by James EDGAR
Olympic champion Joseph Schooling lived up to his billing at the Southeast Asian Games on Friday, claiming two golds in the pool in the Philippines.
The Singaporean swimmer clinched his pet 100m butterfly — which he famously won ahead of Michael Phelps at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games — in a time of 51.84 seconds, pipping his countryman Zheng Wen Quah.
Schooling, who won six gold medals at the last SEA Games in 2017, bounced back after losing his 50m title on Thursday, and solidified his standing as the region’s top swimmer by helping his nation win the 400x100m freestyle relay.
Just eight months away from the Tokyo Olympics, Schooling’s success heralds a welcome return to form after a difficult period for the 24-year-old, which included a placing of 24th in this year’s world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
His teammate Cherlyn Yeoh’s win in the women’s 200m freestyle capped a golden session for Singapore at the aquatics centre in New Clark City, the SEA Games’s main hub.
However, the republic’s football team were reportedly facing disciplinary action after breaking a curfuw on the night of December 1, when they were said to have got back to their Manila hotel in the early hours of the morning.
Earlier host nation the Philippines polished off a clean sweep of obstacle course gold medals with wins in the men’s and women’s 5km category.
Mervin Guarte and Sandi Abahan jumped, swung and clambered their way to victory in the 20-obstacle race in Manila, completing a six-out-of-six haul for the home team in the event’s SEA Games debut.
Philippine racers Sherwin Managil and Glorien Merisco took both silvers in the outdoor event at Filinvest City, which included a balance beam, tilting ladder, monkey bar and a slip wall covered in water.
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 marathon kicked off the athletics programme at the Games’ main hub in New Clark City, where Filipino runner Christine Hallasgo caused a major upset by edging countrywoman Mary Joy Tabal to take gold.
Hallasgo pulled away in the final stretch to beat the reigning SEA Games champion by two minutes in 2hr 56min 56sec.
Indonesian Prayogo Agus won the men’s race with a time of 2:26:48, ahead of Thailand’s Namkhet Sanchai (2:27:18) and Malaysia’s Mohamad Muhaizar (2:33:08).
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 13 deaths in the storm, none of the athletes, officials or 12,000 volunteers was reported hurt and a full programme resumed on Wednesday.
The Philippines remained in firm control of the medals table on Friday with 71 golds — well ahead of Indonesia with 40 and Vietnam on 38.
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.