By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
Filipina wresting legend Maria Cristina Vergara proved she still got enough gas left in the tank after claiming the gold medal in the ongoing Southeast Asian Games last May 15, 2023, held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Vergara defied the odds entering into the biennial sporting event after only coming in as a replacement athlete to Levie Espuerta who got injured before the SEA Games started.
The 44-year-old veteran outdueled Sambat Vannak of Cambodia during the championship match to be crowned as the queen of the women’s 65-kg freestyle category.
Despite the youth advantage the hometown bet had over the Filipina superstar, Vergara showed her experience and familiarity on the sport’s biggest stage.
Vergara had a magical run against the Cambodian and concluded her 2023 SEA Games campaign with a 12-2 score, taking her down several times while establishing dominance in the clinch.
Although Vannak was able to grapple back midway through the fight, Vergara was able to counter with her strong lower body to push the young Cambodian away from her desired position.
Before making the hard decision to come out of retirement and help the Philippine national wrestling team, Vergara was a two-time SEA Games champion where she clinched gold medals during the 2003 and 2005 editions.
Feeling that she had already done enough for the national team, Vergara decided to retire after the 2007 edition in Thailand.
Vergara was then chosen to be a part of the coaching staff of the national team and is a big reason for the success of Filipina wrestlers in the SEA Games.
Cathlyn, Maria’s daughter, also stole the limelight in the 2023 SEA Games after winning the bronze medal in the women’s 59-kg freestyle category.