World-class athletes to legends: stars to watch at SEA Games

athletics03 May 2023 06:07| © AFP
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Nguyen Thi Oanh © Gallo Images

The Southeast Asian Games begin in Phnom Penh on Friday with the Cambodian capital welcoming thousands of athletes from the region.

AFP Sport picks out some of the stars hoping to light up the event.


With Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz skipping Phnom Penh to focus on qualifying for Paris 2024, heir apparent Sarno will carry Philippine weightlifting hopes.

The 19-year-old should be up to the challenge, having won an SEA Games gold last year in Hanoi, where she set a new Games record in the women's 71kg.


The region's teenage sprint king is also the world's fastest-ever under-18 100m runner with a time of 10.09sec last year.

He won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at the last SEA Games, while still only 16, but just missed out on a bronze months later at the World Athletics U20 Championships.

The 27-year-old runner won three Games golds on home soil last time, in the 1500m, 5000m and 3000m steeplechase.

She will defend all three this time, across two gruelling days.

- Carlos Yulo (Philippines) -

Because of rules limiting the number of events athletes can compete in, the star gymnast will only take part in four events, on bars and all-around.

The former floor and vault world champion will be confident of adding to his seven gold and seven silver SEA Games medals, but may have slight fitness worries.

He pulled out of a meet in Egypt in late April after reportedly suffering an ankle injury during training.


The sprinter is in the form of her life, clocking new national women's records in the 100m (11.37sec) and 200m (22.89sec) last month.

The 26-year-old is the reigning SEA Games gold medallist in the latter, and silver medallist in the former, but hopes for two golds this time.


Perhaps the biggest favourite in any athletics event at this Games, pole vaulter "EJ" Obiena is ranked three in the world and will have eyes on the Paris Games.

His personal best is 5.94 metres, which puts him easily at Olympic qualification standard, and he has spoken about trying to break the six-metre barrier.

A gold in Phnom Penh would make it three in a row at the SEA Games.


The flyweight bagged silver at the recent Women's World Boxing Championships, to go with golds at the last two SEA Games.

She is another eyeing Paris qualification, having fought at Tokyo 2020.


Representing the region's sexagenarians, the pool legend is back once again in the carom event.

The 68-year-old has been world champion in both eight- and nine-ball pool, and is considered one of the best to ever pick up a cue.

Now leaves the higher-profile billiards events to younger players, but boasts medals of every colour across various SEA Games disciplines.