Fil-Am ends PH swim drought

    CAPAS, Tarlac. — For the first time in 10 years, the Philippine national anthem was played in the Southeast Asian swimming competitions on Wednesday night.

    Credit that feat to Fil-Am James Deiparine, who ruled the men’s 100-meter breaststroke in record-breaking fashion before a delighted hometown crowd at the New Clark City Aquatic Center here.

    Racing in lane No. 5, Deiparine made one huge push in the last 20 meters to clinch the gold in 1 minute and 1.46 seconds, surpassing his own national mark of 1:02.00 and the old SEA Games standard of 1:01.76 set by Indon Nathaniel Gagarin in Malaysia two years ago.

    Vietnam’s Pham Thanh Bao settled for the silver in 1:01.98 while Singapore’s Chien Yin Lionel Khoo settled for the bronze in 1:01.98. Defending champion Gagarin of Indonesia straggled into seventh place (1:02.72)

    Singapore’s Quah Jing Wen foiled the country’s bid for a second gold, grimly holding off the challenge of Fil-Am Remedy Alexis Rule to retain the women’s 200-meter butterfly title in 2:10.97 to the latter’s 2:10.99. Vietnam’s Le Thi My Thao was a distant third in 2:12.70.

    Quah and Rule reset the Singaporean’s SEA Games mark of 2:12.03 in the 2017 Malaysian Games while the Fil-Am also bested her own national mark of 2:11.38 set last July in the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

    “Oh yes (this win) erased my frustration in the last SEA Games,” said Deiparine, 26, who played second fiddle to Gagarin in his SEA Games debut in Malaysia two years ago in a very close race.

    Asked if he was also gunning for a new record, the soft-spoken former California State Polytechnic varsity star replied: “No, I was just focused on the gold and doing my best, especially with the hometown crowd cheering me on.”

    Deiparine cited Philippine Swimming Inc. president Lani Velasco who kept faith in him despite his being sidelined last year with a knee injury “because I wouldn’t be here without her support, and, of course, the Philippine Sports Commission.”

    He has one remaining event, the 50-meter backstroke, on Sunday.

    Asked if he sang the national anthem “Lupang Hinirang” while he was at the podium, Deiparine quipped: “I was singing it in my head.”

    “We’re very grateful. God is good!” Velasco said of Deiparine’s golden accomplishment under her leadership.

    Rule, a varsity swimmer of the University of Texas Longhorns, took her runner-up finish in stride in her maiden appearance at the Games, saying: “The support of fans has been warm and I am just glad to swim for the Philippines. I fell behind at the final so I had to scramble in the last 50 meters.”

    Realizing that she came tantalizingly close to snatching the gold, she replied with a twinkle in her eye: “Maybe I shouldn’t have cut my nails.”