PHNOM PENH. – Hours after the celebration of Mother’s Day, women power carried the day on Monday as a 44-year-old substitute fighter in wrestling starred in a gutsy four-gold harvest that pushed the Philippines into the 50-gold mark in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games here.
Cristina Vergara, 45, pressed into action when the country’s bet in the 65kg women’s category got injured, beat Cambodia’s Sambat Vannak via a 12-2 technical superiority to secure the gold.
Her daughter, 18-year-old daughter, Cathlyn, competing in the 59kg class, made it a spectacular family affair in freestyle wrestling, winning a bronze medal.
Weightlifter Vanessa Sarno started the day right for the Pinoy contingent, extending her reign in the women’s 71kg category in record fashion despite the 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 country’s celebration by ending the one-year reign of Indonesia, scoring an 84-76 decision in their semis battle and likely arranging a rematch for the gold with Cambodia.
The four-gold haul pushed the Philippine squad, backed by the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee, within two gold medals of duplicating the country’s 52-gold haul last year in Vietnam.
Earlier in the day, POC president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino expressed confidence Pinoy athletes will surpass the Vietnam harvest, adding 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 PSC welcomed the elder Vergara’s golden finish, saying: “Philippine wrestling team playing coach Cristina Vergara is more than ready to hang her Team Philippines jersey after successfully clinching the country’s 48th gold medal.”
Sent into action after the country’s original bet in the 65kg category, Levi Espuerta, got injured, Vergara won her third SEA Games gold on top of one silver and a bronze. She won her other gold medals in the 2003 and 2005 games.
“Di ko maipaliwanag emosyon ko, napakasaya ko,” said Vergara.
“I never thought I can still do it,” added Vergara, who came out of retirement several years ago after deciding to hang her jersey after the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand.
Cathlyn couldn’t duplicate her mother’s gold but made Vergara doubly proud. Ann Tuyet Tran of Vietnam won the gold in her class, with Salinee Srisombat of Thailand bagging the silver.
“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 first year BS Nutrition and Dietetics student at 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 event last Sunday.
“It’s a great improvement on our part after coming out with no gold medals in the last Vietnam Games,” Alvin Aguilar, the president of the Wrestling Association of the Philippines, said. “I am really happy that they delivered.”
Pinoy wrestler had seven silvers and five bronzes in last year’s Hanoi games.