[PHOTO AT LEFT - Gelyn Evora flips a return shot against Myanmar in women’s hoop of sepak takraw. The RP belles claimed the bronze. JUN MENDOZA |  VIENTIANE]

MANILA, DECEMBER 9, 2009 (STAR) By Gerry Carpio - A landlocked country at the heart of the Indochinese peninsula opens its doors for the first time in 50 years to its 10 neighboring countries as it launches the 25th Southeast Asian Games minus the wild excesses of past opening rites today at the Vientiane capital.

The host country, the least densely populated in Southeast Asia with a population of 6.7 million, is 100 percent ready to host the Games in 25 sports where 370 gold medals are at stake for 4,869 athletes until the closing ceremonies on Dec. 18.

White-clad Lao runners, cheered on by thousands of flag-waving Laotians, raced early morning yesterday to the Games Village where the chefs de mission of 11 participating countries presided over the raising of their respective flags at 2 p.m. ceremonies attended by members of the SEA Games Federation Council and Vientiane government officials.

Officials and members of the Philippine contingent, composed of officially registered 261 athletes from 22 sports and 141 officials, attended the Mass at 11 a.m. to pray for divine blessing in their fight for the gold medals even as the contingent is besieged by leadership problems that are starting to show in the biennial games.

Delegation head Mario Tanchangco of the sepak takraw association and Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr. were on hand for this official function.

“Our athletes are ready and we are confident that everyone will do their best,” said Cojuangco shortly before breaking bread with athletes, officials, and Philippine Ambassador to Lao, Marilyn Alarilla, a staunch supporter of the RP campaign.

On the eve of the competitions, Philippine Sports Commission chair Harry Angping sent a text message to the Philippine contingent, wishing them luck and encouraging them to give their best for flag and country.

“This is the Day of Judgment. All the training sacrifices and hard work are put to the test in these coming days. Put up your best. I join all Filipinos in praying to God for your success,” said Angping, who was left behind in Manila.

Alarilla arranged for the contingent a Mass officiated by Lao national Benacon Interat, priest of the lone Catholic parish that caters to about 500 Filipino professionals who work in this predominantly Buddhist nation.

The opening ceremony will begin at 4:30 in the afternoon and is expected to last up to 10 in the evening.

“The program appears to be modest but promises to be colorful and full of local history,” said Tanchangco.

Five gold medals will be at stake in taekwondo on Wednesday, the day the host opens the games through a ceremony of song and dance articulating its evolution and growth over 35 years of independence.

Janice Lagman, Rani Ann Ortega and Camille Alarilla will be the lead personalities in the debut of poomsae of taekwondo at the Booyoung gym inside the National University after having captured the world title in Cairo, Egypt only a week ago for the team event.

“Our women’s team is still very excited but we cannot be over-confident. Vietnam and Thailand are good taekwondo players,” said Rocky Samson, coach of the RP team.

Others seeing action for the Philippines are men’s team members Anthony Matias, Brian Sabido, and Jean Sabido. Ortega and Jean Sabido will team up for the mixed competition.

Also scheduled on Wednesday are the elimination phase of the downhill race in cycling at the Dane Soung Saythany District and the women’s hoop at the ITTC Center.

From the depths of mediocrity SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) Updated December 09, 2009 12:00 AM

How the Philippines will fare in the 25th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Laos is anybody’s guess. That’s how poorly managed the country’s sports program is. You can’t even make a calculated estimate of the medals expected to be brought home by the Filipino athletes who are confused, demoralized and manipulated by brigands disguised as sports leaders.

The distinction of whether a Filipino athlete is supported by the PSC or POC epitomizes the height of polarization. The fact that the national delegation flew to Vientiane in two chartered PAL planes, one blessed by the PSC and the other by the POC, shows the dichotomy in Philippine sports – a dichotomy that makes a laughing stock of Filipino athletes in competitions like the SEA Games, Asian Games and the Olympics.

If the Philippines performs miserably in Laos, you know whom to blame. If the Philippines finishes creditably, then it’s solely to the credit of determined athletes who found a way to win despite the intrigue, dissension and discrimination.

The landscape of Philippine sports is a reflection of the deteriorating state of the national political order. The leadership in several National Sports Associations (NSAs) is selfish, decrepit and conscienceless. Perhaps, the reason why government does not make sports a priority in the national agenda is because the situation in sports is a shameful mirror of government itself. No Frankenstein likes to create another Frankenstein – it’s bad enough to live a monster’s life without a clone.

In Laos, the Philippines is represented by 251 athletes but only 153 are supported by the PSC. For two months, the list of 153 was hammered out by PSC commissioner Joey Mundo and the POC-appointed chef de mission Mario Tanchangco. When the roster was announced, the POC said it would add about 100 more for “investment” purposes, meaning the inclusion of promising or would-be medalists. The PSC refused to budge from its initial list and committed to support only 153.

It’s in this context of unsettling political rivalry that the Filipino athletes are thrown into battle in Laos. And to think that the Philippines is coming off its worst finish ever in SEA Games history. In 2007, the Philippines went from first place to sixth in a dramatic tailspin.

* * * *

In Laos, there are 377 gold medals at stake in 25 sports compared to 487 in 44 sports two years ago. When the Philippines hosted in 2005, there were 444 gold medals up for grabs in 41 sports.

This year’s 11-nation SEA Games calendar has delisted basketball, bowling, dancesport, triathlon, traditional boat race, squash, sailing, equestrian, canoeing, gymnastics, fencing, chess, softball, baseball and rowing, among others. The Laotian organizers are putting a premium on aquatics (32 gold medals for swimming, 16 for fin swimming, eight for diving and one for water polo), athletics (45 gold medals), shooting (34), wushu (21), taekwondo (21), pencak silat (19), wrestling (19), judo (18), karatedo (17) and boxing (16). Pentanque and shuttlecock are included in the roster with a combined 18 gold medals on the line.

With a reduced number of gold medals on the table, the Philippines is in for rough sailing particularly as Thailand is determined to retain the SEA Games championship with 550 athletes. Laos hopes to enjoy some home cooking with 482 athletes. Vietnam, targeting at least 70 gold medals, is unleashing 434 athletes. Malaysia is coming with 348 and Indonesia with 345.

How the Philippines’ fragmented delegation of 251 athletes will head off the bigger armies of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and perhaps even Laos with less gold medals to share is a mystery. It will take a minor miracle for the Philippines to make a major impact in the medal standings.

The sports where the Philippines is expected to excel include swimming, boxing, taekwondo, billiards and snooker, wushu, cycling (if the cyclists from two opposing organizations are allowed to compete) and athletics.

* * * *

The boxing battalion counts on pinweight Bill Vicera, lightflyweight Harry Tanamor, flyweight Rey Saludar, bantamweight Joan Tipon, featherweight Charly Suarez and lightweight Joegin Ladon in the men’s category and lightflyweight Josie Gabuco, flyweight Alice Kate Aparri, bantamweight Annie Albania and lightweight Mitchel Martinez in the women’s class.

The Philippines is not sending entries in the lightwelterweight, welterweight, middleweight and lightheavyweight divisions for men and the pinweight and featherweight divisions for women.

In billiards and snooker, gold medals are on the line for men in English billiards doubles, snooker doubles, 9-ball doubles, carom, 8-ball singles, English billiards singles, 9-ball singles and snooker singles and for women in 8-ball singles and 9-ball singles.

Waving the flag for the Philippines is a star-studded cast featuring Bata Reyes, Django Bustamante, Alex Pagulayan, Ronnie Alcano, Dennis Orcullo, Rubilen Amit, Roberto Gomez Jr., Carlo Blado, Warren Kiamco, Ramil Gallego, Gandy Valle, Reynaldo Grandea, Rodolfo Luat, Mary Ann Basas and Iris Ranola.

Reyes is set to compete in the English billiards singles and joins Bustamante in the 9-ball doubles. Alcano, a former world champion like Pagulayan and Reyes, slugs it out in the 8-ball singles. Pagulayan is entered in the snooker events.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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