A Golden Moment
By Ani de Leon-Brown
The Philippine Triathlon Team’s SEAGames journey
I’m standing in anticipation near the finish line. There are other Filipinos waiting there with me—Coach George Vilog, TRAP President Mr. Tom Carrasco, Dr. Martin Camara, Mon Marchan, and other Filipinos who happened to be in Singapore that weekend—Lara, Cha, Rizzo, Deo, Glenn, among others. We are half-celebrating already. Tears are streaming down my face, and Lara laughingly tells me—don’t cry, don’t cry! It’s going to be a 1-2 victory for our country. But who would come in first? At this point, it could be any of our two women racers…
The crowd stationed at the last bend suddenly cheers. It’s about 200m from where we are standing, so we strain our eyes to see who it could be. Sure enough, it’s somebody proudly wearing the Philippine colors.
It’s Claire. She has rallied and picked up the pace on her last lap. Kim was closing in on her, barely 45sec between them at the 7.5km mark. Claire has somehow managed to block out the pain in her ankle in the very last kilometer and is doing her best to sprint to the finish. Everyone roars in appreciation. Just over a minute later, Kim comes in fast with her trademark run—high knees, arms swinging from side to side. We have gold and silver in the bag.
I rush to the girls at the finish area. They are exhausted, to say the least. The medical team addresses them. I hug them and thank them. I am just so proud of the two of them. It’s a lot for all of us to process at that moment. We allow ourselves to cry a little bit. To say that I am ecstatic is an understatement. I personally have waited for this moment for so long, and have wanted it for probably even longer.
At the medal ceremony, we all stand in rapture as the Philippine Flag is hoisted, and those of us who knew it, sang the Philippine National Anthem. It was surreal.
Coach George and I accompany the girls to the doping tent, but Claire and Kim are both dehydrated and we have to wait a long time. The color starts to return to their cheeks though, and we laugh and joke around.
Claire has led the race from start to finish—she actually lapped four women on the bike riding solo. Kim was asked by the Malaysian girl riding with her to work hard to chase Claire and she declined repeatedly. Kim knew she could still manage to run quickly after T2, so she was unfazed. Yes, the Philippines dominated the women’s event.
Nikko and Jonard, who are racing the next day, have seen the race and are inspired to do well. There is a bit of pressure for the men to do the same. It’s a little bit tougher though, as the level of competition in their field is more even. We replicate everything we did with the girls the day before. We make them do a light, short run, warm up on the bike trainers, and stretch out on the swim beforehand. The weather is slightly uncooperative, and it rains for several long minutes before the race starts.
The swim starts and our two boys are not leading the swim. No need to worry. They will ride with the main group and chase down the leaders. They manage to do so halfway through the bike. There is a lone Thai rider in front but they don’t really strain themselves to catch him, as they know they can outrun him.
The group dismounts the bike together, and they run off. It’s a four-lap 10k, and we wait to see who is leading after the first 2.5km. Lo and behold, it’s Nikko, and he is looking fresh. The bounce is there, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to fade. If he kept this up, we would capture our 2nd Gold Medal. Ricky from Malaysia soon follows, then a Thai and a Singaporean, but where was Jonard? Finally we see him and he is not looking very well. My heart fell. This is not how he normally runs. Something was obviously wrong. We cheer him on and tell him to hang on.
Nikko continues on strongly to the finish andwe celebrate for the second time in two days. The Malaysian gets silver and the Singaporean gets bronze. We are all heartbroken for Jonard, who finishes in sixth. It was not his day. We find out later that he had dropped all his energy gels on the start of the bike, probably because the rain rendered the adhesive from the tape on the top tube useless.
We are still very proud of both of them though, as they both gave it their best. Claire, Kim, George and I gather around them. Once again, the Philippine National Anthem plays. For me, at that very moment, it is the sweetest music.
In behalf of our small team, we would like to thankso many people. All our TRAP (Triathlon Association of the Philippines) teammates, coaches, and officers. Our coaches in Portugal and Australia, Sergio Santos and Toby Coote. All our sponsors, especially Unilab Active Health. All the athletes who train with us. The entire Philippine Triathlon Community—whose support we felt all the way to Singapore. This was for all of you.