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MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines has been scouring the United States to poach sporting talent and seem to have struck gold with thrower Caleb Stuart but some of his potential opponents at the upcoming Southeast Asian Games are questioning his eligibility.
The 24-year-old has targeted gold in the hammer and shot put at the biennial event for the 11 Southeast Asian nations in Singapore and has not ruled out competing in the discus.
On Sunday, he picked up his third gold medal at the Philippines Open-Invitational Athletics championships by winning the discus after impressive victories earlier in his pet events which qualified him for the June 5-16 multi-sport event.
The University of California graduate's win in the shot came against reigning SEA Games silver medallist Adi Alifuddin Hussin who, along with Malaysian hammer throwing compatriot Jackie Wong, had been tipped as gold medal chances in Singapore.
Wong set a national record of 63.71m in finishing second to the 6 foot 2 inch (1.88 meter) 250 pounds (113 kilogram) Stuart, who has a personal best of 68.66m set before obtaining his Philippines passport late last year.
Filipino officials had targeted 12 athletics gold medals in Singapore and are purring at the prospect of Stuart, whose PBs in shot and hammer are better than the SEA Games records, competing for them.
The Malaysians, however, are not happy.
"They are saying that he can compete in the SEA Games but I'm not sure myself," Wong was quoted as saying in Friday's New Straits Times, which also queried Stuart's eligibility.
"Anyway I think the competition will be good and I am determined to improve on my national record."
Stuart has opted to return to California to continue training ahead of his SEA Games debut, which he owes to his sister's interest in competing for the Filipino softball team at the Asian Games.
Morgan Stuart went to the team's training camp last year in California with her Filipino mother, who invited the team's coach home for lunch.
There, Randy Dizer noticed the athletics awards and medals Caleb had won littered throughout the house and sensed an opportunity.
"I realized they were all worth golds in the SEA Games," he told the Manila Standard Today this week.
"Then they sent his resume and that was the start."
For Caleb, athletics was only ever a means to stay fit after failed attempts at a career in American football and basketball but he now has the chance to win gold medals.
"I will return to the United States and spend the next few months leading up to the SEA Games to train with my coach," he told the PhilStar this week.
"Hopefully by that time I’ll be 100 percent ready to win those two gold medals I'm aiming for."
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore