clocked 13.97 seconds to become the first Filipino to win the men’s 400-meter hurdles at the 31st SEA Games.
Working out as the wound healed was painful, but Bautista said he had to grin and bear it to keep his title-retention bid alive.
Since he had lost several training days due to the injury, the athlete said that he and coach De Rosas no longer looked at improving his time for the race and instead focused on the proper start to get ahead of his rivals in Hanoi.
“Hindi na namin ini-expect ni coach Darry ’yung kalalabasan ng time. Nag-focus na lang kami kung ano ’yung kaya namin gawin. Siguro sa start namin ito makukuha. (Coach Darry and I no longer expected the result of my time but focused on what we could control. Perhaps we could get an edge with the right start),” Bautista stressed.
He said that this was similar to the successful strategy they had in his breakthrough win in the 2019 Philippine Games.
“If I started well like I did in 2019 then I would gain a head start. Mapilitan ’yung kalaban na humabol ng humabol. Ako naman momentum ng momentum para maintain ’yung distance (My rivals would be forced to chase me while I would have the edge in momentum to maintain my distance),” the hurdler explained.
Given that he and his rivals virtually had the same speed, the ploy left little room for error, according to Bautista.
“Dikit-dikit po kaming lahat. Kaunting mali lang yung space ng winning ko. Kaunting mali sa hurdles, talo o panalo ka. Ganun lang po yun. (We are so close to each other’s level. There is little space for error. A mistake in the hurdles, you win or lose. It is as simple as that),” he noted.
Bautista said that working in his favor was the fact that the 400-meter hurdles had no heats and all eight entries qualified for the finals so none of them were aware what the other runners were capable of.
“Wala ng bantayan sa heat kung sino ang malakas. Magkita-kita na lang kami sa finals ang nasa loob ko. (We no longer had to guard who as strong because of the heats. We will just see each other in the finals, I said to myself),” he noted.
Fueling his adrenaline, Bautista said, was being drawn in Lane 4 between the top Singapore and Malaysian hurdlers, “which motivated me to do my best because the more I like it when there’s a challenge.”
Sticking to his game plan to perfection, the Filipino hurdler took off like there was no tomorrow and left the field scrambling in his wake en route to clinching the race in a new national record of 13.78 seconds.
He shattered the 5-year-old mark of 13.91 seconds set by Patrick Unso, the son of the celebrated middle distance runner Renato Unso, in the 2017 Thailand Open on top of adding a new milestone as the only Filipino runner to win the race back-to-back.
“Talagang hindi ko akalain na mananalo akong muli kaya napakasaya ko po! (I never thought I would win again so I am very happy with this victory),” Bautista exclaimed with glee after overcoming his ordeal for his second golden glory for flag and country.