Substitute wrestler powers Team PH to 50-gold mark in SEAG

2023 May 15

Cristina Vergara (center), gold medal, women’s wrestling freestyle 65-kilogram category

PHNOM PENH – Female athletes powered the Philippine campaign on Monday as a substitute wrestler starred in a four-gold harvest that pushed the Philippines into the 50-gold mark in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) here.

Playing-coach Cristina Vergara, 44, pressed into action when the country’s bet in the 65-kilogram (kg) women’s freestyle category got injured, dominated hometown bet Sambat Vannak via a 12-2 technical superiority to secure the gold.

Her 18-year-old daughter, Cathlyn, made it a family affair, bagging a bronze medal in the 59kg class, also in freestyle.

Weightlifter Vanessa Sarno started the day right for the Filipino contingent, extending her reign in the women’s 71kg category in record fashion despite lack of sleep, having come all the way from the Asian championships in Jinju, South Korea.

Female arnis exponent Ma. Ella Alcoseba delivered the country’s third gold for the day, ruling the women’s full contact live stick contest in the bantamweight class while Dexler Sandigan Bolambao won the country’s fourth mint by topping the same weight class in the men’s division.

Gilas Pilipinas added to the celebration by ending the one-year reign of Indonesia, scoring an 84-76 decision in their semifinal battle.

The four-gold haul pushed the Philippine squad within two of duplicating the country’s 52-gold haul last year in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Earlier in the day, Philippine Olympic Committee president Abraham Tolentino said he expects the team to reach the 60-gold mark.

“We will surpass our medal tally in Vietnam,” said Tolentino. “It’s achievable. God-willing, it might (even) reach 60 (golds).”

In its Facebook page, the Philippine Sports Commission lauded the elder Vergara’s golden finish.

After Levi Espuerta got injured, Cristina Vergara accepted the challenge to replace her.

It was her third SEA Games gold after 2003 Vietnam and 2005 Manila, on top of one silver and a bronze.

She retired after the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand.

Di ko maipaliwanag emosyon ko. Napakasaya ko (I can’t explain how I’m feeling. I’m so happy),” Vergara said in a news release by the POC-PSC Media Bureau. “I never thought I can still do it.”

She beat Sopha Thammavong of Laos by superiority in the semifinals.

Bright future

Ann Tuyet Tran of Vietnam and Salinee Srisombat of Thailand bagged the silver in Cathlyn Vergara’s class but her mother couldn’t be prouder.

“I keep pushing her to train smart and harder because she has the opportunity to excel. She can still go to the Olympics because she’s still young,” Vergara said of Cathlyn, a freshman BS Nutrition and Dietetics student of the University of Santo Tomas.

Vergara’s gold was the second for wrestling here after Jason Balabal’s triumph in the men’s 87 kg Greco Roman on Sunday.

“It’s a great improvement on our part after coming out with no gold medals in the Vietnam Games,” said Alvin Aguilar, president of the Wrestling Association of the Philippines.

The wrestlers also had seven silvers and five bronzes in last year’s Hanoi games.

Gilas plays for gold

In men’s basketball, Justin Brownlee came up big for Gilas Pilipinas at Morodok Techo Stadium here.

The naturalized Brownlee finished with 34 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter.

Gilas will face the host in the championship at 6 p.m. (PH time) Tuesday, while Indonesia battles Thailand for the bronze medal.

The win was sweet revenge for Gilas, which lost to Indonesia in the gold-medal match of last year’s SEA Games.

It will also allow the Filipinos to get back at the hosts, powered by several naturalized players, who dealt them a 79-68 beating in the group stage four days ago.