Eric Cray leads Pinoy track stars competing in PH Athletic Championships

ILAGAN CITY — Top track bets from here and abroad will show their wares today when the 2019 Ayala Philippine Athletics Championships fire off here at the Ilagan City Sports Complex.

Athletes from Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka battle it out on the field against tracksters from local clubs and the Philippine national team in the three-day trackfest organized by the the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and supported by Ayala, Milo, Soleus and the City of Ilagan.

As formidable as the participants are, all eyes will be on the national track bets who are out to prove their spots in the national team, with the Philippine open being the federation’s gauge on who will be fielded in the coming 30th Southeast Asian Games, which the country hosts in November.

“We’re looking for athletes who will qualify to the national team. The best five performers here will be in the training pool. Then, we’ll choose the top three for the SEA Games,” PATAFA training director Renato Unso said. “We will have a running leaderboard starting from now until September so this is the best time to qualify, though we will still have weekly relays in June.”

Leading the cast for the Nationals are debuting Filipino-American pole vaulters Natalie Uy and Alyana Nicolas, who loom as the heavy favorites to dominate over local counterparts based on their personal-bests of 4.30 meters and 3.93 meters, respectively.

Those pole vault leaps, especially Uy’s, are good enough to shatter the 4.10-m gold-medal tally of Thailand’s Chayanesa Chomchuendee in the 2017 edition of the biennial regional sports conclave.

Uy and Nicolas will be the first from around 30 national athletes to plunge into action today with the women’s pole vault final set at 2 p.m. at the track oval of the Ilagan City Sports Complex.

Aside from them, 2015 SEAG bronze medalist Donovant Arriola also hits the field in men’s long jump set at 7 a.m. in a bid to claim the first of the 38 gold medals at stake in today’s opener.

Not to be left behind are middle distance runners Marco Vilog and Carter Lily together with other jumpers like EJ Obiena (men’s pole vault), Mark Harry Diones (men’s triple jump) and Janry Ubas (men’s long jump).

Comprising probably the best sprint cast in years are Filipino-American standouts Kristina Knott, Kyla and Kayla Richardson, Robyn Brown and multiple SEAG gold medalist Eric Cray, together with local mainstays Clinton Bautista, Anfernee Lopena, Michael del Prado, Zion Corrales, Francis Medina and Eloisa Luzon.

Another top sprinter in Trenten Anthony Beram, meanwhile, will be missing this year’s action due to still undetermined reasons.

As crucial as the performance in the Philippine Open is to other national track bets, shoo-in sprinter Cray is likely to just play it safe with bigger tournaments in line for him other than the SEAG.

The 30-year old Cray is set to compete in the Asian Athletics Championships in Hong Kong from March 15-17 and the World Athletics Championships in Yokohama, Japan on May 12 and 13.

“I’m pretty confident with my training so I’m just gonna go out and compete,” said the four-time SEAG gold medalist. “It’s just part of the build-up. I’ll be playing it safe to just prepare my body for SEAG and other Athletics Championships.”

Indeed, Cray will skip his pet event 400-meter hurdles as he will only be participating in the 200-meter run and the 4×100 relay.

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