KUALA LUMPUR — It may "only" be a bronze medal but, for James delos Santos, his prize in the men's individual kata in the Southeast Asian Games was a redemption story four years in the making.
All the way back in 2013 in Myanmar, delos Santos — then making his first SEA Games appearance for Team Philippines — bowed out in the quarterfinals of the men's kata and did not take home a single medal.
Other athletes who failed to medal in the 2013 SEA Games needed to wait only two years to try and redeem themselves in 2015 in Singapore, but not delos Santos, nor any member of his team, for that matter. Karate was scrapped in the 2015 SEA Games, meaning delos Santos needed to wait two more years for his chance to prove his worth anew.
"I was really disappointed when I didn't medal back in 2013," said delos Santos, shortly after winning the bronze. "But that's how life is. You fall down and you just gotta get back up."
"In 2015, yes, karate was scrapped off, but it didn't stop me from training," he added. "I just continued to train a lot harder, because I knew that coming in 2017, this will be my redemption in the SEA Games."
Delos Santos said he went to work almost immediately after coming home empty-handed from Myanmar in 2013, and powered through the frustration of not competing in 2015. His sacrifices paid off with a bronze medal that for him represented the result of four long years of training.
"Coming home with a bronze medal, it's really a great feeling for me," he said. "I just really look at this as redemption para sa akin. I felt that I've redeemed myself, even if I just won bronze."
Yet delos Santos is also the first to say that there is plenty of work left to do. He knows that the next edition of the biennial event will be held in the Philippines, and he is already looking forward to what he can do when he competes in front of his kababayans.
"It's always been a dream for me to compete in the SEA Games in my home country," he said.
"If I can recall, I was only a spectator back in the 2005 SEA Games, when I watched the national team compete," he added, referring to the last time that the Philippines hosted the Games. "So, fast-forwarding from spectator to a possible competitor in 2019 . . . It's just amazing. I can't wait for that."
Delos Santos and his teammates in the karate squad have been quite successful in the SEA Games, though they have yet to produce a much-desired gold. Through the first two days of competition, they have added three silver medals and three bronzes — including delos Santos' — to the Philippines' medal tally.
They will try to earn the elusive karate gold medal in the team events at Kuala Lumpur Convention Center on Thursday.
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