A KABABAYAN, who was a math whiz, had a not so common target when he took the board exams. He said he was going for the number one spot, because that way, if he falls short, he'd be just in the top 10 or if he'd fall really, really short, he won't be in the top 10 but his grade would be high enough to be nearly there.

He was really way off target but he was right, his grades were really high that folks were asking, how come you're not in the top 10?

That's not the case of the Philippine national team in the Southeast Asian Games as the country's sports leaders have a very humble and low target, to surpass the 2013 showing of the country in Myanmar. And how did we fare in Myanmar? We had 29 golds, 34 silver and 38 bronze medals for seventh place, our worst showing ever since we started joining the meet.

And as of 8 a.m. yesterday, when I wrote this, we are still at seventh place with 7-12-23. That's expected to change, of course, once medals in boxing, taekwondo and billiards—our strengths—come in. But still, seventh place after four days doesn't exactly boost confidence on our sports programs.

Are our sports leaders so used to such poor showing that better than worst is now a valid target? Are we so used at such failures in the SEA Games that heck, seventh place at this time, no longer suprise us?

It's not as if we came unprepared, some of the national teams have been preparing since late last year for this one. And it's not like we ignored the best athletes in favor of the favorites of the big wigs. Look at Mary Joy Tabal, for years she's been dominating the running scene but never got to wear the country's colors. She finally did so this year and won a silver.

What's wrong? In some sports, especially basketball, we are still the standard, but in some, we just don't have it anymore. Look at the women's 100-meter record of 11.28, set by Lydia de Vega in 1987, still unbroken all these years.

Every SEA Games, we are reminded how the rest of Southeast Asia is improving, while we're stuck to where we are a decade ago.

That we can’t find another Lydia de Vega in a country of close to 100-million epitomizes the problem in Philippine sports—the pool of athletes is so limited we might just as well be a country of five million.

Sadly, even if changes are implemented this year, it might not even be felt when the country hosts the meet in 2019.