The Philippine para chessers struck a gold mine Saturday, October 28, capturing five out of a possible six in the rapid event to cap the country’s campaign on a victorious note for an all-time high of ninth in the overall medal standings on the last day of the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Para Games.
Abetted by breaks plus the PH chessers’ gritty and united stand, they swept the men’s PI (Physically Impaired) and B2-B3 divisions while annexing the PI women’s individual mint courtesy of Atty. Cheyzer Crystal Mendoza and the team silver in the same event.
Typifying the resiliency of the squad was Asian Para Games rookie Darry Bernardo, who was one piece down playing with the white pieces but still managed to pull off an improbable win against Indonesia’s Adji Hartono in ruling the B1-B2 men’s individual event with six points.
Counting the rapid team gold, Bernardo and Menandro Redor emerged as the PH squad’s most bemedalled athletes with three mints each in the outing supported by the Philippine Sports Commission.
Thanks to their heroic efforts, the 72-member Philippines contingent here matched the tally of 10 golds in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games while rising to its best ever performance in the continental showcase to ninth overall, three notches higher than the country’s showing five years ago.
This was attained despite the fact that the PH standard-bearers had less silvers and bronzes – four and five, respectively, compared to the eight and eleven in the previous Games.
Veteran Henry Roger Lopez, who led the field with five points entering the seventh and final round, won a hard-fought match over teammate Jasper Rom to become a double gold medalist together with Mendoza in anchoring the men’s PI squad to a sweep of the team and individual events.
The 42-year-old Davao City native’s golden triumph was aided by the draw between Iran’s Aski Kazemian, who was tied with Lopez with five points and a round left, and veteran Tirto of Indonesia in the last round.
“Lopez would have lost on a tiebreak if Kazemian won, but somehow Tirto managed to draw the Iranian, paving the way for our player to win the gold,” national para chess head coach James Infiesto explained.
“Masayang-masaya. Wala akong masabi. This is my best performance since in the Asian Para Games. All of our hard work and sacrifice paid off. This was a team effort,” said Lopez, who was teary-eyed in paying tribute to teammate Jasper Rom, whose parents passed away during the meet but stuck around.
“We had to protect Henry at all costs and I was glad that I was part of his well-earned triumph,” Rom said with a smile and satisfied look on his face.
“Medyo nakabawi na rin para sa team kasi naka-silver kami sa team event sa rapid,” said Mendoza, who began the event with a loss but recovered in the later round in copping the gold with 5.5 points after beating Vietnam’s Thuy Tran Thi Bich in her final game.
Actually, she and Indonesia’s Lilis Herna Yula were tied at the end of the seven-round series with identical 5.5 point, but the Filipina chesser won over the other by the tiebreaking system.
“Absolutely impossible and too good to be true, but it’s here,” said Infiesto of the glowing accomplishment of his players, who exceeded their haul of five gold, two silver and six bronzes in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Para Games.
“It seems that 13 is our lucky number,” noted the coach, counting the three silver and two bronze medals his prolific squad likewise won.
“Absolutely amazing. This is what you reap with hard work and proper preparations,” said Philippine Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo, who personally congratulated all of the team members after their matches were over.