Two Fridays ago, I arrived in Manila to watch the Southeast Asian Games.
Since the SEAG started in Bangkok in 1959, the Philippines has hosted it three times. The first was in 1981 (Marcos time); the second was during Cory’s term in 1991; and the third in 2005 under GMA.
Fourteen years after we won our only SEAG overall title, the biennial event returned to PHI.
I watched two sports. The first event that I witnessed was my favorite: tennis. The men’s singles final was about to start but, unfortunately, no Pinoys were playing. The day before, Jeson Patrombon and AJ Lim played in the semis but lost. It was an all-Vietnamese men’s final that was won by Ly Hoang Nam.
The second match was more exciting: Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales were playing the men’s doubles semifinals. For the Cebuano tennis fans, you’ve probably seen these two Fil-Ams. They came to Cebu to play Davis Cup at Plantation Bay.
Treat (pronounced as “Tret”) is not only one of Asia’s best but one of the world’s best in doubles. Three years ago, he ranked as high as world no. 18. A left-hander, his serve tops 130 mph. His volleys are Federer-like. Ruben Gonzales, who stands 6-foot-1, possesses an equally booming serve. The duo easily dispatched of their Vietnamese foes in straight sets.
Niño Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon were next to play the semis. Both Bisaya hailing from Mindanao, this pair is spitfire-quick. They sprint to the net and pound on the volleys with precision. The pair won in two easy sets.
The following day, it was an all-Pinoy doubles final (which I was unable to watch) and the underdogs, Niño and Jeson, won the gold, 7-6, 7-5.
The two gold medalists are in Cebu now — they joined the Palawan Pawnshop event in the bailiwick of Naga City (tennis-playing) mayor Val Chiong.
Back to SEAG tennis, the venue was Rizal Memorial. This sprawling complex, which opened in 1934, is an iconic sports ground. With tennis, the surface is hard-court and, for the 2019 SEAG, brand-new chairs were installed in the bleachers.
VOLLEYBALL. Together with my daughter Jana, I also watched women’s volleyball. The atmosphere was as festive as the Sinulog and as loud as the U2 concert. Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, Mika Reyes and Aby Marano are some of the most famous players — not just for volleyball but for all of Philippine sports.
We played Indonesia. After losing to Thailand and Vietnam, this was our chance for redemption. Our lady spikers won the first set and led nearing the end of the 2nd set. But we played bad after that. We lost the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sets. (Two days later, we played Indonesia again for the bronze but lost once more.)
The volleyball games were played in PhilSports Arena. Formerly called ULTRA, this was the venue of the PBA games in the 1980s and ‘90s. With a seating capacity of 10,000, the PhilSports Arena was intimate — which resulted in a louder, more festive sports atmosphere.
The most popular among all the 530 events in the SEA Games? No, it’s not basketball or badminton or boxing. It’s women’s volleyball.