The Philippine delegation for the upcoming Asian Games is arguably one of the best we’ve had in a while
Photo by Tristan Tamayo
If there’s any silver lining to the Philippine delegation’s underwhelming 1-3-11 gold-silver-bronze finish at the 2014 Asian Games, it’s in the way that this year’s representatives have taken it: motivation to do significantly better, which is a perfect reason to aim more relentlessly for the gold. The 272 Filipino athletes will be going into the 2018 Asian Games with a definite goal in mind, and that is to end the country’s gold medal drought.
Harboring such a need for redemption in this specific area adds a layer of focus to the delegates’ already jacked up game plan—of course they’ll want to turn in a good performance but seeking out golds has made them train a lot harder, and perhaps even a bit more positively desperate. Which is enough reason for us as spectators to expect stronger performances from our athletes this time.
But beyond a keener sense of focus, there’s another definite advantage to which we can credit this optimism: The Philippine delegation for the upcoming games is arguably one of the best we’ve had in a while, with the likes of Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz, the Philippine boxing team (always a strong contender in the continental scene), and Fil-American NBA guard Jordan Clarkson headlining the 272-strong team. These athletes are only some of the few Filipino athletes being tagged as potential gold medalists. Here’s the complete list:
Carlos Yulo (Gymnastics)
Two-time Palarong Pambansa champion Carlos “Caloy” Yulo made headlines earlier this year when, after having just turned 18, he bagged three medals in the last three legs of the International Gymnastics Federation Individual Apparatus Artistic World Cup series. The young gymnast won the three consecutive medals (two silvers and one bronze) in the three world championships in just a span of a month, securing his ascent to the senior rank with quite an unprecedented feat.
Athletics officials have taken notice of the prodigy’s potential, with some pointing out that Yulo can even qualify for the 2020 Olympics and potentially even get a medal. “We’ve never had a gymnast like Caloy before,” said Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion. Yulo’s consecutive podium landings—coupled with the amount of confidence sports analysts have in him and corresponding training programs offered to him—are good indicators to expect a similarly compelling performance in Indonesia.
Hidilyn Diaz (Weightlifting)
The fact that Hidilyn Diaz is an Olympic silver medalist already says a lot about the kind of performance she’ll be turning in at the Asian Games. And to root for her ascent to the podium on account of that medal wouldn’t be a weak proposition—Diaz, since her momentous 2016 win, has been fairly consistent in all of her competitions. Save for a slight mishap at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan, the Zamboanga native has been clinching top prices, having just won silver and bronze medals at the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships in Anaheim, California last December.
Her preparation for the Asian Games also puts her in a good position: “After the 2016 Olympics, I had a lot of commitments and had to deal with my studies, so my preparation for the AIMAG [2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan] was not too good,” she said in an interview with ESPN. “But in the Asian Games, I’ve become stricter with my food intake and I’ve been training diligently. I gave a lot of time and effort for the Asian Games, so for me this is special.”
Daniel Caluag (BMX)
This 31-year-old BMX rider was the sole Filipino athlete who bagged a gold medal in the last Asian Games and naturally, the resulting expectation has been to defend his title. Recently designated as the flag-bearer of the Philippine delegation, there’s good reason to believe that Caluag is a strong contender for another gold medal in the upcoming games, especially considering his track record in competitions such as the Southeast Asian Games: in 2013, he won gold; in 2017, he won bronze. That he is a veteran of the 2012 London Olympics is also a good sign.
The national basketball team has been the subject of much controversy lately. Following the infamous on-court brawl with the Australian basketball team, Gilas has had to deal with legal sanctions, which, among other factors, has added to the possibility that they won’t be competing in Indonesia. But the question of whether or not they’ll be participating in the Games has long been resolved, and, much to the team’s advantage, some strong additions to the lineup have been made.
Jordan Clarkson, the scoring guard of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is an obvious boost to the roster, significantly improving the team’s prospects such that it wouldn’t be far-fetched to declare them as potential medalists. Another factor that adds to the team’s promise is their recent win against the Kazakhs in the Asiad opener—it’s an interesting victory given that Clarkson wasn’t yet in the mix at that point, and it only shows what the team is capable of.
A major potential threat to this impressive start is inconsistency—the squad has to deliver the same kind of performance (if not better). As of now, the best strategy is to beat China on Tuesday to avoid having to play against South Korea—which could prove to be particularly tough considering that South Korea bagged the gold in the last Asian Games.
Meggie Ochoa (Brazilian jiu-jitsu)
Meggie Ochoa, a three-time International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation world champion, is considered one of the world’s best grapplers. Earlier this year, she won the gold medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tournament in London, besting four other purple belts to take first place in the Female Adult 49kg division. The 28-year-old has won top prizes in many competitions around the world, and it only makes sense to tag as her one of the Philippine delegation’s best shots at clinching a gold medal.
Philippine boxing team
The eight-person Philippine boxing team is among the Filipino delegates who have made it their mission to end the country’s gold drought in the quadrennial meet. The strength of the team lies in four key players: Veteran Mario Fernandez, who was a gold medalist in the 2010 Asian Games, and a bronze medalist in the bantamweight class in the 2014 edition of the showpiece; two-time SEA Games gold medalist Eumir Felix Marcial, Nesthy Petecio, and Carlo Paalam—all three of them gold medalists in this year’s Korotkov Memorial tournament in Russia.