By Rick Reyes
compact but proud and determined PHI delegation made up of 12 athletes and their coaches, plus a number of officials, headed by Chef de Mission Jose Romasanta, are ready to give all they have in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games. The 12 athletes and their sports are: swimming’s Jessie Khing Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi; weightlifting’s Nestor Colonia and Hidilyn Diaz; taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora; athletics’ Marestella Torres-Sunang, Eric Cray, and Mary Joy Tabal; boxing’s Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez; golf’s Miguel Tabuena; and table tennis’ Ian Lariba.
The lead group composed of the swimmers, boxers, weightlifters, TKD jin Alora, and long jumper Sunang are now settled in comfortably after encountering housekeeping issues of weak water pressure and leaky faucets, which were attended to and fixed promptly. They have resumed their pre-competition routines. Ian Lariba, the first Filipino to ever qualify for the Olympic Table Tennis event and the youngest of the athletes, has already tested games conditions by practicing at the venue and testing the tables, balls, and other equipment.
She was given the honor of carrying the PHI flag at the Opening Ceremonies on August 5. “I’m very thankful and at the same time humbled that among our list of athletes I was the one who was chosen. It’s a privilege for me to carry the flag in the opening ceremony,” she said.
Cong. Jose Cojuangco Jr., POC President, expressed confidence that the Filipino athletes will do well in Rio as the country tries to end a 20-year medal drought. The last Filipino to win a medal in the Games was boxer Mansueto Velasco, who brought home a silver in boxing from Atlanta in 1996. “It’s not good to put too much pressure on them. But as long as they behave well as before, show a fighting heart and sportsmanship, and people will respect the Philippine delegation we should all be happy. Of course, it would be nicer if they win,” he added. Cojuangco further stated that for these athletes to qualify to the Olympics, especially Torres and Diaz, who are in their third straight Olympics, is already an achievement.
This PHI Olympic Team is one of the better prepared ever assembled. Taking from the experience of past international games, full support was extended the Olympic qualifiers. High performance training and competitions abroad were made and ample logistical and financial support were extended. Lascuna trained in Australaia, Alkhaldi in Hawaii, the boxers in Las Vegas, Tabal in Tokyo, Cray in America; while Tabuena competed extensively at international tournaments.
CDM Romasanta is making sure everything is in place for the Philippine delegation. Assisting him are Philippine Olympic Committee officials Jeff Tamayo, POC 2nd Vice President and Julian Camacho, POC Treasurer. Aside from sport related preparations, he asked the coaches to be cognizant of emergency and evacuation plans. He stressed: “Presence of mind is always most important. Security will always be a problem when over 200 countries congregate. So, be aware and be prepared for anything that might happen. Things are in place. Our athletes are fully rested now and are seriously training. If everything falls into place, the medal or medals will come.”
In a heart-warming turn of events, Kevin Smith, now the Aussie team’s head coach and who has worked with Pinoy boxers, has agreed to assist Nolito Velasco in the Philippine corner, saying enthusiastically, “I’d be glad to wear the Philippine flag.” Also, if needed, another Australian coach, Don Abnett, will be on hand to lend assistance. Velasco, in turn, will also reinforce the Australian corner, and serve as cutman for the Aussie squad. Ideally, Velasco would have wanted to have another coach to work along with but because the Philippines only qualified 2 boxers, the request for an additional coach was denied. Not to be stumped, Velasco turned to his network of friends and worked out this great display of international cooperation and sportsmanship. The PHI boxers are given a better than fair chance to medal.
Cong. Cojuangco appealed to all Filipinos: “Go out and give this PHI Olympic Team your full support. I firmly believe, they will make us proud and give everything they have on the field and represent all Pinoys honorably and with grace, off it. They all trained and competed well to qualify for these Games and we are confident that this will continue and bear fruit while they compete in Rio. Watch the Games on TV, follow results in the sports pages, and do not forget to send your prayers and best wishes to our few but fighting Olympians. They will be worth the attention and will not let us down!”