MANILA-- Some 1,000 athletes from here and abroad are expected to see action in the Ayala Philippine National Open Invitational Athletics Championships slated to be held on March 30 to April 2 at the Ilagan Sports Complex in Isabela province.
At least eight countries have confirmed their participation in the event, which the organizer -- the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) -- is using as the final stage in the selection of national team members for the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in Malaysia in August.
"The Philippine Open will serve as a gauge for our athletes going to Kuala Lumpur. The tournament is also a time for scouting because we expect the participation of topnotch athletes from Malaysia and Singapore," said PATAFA president Philip Ella during Thursday's press conference at the Orchid Garden Hotel in Pasay City.
The Filipino athletes will be facing tough challenge from contenders from neighboring countries, such as Malaysian middle distance runner Savinder Kaur Singh and hurdler Raja Azhar, and Sri Lankan Nimali Liyanarachi, who has a personal best of 53.9 in the women's 400 meters.
Leading the Filipino-American bets are 2016 Rio Olympics veteran Eric Cray (100m and 400m hurdles), 2015 SEAG hammer throw record-holder Caleb Stuart and 2015 SEAG bronze medalist Donovant Arriola in long jump.
The city of Ilagan will also host the 12th Southeast Asia Youth Athletics Championships on March 27-28. There will be a one-day break before the staging of the Philippine Open.
Of the 10 member states of the ASEAN, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, along with Timor Leste, will join the two-day tournament.
Also present during the press conference was former Ilagan City mayor Jay Diaz, who has expressed gratitude to PATAFA for bringing the two competitions to Isabela.
"We convey the elation of the people of Ilagan to PATAFA for the opportunity to host the Philippine Open and the SEA Youth," said Diaz, who represented his wife, Mayor Evelyn Diaz.
"Ilagan City is 95 percent ready. The billeting for the athletes and officials, food, transportation and security are already taken care of to ensure the smooth conduct of the back-to-back tournaments."
Meanwhile, Juico thanked Ayala Corp. for supporting the PATAFA.
"The assistance to be provided by Ayala is welcomed by both the government, through the Philippine Sports Commission, and of course, by PATAFA, its athletes and sports stakeholders. Ayala supports our country's aspiration for its athletes to excel, perform well and earn more medals and citations as they compete in various regional and global competitions. Our athletes are a source of pride and inspiration for Filipinos, especially the young ones," said Juico.
Source: Philippines News Agency