CLARK: Kristina Marie Knott (C) from the Philippines celebrates after winning in the women’s 200m athletics event at the SEA Games (Southeast Asian Games) at the athletics stadium in Clark, Capas, Tarlac province north of Manila yesterday. – AFP

CLARK: Filipina sprinter Kristina Marie Knott defeated Vietnam’s “Queen of Speed” Le Tu Chinh yesterday to take her Southeast Asian Games 200m track title in the first night of track and field action at the stadium in New Clark City. Pole vaulter Ernest Obiena added to the Philippines’ medal tally with a Games record jump of 5.45 metres — enough to qualify him for the Tokyo Olympics next year.

The host nation are in complete control of the medal table after a week of competition at the biggest-ever SEA Games, with 85 golds — streets ahead of Indonesia’s 50 and Vietnam’s 43. Knott also broke a Games record in her heat yesterday morning with a time of 23.07 seconds and the 24-year-old bettered that in the evening final, striding to victory in 23.01 ahead of Chinh on 23.45.

Chinh, 22, had been aiming to retain all three of the sprint titles she won in 2017 — the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay — over the coming days at the 20,000 capacity stadium at the Games’ main hub. It was a golden evening for Thailand’s men, with a 10,000m gold for Kieran Tuntivate, a one-two for Chayut Khongprasit and Siripol Punpa in the 200m and a win for Kittipong Boonmawan in the men’s hammer.

SINGAPORE SWIMS
At the nearby aquatics centre, Malaysia’s Ooi Tze Liang and Mohd Syafiq Puteh won gold and silver in the men’s 3m springboard individual final, and Ng Yan Yee and Nur Dhabitah Sabri sealed a diving clean sweep for the nation with a win in the women’s synchronised 3 metre springboard. In a successful night for Singapore in the pool, Quah Ting Wen won the women’s 50m butterfly, Darren Chua took the men’s 200m freestyle title and the women’s 4 x 100m relay cruised to gold in the freestyle relay.

Elsewhere, one of the region’s only gold medallists at Rio 2016 — Vietnamese pistol shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh — had to settle for silver, losing out to Thailand’s Kulchairattana Pongpol in the 10m air pistol contest in Subic. About 8,750 athletes and officials are taking part in the regional Olympics spread across dozens of venues in the northern Philippines, which was hit by a deadly typhoon earlier this week.

The 11-country Games, featuring a record 56 sports, were rocked by Typhoon Kammuri which forced about half of Tuesday’s events to be rescheduled. Despite more than a dozen deaths in the storm, none of the athletes, officials or 12,000 volunteers was reported hurt and a full programme resumed on Wednesday.

Seven of the last 11 host nations have finished top of the medals table at the SEA Games, where the flexible sporting programme is traditionally heavily weighted towards the home team. Earlier, the Philippines gymnastic chief believes the country’s teenage world champion was “distracted” at this year’s home Southeast Asian Games and could have improved on his haul of two golds and five silvers, local media reported yesterday.

Carlos Yulo, 19, won the all-round and floor exercise events but came second in the pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and horizontal bar in front of a raucous crowd at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum in Manila. “There are so many things happening,” Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion told Rappler. “When he’s abroad, he is more focused.”

Yulo is one of the nation’s biggest stars and has had celebrity-status since becoming the first-ever Filipino to win a world championship gold — in the floor exercise — in October in Stuttgart, Germany. Many had tipped Yulo to win a clean sweep of the seven golds on offer at the SEA Games, including Carrion. “I’m not happy because he should be winning golds,” she said.

“He’s very distracted.” Yulo yesterday tweeted that he was heading “back to Japan” where he trains under a scholarship programme. “See you all again soon,” he wrote. “Thank you so much Philippines.” He also retweeted a selfie posted by gold medallist weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz — another athlete hailed by Filipinos as a national hero. – AFP