SEA Games: Philippines' five greatest athletes at the Games

·4 min read
(From left): Lydia de Vega, Paeng Nepomuceno, Miguel Molina, Kiefer Ravena and Rubilen Amit. (PHOTO: Getty Images, Reuters)
(From left): Lydia de Vega, Paeng Nepomuceno, Miguel Molina, Kiefer Ravena and Rubilen Amit. (PHOTO: Getty Images, Reuters)

THE Philippines joined the SEA Games family in 1977, after it was expanded from its original Southeast Asian Peninsular Games to include the country, as well as Indonesia and Brunei.

Since then, the Filipino athletes have garnered 3,737 medals at the Games, with 1,067 of them golds. Here are the greatest sportspersons to have graced the biennial event for the Philippines:

Lydia de Vega (1981 to 1993, 9 golds, 2 silvers)

She was once Asia's fastest woman, and Lydia de Vega thrilled the region with her graceful sprints during the 1980s, when she propelled to nine golds and two silvers at the SEA Games.

Her pet event was the 200m dash, as she swept to SEA Games golds in 1981, 1983, 1987 and 1993. She was equally brilliant in the 100m, winning in 1987, 1991 and 1993. Just to showcase her versatility, she also clinched a 400m gold in 1981 as well as a long jump gold in 1987.

De Vega could have won more had she not taken a break between 1989 to 1991 to earn her university degree and get married. She remains fondly remembered in her country, and was given the honour to be one of the flag bearers at the 2019 Philippines SEA Games opening ceremony.

Paeng Nepomuceno (1981 to 1993, 9 golds, 5 silvers, 5 bronzes)

With his dashing looks, Rafael "Paeng" Nepomuceno was the Filipino king of the bowling lanes during the 1980s, amassing nine golds, five silvers and five bronzes at the SEA Games from 1981 to 1993.

His brilliance was not restricted to just the biennial Games, as he became a six-time world bowling champion, and won a record 133 tenpin bowling titles from all over the world.

In 2021, Nepomuceno became the first Filipino bowling athlete to be honoured with a commemorative stamp when the Philippine Postal corporation issued a World Renowned Filipino Living Legend Stamp bearing his image.

Miguel Molina (2001 to 2009, 11 golds, 8 silvers, 6 bronzes)

The Filipino athlete with the most medals won at the SEA Games, Miguel Molina carved out a successful career in the swimming pool by being specialised in the individual medley races.

For a three-Games stretch from 2005 to 2009, Molina was untouchable in the 200m and 400m individual medley events, winning golds in all six races. Along the way he also brought in golds in the 200m freestyle, 200m breaststroke and the 4x100m medley - proof of his versatility.

Kiefer Ravena (2011 to now, 5 golds)

Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines, and the country has dominated the men's competition at the SEA Games, winning the gold medal 18 times out of the 20 editions in which men's basketball was played at the Games.

Kiefer Ravena is the only Filipino basketballer with more than three SEA Games golds, as he led the charge as a brash 18-year-old at the 2011 Jakarta Games and continued as the point guard of the national team through four more SEA Games golds.

Ravena's gold-winning streak could continue at this year's SEA Games, as he will be remembered as the premier floor general of the national men's team in the past decade.

Rubilen Amit (2005 to now, 8 golds, 5 silvers, 1 bronze)

Billiards and snooker is one of the sports that Filipinos excel in, and the country has produced many medal winners at the SEA Games who went on to earn honours in the professional circuits.

Rubilen Amit is one of the Philippines' top champions, as she dominated the pool events for over a decade, winning golds in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2013 and 2019 en route to becoming the most be-medalled female Filipino athlete at the Games.

The 40-year-old was also the first female Filipino world champion, winning the 2009 Women's World 10-ball Championship and repeating the feat in 2013.

Special mention: Hidilyn Diaz (2007 to now, 1 gold, 2 silvers, 1 bronze)

Her medal record may seem modest compared to the other illustrious Filipino athletes at the SEA Games, but weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz ensured her stature as one of the Philippines' greatest athletes when she clinched the country's first-ever Olympic gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Taken into context, Diaz's SEA Games medal record is testament to her slow and steady climb to the very top, from bronze in 2007 to silvers in 2011 and 2013, before finally winning gold in 2019 and providing the platform for her to go for gold in Tokyo.

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