By Jerome Lagunzad
Former world pool champion Efren “Bata” Reyes has already lost count of how many times he participated in the Southeast Asian Games since he made an auspicious debut back in 1987 when he took home three gold medals in Jakarta, Indonesia.
But he is well aware that he will be the oldest Filipino participant – and possibly among the other 10 competing nations – in the 29th edition of the biennial meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Reyes celebrating his 63rd birthday on Aug. 26, just four days before the multi-sport conclave draws to a close.
Not that he is complaining though. “Age is just a number,” said Reyes in a phone interview yesterday, putting talks of any retirement plans on the back burner for the nth time.
“Kapag hindi na kaya, magri-retire na ako. ‘Pag nanginginig na ang kamay at malabo na ng tuluyan ang mata,” he added in between laughs.
However, Reyes knows that his task at hand is no laughing matter as he is set to compete in English billiards – and not in his signature 9-ball event – that’s been out of his regular competition routine for the longest time.
“Mahihirapan akong manalo sa tingin ko,” admitted Reyes, trying to tone down the expectations from him. “Matagal-tagal na rin akong hindi nakakapaglaro ng English billiards. Wala na rin ‘yung tako ko na pang-English billiards.
Kaso wala namang naglalaro nito dito sa atin kaya dito na lang ako nilagay.”
To get himself accustomed anew to the intricate form of pool play, Reyes shared he is regularly training with local snooker players at Gameball, the training center for the country’s national pool sharks inside the sprawling Rizal Memorial Sports Center in Manila.
A consistent bronze medalist in the last three SEAG meets in the men’s singles carom billiards, Reyes is expecting another tough grind against the some of the finest in the region – and in the world too – led by four-time SEAG gold medalist Peter Gilchrist of Singapore.
However, he is confident that his touted teammates – Carlo Biado, Dennis Orcollo, Rubilen Amit and Chezka Centeno – will do well as the Philippine team aims to duplicate – or even surpass – its big medal haul of three golds, one silver and five bronzes two years ago.
“Sigurado na sa ginto halos ‘yung mga ‘yan sa events nila. Nakikita ko naman madalas na talagang matitibay na sila tumira. Positive naman ako na magiging maganda ang ipapakita ng buong team,” Reyes concluded.