27th SEA games formally opens: Myanmar celebrates region’s youth
By: Gerry Carpio (The Philippine Star)

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar – Organizers promised to mount a grand opening ceremony but in true character of the host, they remain secretive on how grand it would be as Myanmar becomes the region’s sporting hub for a fortnight with the formal inaugurals of the 27th SEA Games at the Wunna Theikdi Stadium today.

As of late Tuesday, organizers have yet to release the program drawn up by Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture but it is expected the hosts’ top officials are going to be present. It is not known, however, who will declare the Games open.

Another promise but also remaining a big question mark is how the hosts are going to further spice up the proceedings, which will have the parade of athletes, general oath-taking, the lighting of the Games torch, cultural presentations and a fireworks display.

Chief of mission Jeff Tamayo and deputy CDM Monsour del Rosario head the Philippine delegation, which will have Jason Balabal as flag-bearer to be joined by the other athletes who are already in this capital city.

Representatives of the other athletes from the other venues in Mandalay, Yangon and Ngwe Saung Beach are also expected to come.

This marks only the third time and first since 1969 this country formerly known as Burma is staging the event featuring the region’s young athletes with the hosts guaranteeing a memorable edition for all the participants.

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The Philippines, burden with the task of performing creditably although with the low expectation marked by a mission to finish seventh in the biennial meet, formally joined the Games as the national flag was hoisted in the Athletes Village yesterday.

The Philippine contingent, led by chef de mission Jeff Tamayo, was welcomed along with contingents of the nine other SEA Games members in simple rites led by the Mayor U Myo Hlaing of Nay Pyi Taw.

Meanwhile, Balabal was to lead the Philippine contingent on the parade grounds during the opening rites with the gold medal in his hands, but all that will be left out as the wrestling gold medal slipped his hands, snatched by a Cambodian-Korean in faraway Yangon yesterday.

Balabal was scheduled to fly immediately to this capital city, about six hours away by bus, after the match, carrying with him the gold, which could have been his third straight since 2009.

But Balabal lost to Cambodian Koa Cheng Houng, who is actually a Korean national, in the second round, and although he won two of his three games in the four-man competition, he settled for the silver after his loss to the Cambodian, who went on to win all his matches in the Southeast Asian Games in faraway Yangon yesterday.

Balabal won over a rival from Myanmar in the first round.

The Ifugao native looked headed for victory when he won, 3-0, over the Korean-Cambodian fighter, who applied his grappling technique after flooring Balabal in the second to seal the victory.

“He was already winning, but he was thrown off balance by the Cambodian. We thought he was only Cambodian, it turned out he was half Korean,” said national coach Roy Camposanto.

In the repechage, he put away Thai opponent Chinnawep Kanthalee and could win the gold if the Cambodian lost to Myanmar. Cambodia won in the gold medal round.

The setback came on the heels of similar losses by Noel Norada and Margarito Angana in the men’s 60-kg and 55-kg of Greco Roman.

The six Filipino wrestlers have so far won two silver medals counting that of Margarito Angana in the 55 kg of Greco Roman.

The national grapplers now pin their hopes on Alvin Lobrequito (55kg) and Jhonny Morte (60 kg) in the freestyle Friday.