MANILA, Philippines (SECOND UPDATE) – Mary Joy Tabal had to fight just to get on the team, but the Cebuana marathoner delivered the Philippines its first gold medal at the 2017 Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on the morning of the SEA Games' official opening day, Saturday, August 19.
Tabal's official time was 2:48:26, 7 minutes ahead of Hoang Thi Thanh of Vietnam and just short of 10 minutes ahead of Natthaya Thanaronnawat, the 2015 gold medalist from Thailand who finished ahead of Tabal in Singapore.
TABAL WINS GOLD! #SEAGames2017 @ABSCBNNews @abscbnsports pic.twitter.com/ztbhlDTJzb — DYAN CASTILLEJO (@DYANCASTILLEJO) August 19, 2017
Tabal says she slept just 5 hours the previous night and woke up before her alarm went off out of anticipation for the race.
"At the last loop, I hardly could move my legs because of the excitement but I controlled it because I did not want to disappoint our country," Tabal said in Tagalog. "I was thinking I want to give what the Filipinos are expecting me to give."
Tabal, who had trained in Tuscany, Italy, with a side camp in Switzerland, surpassed her silver medal time of 3:04:39 from the 2015 SEA Games, and her 3:02:27 mark at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Her personal best was 2:43:31 at the Ottawa Marathon in 2016, which qualified her for the Rio Olympics.
Despite her past success, Tabal, 28, was at one point excluded from the SEA Games roster as Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) officials voiced displeasure at her for not training in Manila or Baguio with an approved national team coach.
She was allowed back onto the roster after striking a compromise to bring on Rene Herrera as her official coach, in addition to her long-time coach, John Philip Dueñas.
Tabal and PATAFA Philip Juico appeared to have put all turmoil behind them, embracing after she crossed the line.
"I am very happy and overjoyed of her victory. I didn't expect it to be this one-sided," says Juico.
Ramon Fernandez of the Philippine Sports Commission says he hopes Tabal's dominant performance kicks off a wave of success for the country, which is hoping to improve off its sixth place finish in 2015.
"As they say the first one is the hardest one so I hope our other athletes would be inspired by this win," said Fernandez.
"I hope the rest of our golds will follow. I hope our other athletes will be encouraged by what Joy has shown. She is one of the smallest runners, marathoners [at just 4-foot-11] but she was able to do it with plenty to spare."
In the men's marathon, Filipino runner Jeson Oyco Agravante suffered from cramps and was one of 3 competitors who didn't finish.
The Philippines now sits at 4 medals, with one silver in the sepak takraw event and two bronzes in archery. – with reports from Mars G. Alison/Rappler.com