PHNOM PENH – A Filipina star is born in the Southeast Asian Games.
Gennah Malapit, a 16-year-old Palarong Pambansa standout and protégé of throwing legend Danillo Fresnido, only wanted exposure in the region’s biggest sporting spectacle, where dreams are planted and then harvested in the Olympics.
She ended up taking a silver that felt like gold in terms of promise and potential.
“Gusto ko lang po magkaroon ng exposure, para ma-equip ako sa future,” said the pretty Grade 10 student of Ambassadors of Hope Christian Academy in Tanay, Rizal. “Hindi ko akalain ito. Sobrang saya po.”
Built like a trackster with long legs and a strong upper body, the 5’9” Gennah first tried running, but was convinced by her early sports instructors to try out javelin.
Yes, javelin of all sports — an unspectacular discipline unlike volleyball, which she also dabbles with from time to time like both of her parents; or running, which gave birth to glamorous stars like the late track icon Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros-Posadas and Kristina Knott.
But the sport can take a backseat sometimes to the talent that cannot be bottled down, like Ernest John Obiena, who has transformed the “boring” event of pole vaulting into a glitzy affair, that whenever he jumps in the SEA Games, Asian Games, the world championships or the Olympics, Filipino fans of all kinds take a pause to witness him soar.
Five years ago, if you’d say that a Filipino pole vaulter will be known in the world and become a multi-brand endorser of an energy drink, distilled water, sneakers and even biscuits, then you must be nuts. That is what Gennah could be if her talents are handled right.
She paid attention to the janitor
Gennah’s love affair with javelin blossomed as soon as she held that spear right in her very first throw. And it was nurtured by the school janitor Rigor Gernale (of all people), who surprisingly knew how to hurl, the basics of the sport, how to embrace its fundamentals and what to impart to Gennah.
When national team throwing coach Fresnido, who was already eyeing her when she was younger, took over, Gennah became some sort of a legend in several regional and national meets.
Smasher of records
In 2019, Gennah debuted in the Palaro with an unofficial hurl of 46.57 meters right on her first attempt, smashing by over five meters, Avegail Beliran’s 2018 mark of 41.46 meters.
The official national junior record, set by Fil-heritage athlete Cerah Moran in 2017, was 45.74, which Gennah nearly shattered in April during the Calabarzon regionals with her 45.6.
“Nagustuhan ko po (javelin), iba kasi siya,” said Gennah, who is expected to turn the sport into a byword, the way Obiena did with pole vault.
The entire package
And for good reason. Gennah’s big smile can light up a room, while her statuesque figure will always stand out in a crowd. And did we say she’s pretty?
And of course, the skill. The power. That’s what differentiates her from hundreds of athletes before.
Entering the Cambodia SEA Games without any expectations of sorts — just soak up all the learning — Gennah went further and even bettered her own record by over 4 meters, hurling the javelin to a distance of 49.55, just three behind the winning 52.6 of Thailand’s Jariya Wichaidit, last year’s silver medalist, who took many SEAG tries to finally hit paydirt.
Gennah said the javelin initially slipped off her fingers, and it flew to a measly 4.1 meters.
“Nagalit po ako, kaya binuhos ko lahat sa sunod na bato ko,” said Gennah, who like Bruce Banner is someone you don’t like being angry.
“She’s the future,” gushed national team coach Jojo Posadas. “Time will come, kapag nabigyan ito ng magandang break, ma-expose, ‘yung high-level training program, mamo-motivate ito tiyak.”
In Gennah’s case, there’s no need for any kind of encouragement.
Simply hand her the spear and she will let it fly.