On another slow day for Team Philippines, Eric Cray provides a golden moment
Eric Cray has run the 400-meter hurdles in the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games six times. He won the gold each time.
The 34-year-old Filipino-American track star lay claim to the tag as the event’s greatest athlete in the region after leaving the field swallowing his dust on Thursday at Morodok Techo National Stadium here in Cambodia.
And after crossing the finish line, he referenced an undisputed GOAT (greatest of all time) of another sport, Michael Jordan, yelling his name and holding up six fingers to represent his career total golds on the 400m hurdles and the Chicago Bulls’ legend’s career championship rings in the National Basketball Association.
“It’s my sixth and it means everything,” Cray, gulping down breaths of air, told reporters after the race. “All the hard work, the dedication, the injuries, everything I’ve been through… [was worth it].”
No. 7 uncertain
Cray, who owns the SEA Games record in the event, finished in 50.03 seconds. Thailand’s Natthapon Dansungnoen (50.73) finished with the silver while Singapore’s Calvin Quek (50.75) took the bronze.
The Philippines’ other entry, Alhryan Labita placed seventh in 53.89.
“You know the persistence that I have, the drive and dedication for two years and the ups and downs. It’s hard, but God is on my side the whole way. I’m so happy to keep going,” said Cray.
He rewarded the Philippine track and field team with a third gold medal after EJ Obiena’s three-peat in men’s pole vault and the victory of Janry Ubas in long jump.
Cray soaked in the magnitude of his feat in the biennial meet but could not say if he will be gunning for a seventh gold two years from now in Thailand.
“If God keeps you running fast enough to compete, who knows maybe seven,” said Cray.
After his stint here, Cray will train his sights on qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
His first stop will be the Asian championships, a qualifying tournament for the Summer Games that will be held in Thailand from July 12 to 16.
“That (Olympics) is the goal,” said Cray. “I gotta qualify first in Paris, then I’ll take it from there.”
“I’m feeling great, ready for the Asian champs and the Asian Games,” he added. Cray has to chop a few more precious seconds off his SEA Games time to book a ticket to Paris. The Olympic qualifying standard is 48.70 seconds. His personal best is currently at 48.98.
“I hope to be 100 percent before the Asian champs where the window will open up. That’s the goal,” said Cray, who missed the 2021 Tokyo Olympics due to injuries and the restrictions that COVID-19 imposed on him while training in Europe .
“I’m cool about returning to the Olympics, but I have to be in great shape during the qualifiers.” The former Asian champion was also forced to skip the Asian Indoor Athletics Championship in Kazakhstan early this year after suffering from sports hernia, a painful soft tissue injury in the groin area.
“I caught it before the Asian indoor where I wasn’t able to compete. I have been dealing with the pain ever since, but it’s bearable,” said the Texas-based Cray, who has won eight gold medals in the SEA Games since 2013 in Myanmar, including one in the 100m (2015) and in the 4 ×100-m relay (2019).
Cray provided a ray of sunshine on a day that seemed like the Philippines would be reaching for silver linings—including the promise of gold.
Tokyo Olympian Carlo Paalam reached the final of the men’s 54-kilogram boxing competition after destroying Timor Leste’s Edegar Foe Quintas da Silva, 5-0, during their semifinal encounter at Chroy Changvar Convention Center: Hall G on Thursday.
Paalam will lead seven Filipino boxers, who are assured of silvers, in the hunt for a gold medal.
Kristian Narca, meanwhile, settled for silver after losing to Cambodia’s Laingkousin Khun, 30-27, in the men’s 57-kg class of “kun khmer,” a traditional martial art of the host country, at the Elephant Hall of Morodok Sports Complex.
Narca hit the deck in the second round and came out far more aggressive in the third by delivering several kicks to Khun’s body.
The Philippines also notched a silver medal in cricket courtesy of the women’s 6-a-side team.
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