Asian Para Games 2023: Ernie Gawilan delivers first gold to PH

Veteran Filipino para swimmer Ernie Gawilan achieved the coveted golden breakthrough for Team Philippines on Tuesday night, October 24, to retain the men’s 400-meter freestyle S7 crown in runaway fashion at the Asian Para Games 2023 swimming championships.

Relegated to the bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter individual medley race the previous day, Gawilan made certain that the gold would not slip from his grasp, powering his way to the front at the 150-meter mark to clock a winning time of four minutes and 58.29 seconds at the Hangzhou Olympic Center Aquatic Arena.

Singaporean rival Soong Toh Wei finished a distant second (5:12.16) while China’s Huang Xiangquan (5:16.33) took the bronze, as the diminutive but dynamic swimmer from Davao City delivered the country’s first gold medal here in the stint supported by the Philippine Sports Commission.

Ernie Gawilan of the Philippines [PSC Media pool photo]
Ernie Gawilan of the Philippines [PSC Media pool photo]

His victory capped a fruitful day for the Filipino bets after wheelchair racer Jerrold Mangliwan snatched the silver medal from South Korea’s Jeong Jondae in the men’s 100-meter T52 finals of the 4th APG trackfest at the Huanglong Sports Stadium oval.

Racing on the outside lane, Mangliwan bided his time before putting on a burst of speed in flashing past the South Korean in a personal best time of 18.65 for his first medal in the continental meet after placing fourth in the same event in the 2018 edition held in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Japan’s Ito Tatsuya retained his title in clocking a new meet record of 17.41 meters while Jeon, who clocked (18.67), settled for the bronze.

“Masayang-masaya po ako dahil nakabawi ako sa pagkatalo ko kahapon,” Gawilan said. “Malaking tuwa ko na hindi lang ako yung unang atleta na nakapagbigay ng unang medalya, ngayon unang ginto na rin. Bihirang-bihira mangyari yun.”

National para swimming coach Tony Ong said that the strategy was for Gawilan to size up the opposition early then make his move around the halfway mark of the race.

“I told Ernie that our goal was to go for the gold and not the record this time. Kailangan natin mag-kaginto so yun ang naging approach namin for this race. And, thank God, nasunod naman,” the coach said, referring to the swimmer’s APG record of 4:51 when he won the same event in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Para Games.

Gawilan, 32, hopes to add another gold to his collection when he swims in the men’s 100-meter backstroke in the final day of the 4th Asian Para Games swimming championships on Thursday.

“Nagpapasalamat ako kay God na binigyan niya ako ng ganitong pagkakataon. First time na mag-Asian Para Games medal pagkatapos ng apat na kompetisyon. Wala na siguro akong masasabi pa,” said the delighted athlete of his unexpected silver in the event that he acknowledged was not his strong suit.

“Nagbunga yung training namin ni coach Joel (Deriada) and Bernard (Ebuen) kasi ang game ko talaga sa bandang dulo dahil basag ako talaga sa starting,” added the Tokyo Paralympic Games veteran, who dedicated his silver to cousin Handsome Magdiwang, who figured in an accident back home.

Encouraged by his performance, Mangliwan, who won two mints in the Cambodian ASEAN Para Games last June, is expected to figure prominently for another medal in his pet event, the men’s 400-meter T52 contest, scheduled later in the week.

Hoping to add to the country’s medal tally later in the evening was swimmer Ernie Gawilan, who finished a strong second in the heats in the men’s 400-meter freestyle S7 event with a time of 5:11.16 behind Singaporean topnotcher Soong Too Wei (5:09.82).

On the other hand, Cambodia ASEAN Para Games quadruple gold medalist Angel Mae Otom finished a distant fourth in the women’s 200-meter freestyle S5 finals in a time of 3:32.34.

Otom’s teammates, Marco Tinamisan (men’s 100-meter freestyle S4) and Roland Sabio (men’s 200-meter IM SM9) failed to go beyond their respective heats.

Veteran powerlifter Achelle Guion missed out on a podium finish, winding up in fourth place with a lift of 83 kilos in the women’s -45-kilogram division.

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