Better Late than Never: Two Months After Southeast Asian Games, Philippines Awarded Relay Gold

MANILA, February 18. THE PHILIPPINES got a bonus of sorts Tuesday after the organizing committee of the 22nd Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam declared the Filipinos winner of the men's 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay two months after the close of the biennial event.

The news was reporter by the Philippines Inquirer News Service.

The victory of swimmers Mark Kalaw, Miguel Mendoza, Carlo Piccio and Miguel Molina — earlier nullified by swimming's organizing body due to an alleged technical infraction — raised the Philippines' final gold medal tally in swimming from two to three and the overall count from 48 to 49.

The Omega automatic timing system indicted that one of the Filipino swimmers had jumped by several full seconds — an action that no one observed and was not called by officials. By the time the official results were made available, the period in which an official protest could be lodged had passed.

The error, however, was so egregious that Philippine officials lodged a protest anyway, an action that had the support of the Malaysian swimmers who had wrongly been awarded the gold.

"This is a big boost for Philippine sports. I am happy for our swimmers who worked hard to win honors for flag and country in Vietnam," said Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit, who received the letter, dated Feb. 11, 2004, from Vietnam Olympic Committee vice president and secretary general Hoang Vinh Giang late Monday.

According to Hoang, the organizing committee of swimming "found out the mistake made by Omega." Thus, the Philippines was awarded the gold medal, Malaysia the silver and Singapore the bronze. The bronze presented to Thailand was withdrawn.

The Filipinos clocked 7 minutes 42.75 seconds for the event, which they won for the first time in more than a decade.

Philippine delegation Chef de Mission Julian Camacho signed the letter of appeal, which Dayrit endorsed to the Vietnamese games organizers.

"Nagbunga din and hirap at pagod ng mga bata (The boys' hard work paid off," said swimming president Monchito Ilagan. "The boys (Kalaw, Mendoza, Piccio and Molina) deserved that gold. We saw the race and we know we won fair and square."

By taking the gold previously credited to the Malaysians, the Filipinos finished six golds ahead of Malaysia in the overall scoreboard.

The victory boosted the Filipinos' total gold output in swimming to three. Mendoza won the 1500 meters and Molina topped the 200-meter freestyle.

Camacho, who like Dayrit, supported the appeal of Ilagan, secretary general Chito Rivera and other officials and swimmers' parents during the Vietnam Games, was delighted to hear the good news.

"The swimmers and their supporters were rewarded for their efforts," said Camacho.