Luke Gebbie

Luke Gebbie. Tamayo

A good start by the Philippines before the 31st Southeast Asian (SEA) Games officially got going was marred by the exit of one medal hopeful even before his competition could get started.

Filipino-Australian Luke Michael Gebbie, one of the swimmers expected to challenge for a podium finish in Hanoi, Vietnam, was ruled out after he failed his RT-PCR test.

“Too bad he tested positive,” Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said on Saturday. “That’s one less medal—a potential gold at that—in our campaign.”

The Tokyo Olympian shared a silver medal in the men’s 4×100 meters freestyle relay and copped a bronze in the 50-m freestyle during the 2019 SEA Games, where he logged national records in the 50m freestyle (22.57 seconds) and the 50m butterfly (24.34 seconds).

Gebbie didn’t get past the qualifying heats in Tokyo but set a Philippine record of 49.64 seconds in the 100m free.

The development put a damper on the Philippine campaign, which started with victories from the men’s football squad and handball team on Friday, drawing applause from commissioner Ramon Fernandez of the Philippine Sports Commission.

“We’re off to a good start,” said Fernandez, Team Philippine’s chef de mission. “It’s a good sign for the entire Philippine delegation.”

Handball triumph

The men’s handball team, made up of practically the same squad that bagged the bronze in 2019, produced an 18-16, 18-16 upset of Thailand at Tuan Chau Island in Quang Nihn province. The win came on the heels of the Azkals Under-23’s 4-0 rout of Timor Leste at Viet Tri Stadium in Phu Tho.

The men’s national football team took a one-day break and will face defending champion and host Vietnam on Sunday in a tough test that could determine just how far the young Azkals can go in this tournament.

The Filipino beach handball athletes, meanwhile, were seeking a second consecutive victory and were tackling Vietnam at press time.

“We’re going up against the host country. Let’s hope and pray that we will be able to sustain what we have started,’’ said Fernandez.

Three other Filipino athletes in kickboxing initially tested positive for the virus but were cleared after a retest early last week.

Diving starts

Despite the setback suffered by the aquatics squad, the team is still brimming with optimism as Filipino-American Ariana Drake competes at the start of the diving events on Sunday at My Dinh Aquatics Center.

Philippine Swimming Inc. president Lani Velasco said Drake will compete in the 1-meter springboard in the morning. After two days, Drake, the 17-year-old diver based in Los Angeles, California, tests her skills against the regions’ best in the 3-m springboard.

“Ariana Drake is a young, up-and-coming diver,” Velasco said. “It’s her first SEA Games and we hope she can adjust seamlessly. Of course, our goal is to land on the podium, but we also want to manage our expectations. It’s hard to win a medal with only one diver. Too bad we don’t have divers for synchro events.”

While the loss of Gebbie was a blow, several aquatics bets are ready to step up in the hunt for medals.

“We have a good mix of veterans and first timers who we hope will figure in the mix for podium finishes,” Velasco said.

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