HANOI, December 9, 2003  (MALAYA) By NOLI CORTEZ - Eduardo Buenavista failed in his bid to annex a second gold medal but newcomer Rene Herrera stepped up to rule the 3,000-meter steeplechase Monday as athletics jacked up its total wins to four in the 22nd Southeast Asian Games here.

Ernie Candelario and John Lozada triumphed where Buenavista failed, ruling the 400-meter and 1,500-meter events, respectively, twin victories that went with the triumph of gymnast Neil Faustino in the individual rings as the Philippines moved from sixth to fifth in the overall medal tally.

The RP contingent started the day with 11 gold medals, counting the 8-ball triumph of Lee Van Corteza in billiards late Sunday. At one point, the Filipinos were running fourth overall in the medal race, until Malaysia came up with a big gold rush.

Vietnam pulled away from the field with more victories, leaving the rest to battle for second place.

Judo and swimming were expected to contribute to the country's medal haul at presstime.

The 4-foot-11 Buenavista, a native of South Cotabato, complained of a twitch in his left hamstring the morning after he topped the 10,000-meter run last Sunday. He said the slight pain grew worse after he led the first three laps of the steeplechase.

"Parang tight kaya nabibitin tuloy ako sa water jump. Kaya ang sabi ko, alalay na lang para hindi mabulilyaso ang 5,000-m," he said, referring to the event he is set to run on Thursday.

"Pero maligaya pa rin ako dahil siya (Herrera) ang nanalo. Pinoy pa rin," added Buenavista, who wound up fourth in 9 minutes, 6.33 seconds, his worst in the event since clocking 8:40.77 in Chiang Mai in 1995.

Herrera, a 24-year-old Guimaras native who joined the national pool only two years ago, took over the lead from Buenavista in the last three laps and held on to win with a clocking of 8:50.78.

The win was Herrera's first in any international competition. He broke down in tears after his victory was officially announced.

After taking a short rest, Herrera also saw action in the 1,500-m finals, where Lozada welcomed him with a high five. Then Lozada, a Calinog, Iloilo native repeated his golden triumph in KL by clocking 3:56.80. Herrera finished a distant seventh.

Candelario and teammate Jimar Aing started the Filipinos' big show in athletics by finishing 1-2 in the 400-m run. The airman from Tigbawan, Iloilo timed 47.06 seconds while Aing, a Basilan native, clocked 47.23.

"Malaki ang tiwala ko sa mga bata. Umpisa pa lang iyan," said RP athletics chief Go Teng Kok, who predicted before the games that his wards would bring home nine to 14 golds. Athletics take a break Tuesday and resume Wednesday.

Faustino, a 20-year-old computer engineering student at the University of Illinois in Chicago, was a first-time flag-bearer for the Philippines.

But he showed uncanny poise in the event, coming up with big scores in his last three rounds to draw level with Nguyen Minh Tuan of Vietnam. The finished with identical scores of 9.412.

"There's nothing as exciting as this one," said Faustino, who has been competing for 14 years. "It's definitely an honor to win for the Philippines."

There were mixed news in other fronts.

Shooter Gay Mauricio Corral wound up with just 73 points and third place in women's individual trap, the same finish by newcomer Mercedita Manipol in the women's 10,000-m.

Judoka Alquad Ekong entered the finals of the plus-100kg and so did teammate Karen Anne Solomon in the under-70kg category.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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