The Philippine para chess team made a stunning performance on Saturday, October 28, securing five gold medals out of a possible six in the rapid event, concluding the country’s campaign on a triumphant note. This achievement resulted in an all-time high of ninth place in the overall medal standings on the final day of the 4th Hangzhou Asian Para Games.
Aided by fortunate breaks and the unwavering unity of the Philippine chess team, they swept the men’s PI (Physically Impaired) and B2-B3 divisions.
Additionally, they claimed the PI women’s individual gold, courtesy of Atty. Cheyzer Crystal Mendoza, and a silver medal in the same event.
Darry Bernardo, a rookie at the Asian Para Games, exemplified the squad’s resilience. Despite being one piece down while playing with the white pieces, he secured a improbable win against Indonesia’s Adji Hartono, ultimately winning the B1-B2 men’s individual event with six points.
Taking into account the rapid team gold, Bernardo and Menandro Redor emerged as the Philippines’ most decorated athletes at the event, each earning three gold medals. This impressive performance allowed the 72-member Philippine contingent to match the 10 gold medals won at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. Furthermore, it propelled them to their best-ever performance in the continental showcase, securing ninth place overall, three spots higher than their showing five years ago.
This remarkable achievement was accomplished even though the Philippine athletes had fewer silver and bronze medals—four and five, respectively—compared to eight and eleven in the previous Games.
Veteran Henry Roger Lopez, leading with five points entering the seventh and final round, won a hard-fought match against teammate Jasper Rom. Lopez, together with Mendoza, clinched double gold medals, anchoring the men’s PI squad to a sweep of the team and individual events.
The 42-year-old Davao City native’s golden triumph was aided by a draw between Iran’s Aski Kazemian, who was tied with Lopez with five points, and veteran Tirto of Indonesia in the last round.
Lopez expressed his joy, saying, “I am extremely happy. I am at a loss for words. This is my best performance in the Asian Para Games. All our hard work and sacrifice have paid off. This was a team effort.” He was teary-eyed and paid tribute to teammate Jasper Rom, who had suffered the loss of his parents during the meet but chose to continue competing.
Rom, for his part, said they had to protect Henry and he’s glad to be a part of the latter’s well-deserved victory.
Mendoza, who came from a loss and bounced back in the following rounds, finished with 5.5 points after defeating Vietnam’s Thuy Tran Thi Bich in the last round. Mendoza edged fellow 5.5 scorer Lilis Herna Yula of Indonesia via superior tiebreaks to clinch the gold.
James Infiesto, the national para chess head coach, lauded his players’ accomplishments as they exceeded their five-gold, two-silver, six-bronze output in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Para Games. “It seems that 13 is our lucky number,” he added, considering the additional three silvers and two bronzes of his squad.
Philippine Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo personally congratulated all team members after their matches, saying, “Absolutely amazing. This is what you reap with hard work and proper preparations.”