KUALA LUMPUR — It was with great pride and delight that Mon Fernandez, a towering figure in Philippine sports, discussed the country's first gold medal in the 29th Southeast Asian Games on Saturday morning in Putrajaya.
A four-time PBA Most Valuable Player who is now with the Philippine Sports Commission, Fernandez enveloped Mary Joy Tabal with a tight hug after the diminutive runner triumphed in women's marathon.
Heading into the Games in Kuala Lumpur, Fernandez, who stands 6-foot-5, had high hopes that the 4-foot-11 Tabal would go home with a gold medal, having tracked the long-distance runner's progress since she competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics last year.
After seeing Tabal's emotional triumph at the Palace of Justice, Fernandez expressed his hope that other Filipino athletes can take heart in the Cebuana native's achievement.
"As they say, the first one is the hardest one," Fernandez told ABS-CBN News after the event. "So I hope our athletes will be inspired by this win."
"I'm hoping na sunod-sunod na ang mga golds natin," he added. "Sana, ganahan ang mga atleta natin sa pinakita ni Joy."
For Fernandez, Tabal should serve as an inspiration to other Filipino athletes, as she showed that her size was no impediment to a dominant performance.
"Isa siya sa pinakamaliit na runner," Fernandez pointed out. "But kinaya niya — with plenty to spare."
Indeed, Tabal imposed her class on the other marathoners. She did not beat her season-best time this year, but her final time of two hours, 48 minutes, and 26 seconds was still seven minutes better than the silver medalist from Vietnam.
"I hope the other athletes will find inspiration from that," said Fernandez.
Yet even though he wished for a Philippine gold rush here, Fernandez still reminded the athletes to enjoy what they do.
"Just stay focused, and have fun. Enjoy what you're doing," said the man fondly known as 'El Presidente.' "This is going to be a practice run for bigger things, especially sa young athletes natin dito. (We're) looking at the future – the Asian Games and the Olympics, hopefully."
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