The 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will be the Philippines' fourth occasion to be at the helm of the biennial sports meet since its inception in 1959 and since the country was formally included in the competition in 1977.
The previous three instances the country hosted the Games were in 1981, 1991 and 2005.
The first hosting
In the 1981 edition, 2,200 athletes from seven nations converged at the Rizal Memorial Stadium to kick off the games. Then President Ferdinand Marcos officially opened the competition that had only 18 sports with a grand total of 755 medals up for grabs.
Only seeing action in its third SEA Games, the Philippine contingent showed a marked improvement in its medal haul as the host nation nabbed 55 golds -- improving from the 24 it garnered in the previous edition in Jakarta.
This surge was credited to the newly formed "Gintong Alay" sports program of the Marcos administration spearheaded by sports czar Michael Keon. Although Keon later on admitted that the program was never intended to have the Philippines dominate the games, Gintong Alay was at the forefront of an upheaval in the national sports scene until the Marcos administration ended in 1986.
Of the 55 gold medals attained, athletics, bowling and cycling yielded the most with eight apiece.
The big headliners in the track and field competition came from a very young Lydia de Vega, who was among the first that was discovered, nurtured and developed by the Gintong Alay program. De Vega obliterated the field in the sprints by winning the 100-meter dash and setting a new games record in the 200-meter event. Fellow sprinter Isidro del Prado also broke the games record in the 400-meter event.
Kegler Bong Coo won three golds to become the most bemedalled performer for the Philippines.
The overall title went to Indonesia with 85 golds (214 total medals), while Thailand captured 62 championships (148 total medals). The Philippines added 55 silver medals and 77 bronze medals (the most third place awards) for a total haul of 187 medals.
91 in '91
In 1991, then President Corazon Aquino was on hand (still at the Rizal Memorial Stadium) when delegates from now nine countries (Vietnam and Laos had rejoined the competition and Burma had now become Myanmar). Twenty-eight sports were contested and it was also the first time the meet held games outside of Metro Manila with archery, canoeing, sailing and triathlon done in Subic Bay.
To date, the 16th SEA Games was among the most hotly contested in terms of the overall gold medal tally with Indonesia edging ahead for good after the taking gold in the women's marathon, which was the final event of the competition. Controversy also overshadowed the Indonesian's copping of the overall title as one of the Philippines' gold medals was taken away in the boxing competition with a Filipino pugilist deemed to have been involved in doping.
Indonesia garnered 92 gold medals while the host nation had to settle for 91.
The sports that produced the most gold medals for the Philippines were in new disciplines wushu and shooting with Nathaniel "Tac" Padilla leading the latter to ten gold medals. Swimming also gained renown with the local tankers copping nine golds.
Eric Buhain almost attained "Mark Spitz status" by winning six gold medals in the aquatics competition with distaff swimmer Akiko Thomson breaking two SEA Games records en route to two golds.
Boxing, despite the later controversy also had its best performance in its history in the games with Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, Elias Recaido, Roberto Jalnaiz, Julito Lopez, Ronald Chavez, Arlo Chavez, Victor Vicera and Raymund Suico emerging victorious in their quests.
De Vega, a decade after her triumph in the sprints, replicated her performance in 1981 by once again taking the title in the 100-meter dash, but had to settle for silver in the 200-meter event. Emerging star Elma Muros, however, set a new record in the 100-meter hurdles and also had a dramatic win in the long jump to serve notice of things to come for the Philippine athletics contingent.
The Philippine men's basketball team was able to redeem the championship it lost in Kuala Lumpur the previous edition when college stars Jun Limpot, Vergel Meneses and Ferdinand "Bong" Ravena had to repel a strong fight from the Thais in a 77-72 victory at the Araneta Coliseum.
No hoops in 2005
Basketball, however, was not in the list of 40 sports that had a record 1,458 medals at stake in 2005. Due to squabbles within the warring factions of the sport at the time, FIBA suspended the Philippines from competing in and hosting any international meets.
In the 2005 edition, the Philippines attained its first ever overall championship claiming a whopping 113 gold medals while its nearest competitor, Thailand, could only muster 87 golds. Perennial powerhouse Indonesia only managed to cop 50 golds leading to massive reforms in their sports program. Emerging nations such as Vietnam and Malaysia also made quite a splash in this 23rd edition of the SEA Games.
The Philippine delegation had a record 892 athletes.
If Subic Bay was the only venue outside Metro Manila in 1991, in 2005 38 different venues across seven provinces were utilized, with Cebu and Negros Occidental home to five events each. This move by the local organizing committee had its fair share of logistical issues and although the games continued, many participating nations complained about the poor coordination and "sub-standard" accommodations, especially in the far flung reaches of the competition.
Willy Wang led the biggest medal haul in the competition as wushu produced 12 gold medals, while athletics and aquatics garnered nine each.
In this, the 30th SEA Games, a record 56 sports will be contested spread over eight provinces and 45 different competition venues.
With the lessons learned (both positive and negative) from the previous three hosting opportunities, it will be interesting to witness how the Philippines makes history anew in the biggest sporting event in the ASEAN region.