THE PHILIPPINE chess team quietly left the country a week ago with nothing in mind but a miracle in the 1st FIDE Olympiad for People with Disabilities in Belgrade, Serbia.
They’re coming back with their prayers answered.
Drawing strength from Darry Bernardo’s late heroics, the Filipinos battled their way from the jaws of defeat and escaped with a 2-2 draw against the mighty Indians to complete an impressive podium finish in the six-round event that concluded Saturday.
Grasping at straws after trailing 1-2 on draws by FIDE Master Sander Severino and Henry Lopez on boards one and two and a defeat by playing coach James Infiesto on board three, Mr. Bernardo stubbornly went for a win from what looked like an equal position.
The ASEAN Para Games gold medalist’s persistence paid off as he found a way to sneak into a weak back rank by Kumar Naveen to snatch a pawn that he used to scrape out a marathon 79-move win of a Caro-Kann duel.
That was enough to forge a four-way tie with tie with India, Serbia 1 and Uzbekistan at No. 3 with eight match points apiece and eventually the bronze after emerging with the most superior tiebreaker.
And the feat will be remembered for a long time as the being of one the podium finishers in the tournament’s very first staging.
It was made more remarkable by Mr. Bernardo copping the individual board four gold with a magnificent score of 5.5 points out of the possible six and Mr. Severino snaring a silver on board one with 4.5 points to show.
Interestingly, the team almost didn’t make the trip as they encountered visa problems.
But thanks to the help of the Philippine Paralympic Committee, FIDE and the Philippine Sports Commission through commissioner Walter Torres, they made it through.
The miracle in Belgrade was one the biggest feat by the Philippine para chess squad since reigning supreme in the online world championship for the physically disabled three years ago.
That was not counting the multitudes of golden feats in the ASEAN Para Games and Asian Para Games.
These most recent ones should add to their massive collection as the team, which also consist of its lone female member Cheyzer Mendoza, fly back to the country tonight to the warm embrace of a country searching for more sporting heroes. — Joey Villar