POC pins Asiad gold medal hopes on Obiena

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 06 2023 06:21 PM

Handout, POC/PSC Media
EJ Obiena is awarded the gold medal on May 9, 2023, a day after breaking his own Southeast Asia Games record in the men’s pole vault at the Morodok National Stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Handout, POC/PSC Media

MANILA -- Filipino athletes are all set to compete in the much-delayed Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, with the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) hoping that some of them can pull off surprise victories. 

POC president and Tagaytay City Mayor Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino has assured that the 396 athletes who will see action in the Asiad are ready, even as he acknowledged that they are in for a tough campaign. 

"Halos lahat po nakahanda na. Nag-aantay na lang po ng kung magkakaroon tayo ng send-off," Tolentino said in a public briefing on Tuesday. "[Sa September] 19, 17, meron na pong mauuna ano. So nakahanda na po 'yung 396 natin na atleta papuntang Asian Games."

The Philippines won four gold medals in the 2018 edition of the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia -- all courtesy of female athletes. Hidilyn Diaz [weightlifting], Margielyn Didal [skateboard], Yuka Saso [golf] all won individual gold, while Saso, LK Go, and Bianca Pagdanganan won team gold in golf. 

Tolentino believes that in Hangzhou, the Philippines is assured of at least one gold, thanks to pole vaulter EJ Obiena.

"Meron naman pong sigurado," he said of their gold medal hopes. "Nasisigurado ko pong makaka-ginto si EJ Obiena, ang atin pong pole vaulter, dahil naging second po siya ngayon sa world."

Obiena is coming off a silver medal in the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, where he finished behind only world record holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden. Australia's Kurtis Marschall, the world No. 4, won bronze in the worlds but is not expected to compete in the Asiad; Australia said last year that they will not send athletes to the Asian Games.

The next highest-ranked Asian athlete in pole vault is China's Bokai Huang, at No. 20. 

"So, statistically, siya po ang No. 1, talagang siya po ang No. 1 sa Asia," said Tolentino of Obiena. "So isang sure po 'yun."

Tolentino believes that the Philippines lost two more gold medals when Tokyo Olympian Carlos Yulo opted not to compete in the Asiad to focus instead on the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, which serves as a qualifier to next year's Paris Olympics. 

Philip Fong, AFP
Caloy Yulo of the Philippines competes in the parallel bars event at the men's team qualification during the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Kitakyushu City Gymnasium in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka prefecture, Japan on October 20, 2021. Philip Fong, AFP

"Sayang, sure of two golds po 'yun. [Pero] baka naman merong pumalit sa kanya sa gymnastics na nagte-training na rin po sa atin sa Japan," said the POC chief. 

He expects the nation's boxers to compete for medals, as the silver and gold medalists will be assured of places in the Paris Games next year. Among the boxers seeing action in the Asian Games are Tokyo Olympics silver medalists Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam, and bronze medalist Eumir Marcial.

Tokyo Games gold medalist Diaz will also be in action, although she is set to compete in a different weight class. Promising lifter Vanessa Sarno is also in the POC's entry-by-numbers list for the Asian Games.

"Hopefully, makabawi ang golf kahit wala na si Yuka," said Tolentino. "Swimming, tennis, sila Alex Eala … Marami pa po, baka meron pa pong surprises."

As for the men's national basketball team, Tolentino hopes that they can build on their win over China to close out their campaign in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. Gilas Pilipinas is expected to field a changed lineup in Hangzhou, with the likes of Jordan Clarkson, Dwight Ramos, and AJ Edu unavailable.

"But, kaya pa rin dahil andiyan naman po ang ibang manglalaro nating magagaling coming from the PBA. Willing naman po silang ipahiram ang mga manlalaro nila," said Tolentino.

The PBA, along with the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, will announce the Asian Games lineup of Gilas Pilipinas on Thursday.

The Hangzhou Asian Games was originally scheduled for September 10 to 25, 2022, but was moved to September 23 to October 8, 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.