By Jerome Lagunzad
The country’s top sports officials encouraged the Filipino athletes bound for the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia to carry the tricolors with utmost pride as they prepare to leave in batches for the Aug. 19-30 sportsfest in Kuala Lumpur.
Before majority of the 750-strong contingent during sendoff rites on Thursday evening, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) urged them to live up to their billing as humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
“This is not only about the gold, not just about the score but the way you fight just like when you are in a boxing ring or in the track oval. That’s the spirit of the Filipino,” said PSC chairman William ‘Butch’ Ramirez.
“You have the guts to win the competition,” said POC president Jose ‘Peping’ Cojuangco, noting that while winning is the ultimate goal it is how one plays the game that matters in the end.
Ramirez, who sat with SEAG chief of mission Cynthia Carrion and commissioners Arnold Agustin and Charles Maxey, reminded the athletes that “they are the heart and soul of the country.”
Taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora, the 2017 SEAG flag-bearer, was on hand as well as the celebrated basketball team led by Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, Mac Belo, and Ray Ray Parks.
World billiards champion Rubilen Amit was also in attendance alongside Rio Olympics boxer Charly Suarez and bowling immortal Paeng Nepomuceno, now serving as national coach.
Carrion had earlier issued a bold forecast of 50 gold medals despite the anemic harvest of just 29 golds two years ago in Singapore.
In Singapore, the country placed sixth overall, but Carrion, the gymnastics chief, insists that a fifth place finish can be achieved.
The first batch of athletes and officials starts leaving for Kuala Lumpur today while two large waves are set to fly on Aug. 17 and 18.