The recently concluded Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur was marred with disappointment and failure as the Philippines was only able to muster a total of 24 golds, marking its worst finish in the biennial meet.
However, all was not lost in the SEA Games campaign of the Philippines. Several athletes brought glory and fame to the country because of their excellent showing in their respective sports. One such athlete is Nikko Huelgas, who has ruled the triathlon event in the SEA Games not just once, but twice already.
Huelgas earned gold in the men’s triathlon event back in 2015 in Singapore and has once again reigned supreme in the 2017 edition in Malaysia. Even better, he bested his time in the recent Games, clocking in with a remarkable finishing time of 1:59:30, nearly five minutes better than his finish two years ago.
On Thursday, Huelgas’ exploits were honored in a thanksgiving lunch by Chooks-to-Go alongside members of Gilas Pilipinas. It was a high-profile event as even Senator Sonny Angara, an advocate of Philippine sports, was in attendance.
There were numerous discussions and plans for Gilas Pilipinas stated during the press conference, but at the same time, Huelgas was also given a chance to share his goals for his own sport.
“With our duty as national athletes, we are here to set the standards high talaga,” Huelgas passionately imparted. “Especially as the team captain, I vow and promise to make sure that that standard will never go below what we have achieved during nung SEA Games 2017. And I vow that this will only be the beginning.”
Huelgas indeed set the bar high for Philippine triathlon with his sub-two-hour performance in Kuala Lumpur.
“Kasi sa Olympic distance, typically a sub-two-hours, is a typical world standard result,” he explained, even mentioning that part of his goal was to truly finish under two-hours aside from winning gold. “Usually you see it sa World Races, World Championships, and in the Olympic games. If we weren’t able to do a sub-2 hours in the SEA Games, surely we would struggle competing in the world level.”
The Olympic distance in triathlon (which was used during the SEA Games) is a combination of a 1.5km swim, a 40km bike, and a 10km run. Because Huelgas was able to break the two-hour barrier, it sent a strong message that Filipinos can compete in world class triathlon events. Finishing times and splits are the basis of one’s performance in the world of triathlon. And if others have seen what Huelgas can do in the international stage, they will hopefully come to realize that they can achieve greatness themselves.
Filipinos are no strangers to triathlons of course. Having been exposed to the Cobra Ironman 70.3, Subic Bay International Triathlon, 5150 races, and the like, Filipinos are well aware of the sport. But Huelgas sees a bigger goal for Filipinos and specifically the national team: to compete in the Olympics.
“May ibang goals kami bilang national team. It’s very different from the distance of the format from the Cobra Ironman and the 70.3 distances,” he elaborated on sustaining the growth of triathlon. “We focus mainly to qualify for the Olympics in which in this case, it mainly focuses on the Olympic distance or the sprint distance.”
The sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) is a shorter version of triathlon, which expects athletes to be more explosive and quicker in the three disciplines rather than focusing on endurance. Huelgas also shared that in the upcoming Olympics, the competition distance has been shortened already, similar to a sprint distance wherein the event will simply last for an hour as opposed to the two-hour time that triathletes have been accustomed to.
Fortunately, the long-term mission of Philippine triathlon towards the Olympics is in good hands. Aside from Huelgas, fellow Pinoy athletes John Chicano, Kim Mangrobang, and Clair Adorna all earned medals in the SEA Games, tallying a total of two golds and two silvers. At least in the Southeast region, Filipinos are the kings and queens of triathlon.
“Definitely we won’t be here without the support of the triathlon community. It’s getting big with or without our result because of the love of Filipinos for endurance sports right now,” he said enthusiastically. “We will make sure that the whole Philippine triathlon, especially our federation, Triathlon Association of the Philippines, will take it even higher and sustain the growth of the sport.”