The end Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) at Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. AFP photo

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—  The 32nd Southeast Asian Games came to a close on Wednesday with the Philippines placing fifth in the biennial event with 58 golds, 86 silvers and 116 bronzes.

Arnis, the country’s national sport, turned out to be a mine, producing six golds, two silvers and four bronzes in 12 events.

Trixie Mary Lofranco stamped her class in the women’s individual anyo nontraditional open weapon category event, with her gold medal on the final day of competitions on Tuesday being the Philippines’ 53rd overall, assuring that the country would surpass its gold medal haul in Vietnam.

Seizing golds too were Crisamuel Delfin (men’s individual anyo/forms competition), Ma. Ella Alcoseba (full contact livesticks competition women’s -50 kg), Dexler Bolambao (full contact livesticks men’s competition men’s 55-60 kg), Jedah Mae Soriano (full contact padded point competition women’s 50-55 kg), and Charlotte Tolentino (full contact padded point competition women’s -50 kg).

Taekwondo jins were right up there with their arnisador counterparts, producing six golds, two from recognized poomsae and four from kyorugi.

Patrick Perez notched a gold in the men’s individual recognized poomsae while the trio of Jocel Ninobla, Nicole Labayne and Aidaine Laxa grabbed one in the women’s team event.

Tokyo Olympian Kurt Barbosa (men’s 54 kg), Arven Alcantara (men’s 68 kg), Samuel Morrison (men’s 87 kg), and Rio Olympian Kirstie Elaine Alora (women’s 73 kg), in that order and in succession on May 13, ruled their respective events to produce a gold each.

Athletics delivered, too.

Olympic pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena clinched his third straight gold in the men’s pole vault; Janry Ubas won an elusive gold in his fifth go in the SEA Games long jump; Eric Cray pulled off an unprecedented sixth straight gold in the men’s 400m hurdles; while Michael del Prado, Frederick Ramirez, Joyme Sequita and Umajesty Williams joined hands to take the gold in the men’s 4 x 100 m team relay event.

The Philippines also squeezed the bulk of its gold medals from the sports of obstacle course race, boxing and wrestling.

In the obstacle course race, the Filipinos swept the competition to win four gold medals on top of two silvers.

Precious Cabuya set the tone for the Philippine domination in the sport as she clocked a world record of 32.73 seconds to top the women’s individual race, beating fellow Filipino Kaizen de la Cerna in the final. The men’s final also featured an all-Filipino clash with Jaymark Rodelas clocking 25.19 seconds to defeat Kevin Pascua and get the gold.

Sandi Menchi Abahan, Mecca Cortizano, Milky Tejares and Maritess Nocyao clocked 33.73 seconds to win the women’s relay team gold as JayR de Castro, Mervin Guarte, Elias Tabac and Ahgie Radan timed 24.47 seconds to grab the gold medal in the men’s team and complete the Philippine sweep of the sport.

In boxing, Tokyo Olympians Carlo Paalam (men’s 54 kg) and Nesthy Petecio (women’s 57 kg) made their way back to the top as they topped their respective events to both win their second SEA Games gold medals. Ian Clark Bautista (men’s 57 kg) defended his title as Paul Bascon (men’s 60 kg) made a winning debut in the SEA Games as four of 10 Pinoy pugs punched their way to the gold.

Filipino wrestlers also produced four golds as Jason Balabal topped the men’s 82 kg class, Alvin Lobreguito the men’s 57 kg, Ronil Tubog the men’s 61 kg, and Cristina Vergara, at age 44, the women’s freestyle 65 kg class.

Kickboxing was a gold mine for the Philippines as well.

Kickboxers Jean Claude Saclag (men’s lowkick -63.5 kg event), Gretel De Paz (women’s -56 kg lowkick), and Claudine Veloso (women’s -52 kg) came through in the nick of time to give the Philippines additional boost in its final gold medal push in the last two days of the competition.

New records

Four athletes — weightlifters Elreen Ando and Vanessa Sarno, swimmer Xiandi Chua and pole vaulter Obiena — established new records in their championship runs.

Ando, a Tokyo Olympian, set a new SEA Games standard on May 14 in the women’s 59 kg class with a total lift of 216 kg.

Her best lifts in snatch (98 kg) and in clean and jerk (118 kg) are also new records.

Sarno defended her women’s 71 kg title in a manner that was as if she was lifting bamboo sticks and not barbells. She raised 105 kg in snatch, eclipsing the 104 she set in the Hanoi Games last year.

The 19-year-old lifted 120 kg in clean and jerk for a total of 225 kg. She would have tried to break her 135 record in clean and jerk and total of 239 but opted not to, as her left knee was tight.

Chua posted a new SEA Games record time of 2:13.20 in the women’s 200 m backstroke for the gold, while the Olympian Obiena made a 5.65 meter clearance for a new standard in the biennial meet, eclipsing his 5.46 in Hanoi last year. Swimming produced two gold medalists in Chua and Teia Salvino, who ruled the women’s 100 m backstroke.

Weightlifting, swimming, karate and athletics produced the bulk of medals for the Philippines.

Highlighting the Philippines’ 58-gold medal haul was the successful redemption bid of Gilas Pilipinas in the men’s basketball. The team took down Indonesia in the semifinals, 84-76, and demolished host Cambodia in the finals, 80-69, on the final day of the Games on May 16.