Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, we will be previewing the different national teams that will see action for the Philippines.
2014 Asian Games performance
In the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea, the pair of Claire Adorna and Kim Mangrobang finished in the top ten in the women's elite category with Adorna claiming seventh place while Mangrobang garnered ninth. The men's elite tandem of Jonard Sain and Nikko Huelgas attained a "Sub-2" (completed the course in under two hours) but still finished outside of the top 10.
2018 Asian Games representatives
Triathlon made its debut at the Asian Games in 2006 at the Doha, Qatar edition. It is a sport that combines three elements: swim, bike and run and in that order. The Asian Games format of the race adopts the Olympic distance which is a 1.5 kilometer swim, a 90 kilometer bike race and a 10 kilometer run.
This will be the first time the Philippines is sending an entry into the mixed event that was introduced in Incheon in 2014, hence six members are on the squad: two for Male Elite, two for Female Elite and the remaining two (plus one of the individual campaigners) in the Mixed Relay. The Male Elite event is on August 31 while the Female Elite happens on September 1. The Mixed Relay caps the hostilities on September 2.
The Philippines has had representatives in the three previous Asiads with the 2014 finish proving to be the most promising as the women's individual duo of Adorna and Mangrobang finally crashed the party into the top 10.
No Southeast Asian country has ever medalled in the event and with the country now sending an entry into the relay category, this opens more opportunities to finally podium in the sport that has long been dominated by Japan, Kazakhstan, China and now joined by the Koreans and Hong Kong.
Among the Southeast Asian nations competing, Singapore is the top threat.
Huelgas has won back-to-back Southeast Asian Games gold medals while Chicano won the silver on both occasions. Mangrobang and Adorna swapped medals in the last two stagings with Adorna triumphing in Singapore 2015 while Mangrobang emerged victorious last year in Malaysia. The Philippines now dominates in the ASEAN region and is poised to make an even bigger splash in Palembang towards the end of this month.
The Philippine elite triathletes have been making a good degree of noise of late, however.
Adorna, the youngest member of the team at 25, has only finished outside of the top eight three times in 18 events (including 12 events sanctioned by the ASTC-Asia's governing body for triathlon). All that after recovering from a tendon tear in 2015 which required surgery after the Singapore SEA Games.
"We have a solid chance to improve on our finish in 2014," Adorna said prior to the team's recent outing in the 2018 Mt. Mayon ASTC Asian Cup in Legazpi City. "Our line-up is pretty good and with the results of the previous races, we're slowly getting better and could be peaking by the time we make it to Palembang later this week."
Mangrobang has been the busiest since the Kuala Lumpur golden performance as she has seen action in seven events around the world including the 2017 Dakhla ATU African Cup in Morocco (where she finished seventh), the 2018 Quarteira ETU European Cup and recently the 2018 ITU Tiszaujvaros Triathlon World Cup in Hungary. She was the only member of the squad not able to compete in the Mt. Mayon race due to her still being in training in Portugal.
Kilgroe, who only picked up the sport as a form of recreation in 2012, is making her first appearance with the triathlon contingent after copping the victory in the recently concluded Subic Bay ASTC Southeast Asian Championships.
"I'm super excited," the Filipino-American multisport stunner exclaimed. "I didn't know how to even qualify for the Asian Games, I didn't even know if I was going to go. But when they said that the (mixed) relay was added that made it six (members representing the country). So I think everyone's going to give it their best and we're going to have the strongest bid that we can and I'm super pumped."
The rest have been in limited action this year, but that conserves them for the upcoming competition.
Prognosis for Palembang
Huelgas, the most experienced member of the team since donning the national colors in the 2010 Guangzhou Asiad, still looks at Philippine triathlon's "baby steps" despite being the top country in the ASEAN region.
"The East Asia countries are still the teams to beat," the former De La Salle University (DLSU) swimming sensation confessed. "But still, our goal is to make sure we consistently improve as a nation with our best times and more importantly to raise the level of triathlon not only in the Philippines but also in the Southeast Asian region. And I think with that simple goal right there, at least that's something that's (attainable). From there, maybe the next generation will aim a little bit higher."
The 27-year-old Huelgas has long been the poster boy of the sport in the archipelago and while the women's trio are seen legitimate threats to the throne of the Japanese, Huelgas himself-being the skipper-aims to push himself to greater heights, while acknowledging that he may be paving the way for his successors to finally make that breakthrough.
"The pressure is always going to be there," he said. "My goal is to finish in the top five but I believe that medal will come in the next Asian Games. I'm being realistic. We're getting close, but by 2022 I see us finally making the podium."
With Mangrobang gaining huge experience points by competing globally, Adorna fully healed and on a roll and Kilgroe bursting with confidence after a stellar 2018, the women's team may just pull off a surprise that could still be a generation away, but the men's team is also equipped to crash the party that the Japanese have ruled since the sport's inclusion 12 years ago (five gold medals-the only country to have multiple wins).
"The ball is round," Huelgas said. "Anyone could have a bad swim or a flat tire on the bike course or a blister (during the run). There are so many variables that could happen in triathlon. Let's just hope our team performs at its best and make the Philippines proud."