KUALA LUMPUR – Defending 3,000-meter steeplechase champion Christopher Ulboc flopped while a homegrown quartet bagged a bronze medal in the men’s 4×400 meter relay at the end of the 29th Southeast Asian Games athletics competition late Sunday at the National Stadium here.
Touted as one of the gold-medal prospects, Ulboc’s four-year reign as Southeast Asia’s steeplechase king came to a sorry end, struggling into fifth place with a time of nine minutes and 24.75 seconds.
Dethroning him was Indonesia’s Atjong Tio Purwanto, who finished way ahead in 9:03.24 in securing the gold while Vietnam’s Pham Tien San (9:06.63) and Do Quac Luat (9:08.72) garnered the silver and bronze medals, respectively.
Ironically, Purwanto’s time was slower than the 8:59.07 Ulboc clocked in ruling the event in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games and his 9:01.59 when he first won the gold in the Myanmar edition four years ago.
A source from the national coaching staff said Ulboc’s showing may be due to his differences with his current coach, Rene Herrera, a former SEAG steeplechase gold medalist himself, after his previous mentor migrated to the US.
“Hindi yata pinakikinggan si coach Rene at ginagawa ang kanyang programa kaya iyan ang nangyari,” the source said.
It was left for the squad of Edgar Alejan, Mico del Prado, Archand Bagsit and decathlete champion Aries Toledo to end the day for the Filipino tracksters on the podium.
In the absence of both Fil-Ams Eric Shawn Cray and Trenten Beram, both nursing injuries, the local quarter put up a gritty stand in taking the men’s relays bronze in 3:08.42 behind Thailand’s gold-medal winning squad of 3:07.25. Vietnam clinched the silver (3:08.42).
Earlier, Clinton Kingsley took the bronze medal in the men’s 110-meter hurdles in 14.15 seconds while Reah Joy Sumalpong placed fifth in the women’s discus throw with a heave of 43.91 meters.
The Filipino bets wound up the five-day meet with five gold, three silver and 10 bronze medals, good for fifth overall in athletics, compared to the 5-7-9 tally they had when they placed fourth in Singapore two years ago.
They could have had more if not for some bad breaks like pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, considered a shoo-in for the gold in his event, severely injuring his left knee in practice on the eve of his departure for this sportsfest and a taxed Cray, who relinquished his 100-meter crown after being forced to run in two finals on the same day last Tuesday.
The track and field bets were also the most successful campaigners thus far among the 37 sports that the Nationals are seeing action here, owning the country’s first double gold medalist in Beram, who topped the men’s 200 and 400-meter runs.
Vietnam emerged as the new track powerhouse, dominating here with 17 golds, 11 silvers and six bronzes, relegating regional athletics force Thailand to overall runner-up honors (9-13-11) while host Malaysia was third (8-8-9).
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