Bacolod swimmer Juan Carlo Piccio isn't the only foreigner training at Mission Viejo High School in California bound for the Sydney Olympics. The others are Juan Veloz of Mexico and Torwai Sethsothorn of Thailand.
They were Mission Viejo's best-kept secrets until the Los Angeles Times publicized their exploits in its Orange County edition last Jan. 11. Carlo, Veloz, and Sethsothorn swim for the Mission Viejo varsity called the Nadadores.
Carlo's father Ernesto or Boy said his son never told him about the Times story. That's the way Carlo is -- low-profile, added Boy. It took his wife Gina's sister to send Boy a clipping of the article.
Father and son are, of course, tight. Although Carlo has visited home only twice since moving to Mission Viejo two years ago, he regularly keeps in touch on the phone. As you can imagine, Boy's phone bills are astronomical but still, he looks forward to talking to his son 10 to 20 minutes every week.
Carlo, 18, is the eldest of three children and the only boy born to Boy and Gina Tanpinco. His two sisters are Patricia Anne, 16, and Maria Imelda Isabel, 8, who both study at St. John's Institute in Bacolod.
Boy said Carlo is lucky that 1976 Olympian Brian Goodell is his foster father at Mission Viejo. Goodell won golds in the 400 and 1500-meter freestyle events in Montreal. He was a Mission Viejo high school swimmer and a UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) graduate. Goodell, his wife Vicki, and their three sons -- Brian, 13, Greg, 11, and Scott, 8 -- are Carlo's family in the US.
Goodell once held the world record in the 1500-meter freestyle which is Carlo's favorite. It was in this event that Carlo won a silver medal at the Southeast Asian Games in Brunei last year.
On qualifying for the Olympics, Carlo was quoted by Times writer Bill Shaikin as commenting, "I don't like saying I'm going to the Olympics ... I just keep it to myself, we just try to keep humble."
Veloz and Sethsothorn are both world-rated. Veloz, 17, won the 200-meter butterfly in an invitational meet in China a few weeks ago and is ranked 25th in the world in the event. Sethsothorn is rated No. 35 in the 400-meter individual medley. Carlo, who qualified for Sydney in the 400-meter individual medley and 1500-meter freestyle, isn't ranked among the top 100 in either event. So Carlo is in elite company.
Shaikin wrote: "Will they win medals? Probably not. But perhaps no medal can sufficiently recognize the enormous personal sacrifice the swimmers have made to honor their countries, leaving friends and family far behind for the promise of better coaching, better pools and better times. For Piccio and Sethsothorn, home is a 20-hour flight.
"While Piccio has aunts living in Tustin and Sethsothorn has an uncle living in Cypress, the two reside with host families arranged by the Nadadores. An International Olympic Committee scholarship helps Sethsothorn pay club dues and living expenses. A grant from the Philippine government helps Piccio. The responsibility weighs particularly heavy upon Piccio who will be a one-man swim team for his country.
"By the time they swim in Sydney in September, Piccio and Sethsothorn will have lived in the US for more than two years. They plan to return home eventually but they marvel at the chance to get a free education at an American university simply by swimming fast enough to earn an athletic scholarship."
Shaikin had more quotes from Carlo as he said, "They don't have facilities like this at home (where) everyone is slower than me. Here, everyone is faster than I am. It makes me want to swim faster. I know they're (his family) still rooting for me even though I'm (far from home)."