MANILA, November 28, 2005 
(STAR) By Abac Cordero - A great start for the hosts.

Team Philippines nailed five of the 13 gold medals disputed on opening day and, with the overall lead, showed early signs of its readiness to contend for the overall crown in the 23rd Southeast Asian Games.

Under a gray November sky, Maristella Torres ruled the women’s long jump at the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex, an old witness to the country’s failed SEAG bids in 1981 and 1991.

Torres’ victory, which came in the morning, started it all.

As of 9 last night, the Philippines had five gold, five silver and four bronze medals and towed Malaysia, with a 5-2-3 haul, in the medal standings. Indonesia has two golds, Singapore one, Vietnam one with four silvers and three bronzes, and Thailand with two silvers and five bronzes.

A total of 14 gold medals, out of the total 439, have been disputed so far, counting water polo’s that went to Vietnam last Friday. Barring any last-minute changes, 49 gold medals will be at stake today.

Breaking down the medal distribution seemed an impossible task for sportswriters covering the event as official results came in trickles. Diving’s official results were out more than four hours after the events were contested.

Team Philippines also emerged the overall leader after the opening day of the 1991 Manila SEAG. It held on to it for two days before engaging Indonesia, the eventual champion, in a neck-to-neck race till the end.

While most Filipinos were still limbering up on this ordinarily lazy Sunday morning, the 24-year-old Torres was busy cracking and breaking the ice for Team Philippines.

She was successful doing it.

Torres, the RP record holder in long jump, took the gold with a leap of 6.47 meters, barely beating compatriot and 2003 SEAG gold medalist Lerma Gabito who had a 6.45.

A Malaysia, Ngew Sin Mei, will go home with the bronze with a 6.27.

As soon as she felt sure of the gold, Torres broke into tears. She was down on her knees crying, unmindful of the mediamen and track officials around her.

The victorious moment became even more dramatic when Gabito came to her. They embraced each other as tightly as possible. They were both crying as they moved near the center of the field.

Torres, who fouled four of her six attempts, was overheard saying, in between deep sobs, "Sorry. Sorry Lerma. Sorry talaga!"

It was to be Gabito’s final crack at the gold in this SEA Games and probably in her entire career as she later announced her plans of retirement. If Torres tried to hand Gabito the gold, no one else could answer.

Just moments after the track scene, the pair of Sheila Mae Perez, a charming veteran of the Sydney and Athens Olympics, and Ceseila Domenios teamed up to win the gold in women’s synchronized springboard diving.

Before a big crowd at the Trace Aquatic Center in Los Baños, Laguna, Perez and Domenios gave Team Philippines its second gold for the day, beating the pairs from Thailand and Malaysia.

Ronato Alcano defeated Antonio Gabica in an all-Filipino finals in 15-ball billiards, 5-3, at the Makati Coliseum for country’s fifth gold. An Indonesia got the bronze.

Then over in Cebu City, a short plane-ride away from Manila, Team Philippines dominated the day’s dancesport competition, graciously winning two gold and two silver medals.

Dancing before a jampacked ballroom of the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug, Cebu couple Michael Mendoza and Belinda Agora did the jive, pasa doble, rumba, cha-cha and samba for the gold in the Latin American category.

The silver went to another Filipino couple, John Errolle Melencio and Dearlie Gerodias and the bronze to Thailand’s Watchakorn Suasuee Pun and Warapa Jumbala.

Another 1-2 finish for the Pinoy dancers came in the standard event where Rico Rosima and Filomena Salvador shone as bright as the floor in winning the gold.

Emmanuel Reyes and Maira Rosete smiled in taking the silver while Thai couple Pawatpong Ratcha-apai and Chanawan Potimu will go home wearing the bronze.

"I’m so overwhelmed. They (athletes) really deserved it," said Dancesport Council of the Philippines president Becky Garcia. "The people saw how our athletes stood out on the floor. Nobody could really contest that we’re the best in Southeast Asia."

A second Domenios, Zardo, settled for the bronze in the 1 meter men’s springboard, bowing to gold winner Ken Nee of Malaysia and silver winner Pichi of Thailand.

Also settling for the bronze for Team Philippines on Sunday the karatedo’s team kumite of Bernardino Chu, Bong Toribio and Joey Pabillore; Stephanie Lim in women’s individual kata; and Noel Espinosa in men’s individual kata.

Gretchen Malalad and the rest of the women’s karate team failed to get going, dropping out after an early 2.5-.5 loss to defending champion Vietnam at the Mandaue City SportsCenter.

Malalad, a two-time SEAG gold medalist and a former beauty pageant candidate, can redeem herself if she defends her 60 kg individual kumite, one of eight karate golds at stake today.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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