Olympic medalists highlight PH’s opening salvo in Asian Games

Philippines Asian Games opening ceremony

Members of Philippines’ delegation take part in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Asian Games at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in Hangzhou in China’s eastern Zhejiang province on September 23, 2023. (Photo by Ishara S.KODIKARA / AFP)

Over the past several months, Filipino athletes ramped up their training, repeating every skill-sharpening task to the point of monotony.

They will need to be supercharged over the next few weeks as full-scale competitions get going on Sunday in the 19th Asian Games here in Hangzhou, China.

There will be a few questions answered: How will Kayla Noelle Sanchez, an Olympic medalist who used to be part of a vaunted Team Canada, fare as a spearhead of a program yearning to end nearly four gold-deprived decades?

“My preparation I’d say is good. I’m obviously trying my best to place the highest for Team Philippines,’’ said Sanchez, who helped Canada pocket a silver in the 4×100 meter (m) free and a bronze in the 4x100m medley during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics before deciding to swim for the Philippines.

She will lead a 4×100-meter squad on Sunday at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Aquatics Arena.

Olympic silver medalists Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam begin their respective round of 32 bids in the 57 kilogram (kg) weight class in boxing, which serves as the continental qualifier to next year’s Paris Olympics.

“The challenge here will be much greater since I was forced to go up to a heavier weight class,’’ said Paalam in Filipino after the flyweight division where the 25-year-old got a silver in Tokyo was scratched from the Paris program.

“I haven’t faced my possible opponents in this weight category, but I’ll be ready,’’ added Paalam.

Tokyo Olympian Irish Magno (54kg), Aira Villegas (50kg) and Mark Ashley Fajardo (63.5kg) will also attempt to book tickets to Paris.

Male boxers who advance to the finals will get free Olympic berths while women boxers who advance to the semifinals will also be awarded spots in the Summer Games.

Medal bids get going

Agatha Wong will likewise take centerstage in the women’s taijiquan and taijijian all-around in wushu while taekwondo poomsae performers Jocel Lyn Ninobla (women’s individual) and Patrick King Perez (men’s individual), also get their medal bids going.

Judoka Shugen Nakano (men’s -66kg), fencers Sammuel Tranquilan (men’s individual foil) and Ivy Claire Dinoy (women’s individual épée) will cross swords with their respective foes in a bid to advance deep into the competition even as shooting’s Amparo Acuna tries her luck in the women’s 10m air rifle.

Joining forces

Sanchez earned her Tokyo medals by swimming for Canada in the heats and getting her former team into the finals. She reprised her role for the North American powerhouse in the world championships before swapping her Canadian passport for a Philippine one to represent her parents’ home country.

The 22-year-old Sanchez is set to join hands with two-time Olympian Jasmine Alkhaldi, Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Tiea Isabella Salvino and Miranda Renner, who recently injured her shoulder, in the relay.

Minus two-time world champion Carlos Edriel Yulo, the men’s gymnastics squad will rely on Juancho Miguel Besana, Justine Ace De Leon, Jhon Romeo Santillan and Jan Gwynn Timbang in the men’s team qualification.

Yulo, a strong contender in the vault, parallel bars, floor exercise and all-around, has opted to travel to Antwerp, Belgium, instead for the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships starting Sept. 30, looking for an outright qualification to the Olympics.

Skateboarder Jericho Francisco will jumpstart his bid in the men’s park while Jorrel Aristorenas faces Rashed Khaled Alrowaihi of Bahrain in the opening round of EA Sports FC Online event.

Chessers Mark Paragua, Paulo Bersamina, Janelle Mae Frayna and Marie Antoinette San Diego are scheduled to begin their campaign in individual play, too.

World No. 2 and Asian champion EJ Obiena appears to be another top gold-medal hope after a silver performance at the recent World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary while skateboarder Margielyn Didal is seeking to retain the women’s street title she won back in 2018 in Indonesia.

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The two athletes served as flag-bearers during the glamorous opening ceremony on Saturday at Hangzhou Olympic Stadium, which featured a lavish and high-tech show.

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