I am gladdened by the fact that, in the recent Southeast Asian Games (SEAG), some of the people I know in judo are medalists. Topping the list is veteran John Baylon, who won his 7th straight SEAG gold in the -81kg division through a submission by armlock over Myanmar’s Yan Naing Soe. Baylon, who has been the epitome of Philippine judo for two decades, has managed to adjust his style to his advancing years (he's 41). When I first saw him compete, back in the 80s, he was disposing of his opponents with powerful leg throws, sending them soaring into the air before crashing down to the mat. Now, he takes out his opponents through submissions, either by strangleholds or armlocks.
I saw Nancy Quilotes (silver, -48kg, women's) and Gilbert Ramirez (gold, -73kg, men's) begin their judo careers when they were in Marikina High School, under sensei Vic Benedicto. It's thrilling to see how far they've advanced, and I'm proud of their achievements. Gilbert, particularly, had to come from behind to win, scoring an ippon (full point) by throw when he was trailing his opponent with only seconds remaining in regulation time. Gilbert proved that old Berraism, "It ain't over 'till it's over."
While he didn't compete in judo, Marcus Valda, who used to anchor the La Salle UAAP men's judo team, won a gold in wrestling, ruling the 96kg division. I remember Marcus dominating his weight division, both in the UAAP, and during various competitions.
However, my happiness is tempered because of the controversies that have hampered theses SEA Games.
I am saddened by the fact that, while there has been little or no concrete proof of such, Filipinos give credence to the comments of Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin, who, while he didn't name the Philippines directly, still cast a shadow on the Games by commenting on the unfairness of the Games. Why not, considering our President is believed to have cheated in the 2004 elections? Still, without any clear proof of cheating, I believe the Thai PM is simply sour-graping because his country's athletes weren't up to par for these Games.
Worse, still, are those hacks who exploit the situation by tying the supposed cheating to the cheating of our President in the elections, which is a slur on our athletes who have sacrificed and trained so hard for these Games. Perhaps GMA is a cheat. It doesn't mean that our athletes have also cheated to win.
Our athletes deserve our commendations and not our condemnations.