Marestella Torres-Sunang (AFP)

BAGUIO CITY—The air of excitement felt stronger than the cold December breeze that the slew of track stars could only care less when the 2021 Ayala Philippine Athletics Championships unwraps today at the Athletics Bowl here.

Minus the big names but never the eagerness to perform after months of inactivity from major competitions, over 100 athletes vie for a piece of glory in 32 events of this two-day tournament organized by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association and serves as a lead-up for the 31st Southeast Asian Games.

The chilling weather, the threat of the pandemic—heightened by reports of Omicron cases—would sure be non-factors when the athletes try to brush off the rust, test their fitness and possibly get the nod of coaches to land a spot in the national team that had an overwhelming success of 11 golds, eight silvers and eight bronze medals from the previous iteration of the biennial event at the sprawling New Clark City.

Marestella Torres-Sunang, who at 40 still looks fit and ready, takes another act in the women’s long jump which comes first on the menu at 9 a.m.

Testing Torres-Sunang, a four-time SEA Games champ and the national record-holder at 6.72 meters, is Katherine Khay Santos, who hails from the host city and has a personal best of 6.40m.

Also worth watching at 3:30 p.m. is Bukidnon pride Christine Hallasgo, the reigning Southeast Asia queen of marathon who had a dramatic win over many-time MILO champion Mary Joy Tabal in 2019.

With Eric Cray not in town, veterans Anfernee Lopena and Clinton Bautista make their case as the sprint kings in the centerpiece 100m dash, while Hokkett delos Santos, Ronie Juntilla and Francis Obiena—cousin of Asia’s best EJ Obiena—carry the fight in men’s pole vault.

Aside from Cray and Obiena, some Fil-foreigners that are absent in the tournament are women’s pole vault record-holder Natalie Uy who recently won bronze in Thailand, shot put bet William Morrison, and Tokyo Olympian and sprinter Kristina Knott.

Source: Manila Bulletin (