CAPAS, Tarlac. — Fil-Am pole vaulter Natalie Uy insists that she is relishing her journey competing for the Philippines, unmindful of the rigors of coming halfway across the globe several times just to be able to do so.
On Sunday night, Uy made her latest trip to the country more worthwhile, making a golden debut in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in record fashion before an appreciate hometown crowd at the New Clark City Athletics Stadium here.
Cheered on by the predominantly Filipino gallery of 8,000, the pig-tailed Uy cleared 4.25 meters to tie her own national mark while smashing the old SEA Games record of 4.21 meters set by Thai Sukanya Chomcuendee in the 2013 games in Myanmar.
Winding up a distant second was defending champion Chomchuendee Chayanisa (4.10) while compatriot Chontincha Khabut (4.00) settled for silver in Day 2 of track and field action at the 20,000-seat stadium.
The Dayton, Ohio native, whose father is a Filipino, emerged as the first Filipina pole vaulter in SEA Games history to bag a gold and capped a Filipino sweep of the event after Ernest John Obiena clinched the mint in the men’s side the previous day.
Former national athlete Edward Lasquete, who discovered Uy and watched her golden exploit near the pole vault area, said the Olympic-bound Obiena also broke a 24-year-old dry spell in the meet since he himself won the gold medal in the 1995 SEA Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Uy’s triumph somehow softened the impact of the loss suffered earlier by Kristina Marie Knott, who topped the women’s 200-meter run last Saturday, in the century dash.
Vietnam’s Le Tu Chinh avenged her setback to Knott in the 200, nipping her Fil-Am rival at the tape in retaining her 100-meter title in 11.54 seconds to the latter’s 11.55. Singapore veteran Shanti Veronica Perreira (11.66) took the bronze.
The other PH entry, Zion Corrales Nelson, finished last among the eight runners in 11.90 seconds.
“This (victory) is absolutely amazing and I’ve been enjoying the journey so far. The crowd was so nice and I was inspired by them” said Uy, who now trains full-time at Kentucky League Athletics managed by Earl Bell, the bronze medalist in the pole vault at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
With the gold safely tucked under her belt after clearing 4.25 meters, the winsome athlete set the bar at 4.35 meters but discontinued after two failed tries, then waved to the crowd in gratitude for their support.
She also hugged athletics Philip Ella Juico, who arrived just in time to witness Uy’s golden performance.
Uy said that she would continue training and take a crack at qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo and make the cut-off height of 4.70 meters “which I believe I really have a chance of meeting.”