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Eric Cray, Mary Joy Tabal ready and well-conditioned for Asiad

If Eric Shawn Cray can just make a repeat performance of his semifinal run in the 400m hurdles of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, there is a big chance he might win the gold in the 18th Asian Games.

Cray, whose pet event was originally set on Monday, will try to qualify first in the re-scheduled 400m hurdles at 11 a.m. on Sunday and hopes to take it from there, in an effort to win the Philippines’ first medal in the Asian Games in 24 years.

The 29-year-old Cray ran the 400m hurdles of the Rio Olympics in a blistering 49.37 seconds, and if he had done the same during the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, he would have easily dislodged the 49.71 of gold medal winner, Bahrain’s Ali Khamis, who is defending his title here.

And from the looks of it, the Filipino-American is in tip-top shape.

The two-time 400m hurdles champion of the SEA Games (Myanmar and Singapore) is coming off a gold medal in the 400M hurdles of the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships. He was also the silver medalist in the 60M Run of the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.

“If everything goes right, many of our athletes can spring some surprises,” said Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Dr. Philip Ella Juico.

Cray, who finished sixth with a 51.47 time in the Incheon edition of the games, has improved since that performance. He had 50.04 in the World Championships in Beijing, China in 2015, before submitting a 49.07 during the 2016 World Challenge in Kawasaki, Japan, where he earned a silver.

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In the same World Challenge, this time in Madrid, Spain, also in 2016, Cray ran a scorching 48.98, his personal best, to likewise earn the silver, before his title-clinching 49.57 in the Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar, only last year.

The last time the Philippines bagged an athletics’ medal of any color in the Asian Games was during the 1994 Hiroshima Asiad, courtesy of Elma Muros, whose 6.41-meter leap in the long jump competitions was worth a bronze.

Aside from Cray, three more from the athletics’ team here will plunge into action, as marathoner Mary Joy Tabal, hurdler Clinton Bautista, and long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang get going.

Tabal, the marathon queen of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, starts the Philippine campaign for the day with the marathon at 6:00am.

“This is a special opportunity for Tabal to prove herself against the North Koreans, Japan, China and some of these middle eastern countries,” said Juico, “I don’t think she will be wanting in spirit. According to the report I got, she’s ready, she’s well-conditioned, she spent most of her time in Tuscany, Italy. We are hoping for the best as usual.”

After Tabal, Bautista, the bronze medalist in the same Malaysia SEA Games, takes his turn as he tries to qualify in the 110M hurdles at 10 a.m.

A four-time SEA Games long jump queen whose reign began in the Manila edition of the meet in 2005, Torres-Sunang makes what could be her last hurrah in these games as she attempts to advance in the finals of the long jump competitions starting at 10:30 a.m.

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Aries Toledo slid to seventh spot after three events of men’s decathlon with 2,311 points–fourth place finish in long jump (7.34m) and 10.84 seconds in the 100m run. He did 11.07m in the shotput, his best in the event.

On the other hand, Trenten Antony Beram advanced to the next round of the men’s 400 meters to kick off the country’s medals bid in athletics at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. Beram clocked 48.06 seconds in Heat 4 of the five-heat first round.

Newcomer Kristina Knott qualified by time in the Women’s 100m event, clocking in 11.74 seconds in Heat 2 of the qualifiers.

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