Olympic gold lost before it’s won - THE GAME OF MY LIFE by Bill Velasco

Two ironies are shaping up in our lean history of Olympic participation. First, we have an Olympic-caliber athlete in training in the United States who just might bring us our first Olympic gold medal in the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second — and painful — irony is that we could lose the medal even before we’ve won it.

Fifteen-year old Michael Novales, winner of literally over a hundred gold medals in international ice skating competition, first took up the sport roughly four years ago, and his talent was immediately spotted by ShoeMart’s American coach.

"‘This kid’s got potential’ was his first comment," recalls Marlo Gonzalez, secretary general of the Ice Skating Union of the Philippines. "And he was right."

Soon, Novales was spearheading the Philippines’ success in competitions in Hong Kong, Japan and the United States, leading the country to a fourth-place finish in the World Championships. Novales was so talented, in fact, that his family had to transplant him to the US to further his training. And he continues to shine on a larger scale. In fact, he has already accomplished Freestyle 10, the highest grade of the sport, also known as the Men’s Senior or Olympic class level, where performing the extremely difficult quadruple spin is commonplate.

Recently, Novales dazzled the world’s best skaters, finishing runner-up in the 2001 US Junior Nationals, a dream achieved by only a painfully small number of skaters. With the overall champion being a much younger boy, attention was focused on the tall and lean Filipino, so much closer to becoming a man. Novales is now being courted by schools and skating programs all over the US and Canada, most of them bearing gifts like athletic scholarships and citizenship.

"His Olympic potential is awesome," Gonzalez adds. "That’s why his mother brought him there, because there wasn’t much more we could teach him. Now, everybody wants him."

Should Novales accept, he could very easily change allegiance and start skating under the US or Canadian flag. Our first Olympic gold medal could be snatched from under our noses a year before it’s even been won. And that’s presuming he only wins one.

In 1948, Filipina Victoria Manalo, US AAU champion in diving, won two golds in London in 1948 as Vicki Draves, an American.

In fact, we could say that Draves gave the US six golds, since she inspired Pat McCormick into becoming the first diver to win both springboard and platform events twice (Helsinki, 1952 and Melbourne, 1956) more than three decades before Greg Louganis did.

"I remember talking to Vicki Draves, and I asked her how she was able to come up with such a magnificent performance," McCormick is quoted by Bud Greenspan in the book 100 Greatest Moments in Olympic History. "And Vicki said ‘I just looked at my USA uniform and realized I was representing my whole country!’ That was my inspiration, too."

There are other Filipinos who have won Olympic gold medals for the United States. Tiffany Roberts, whose mother is a Filipina, has won two Olympic gold medals (Atlanta, 1996 and Sydney, 2000) for the women’s soccer team, and has been on the cover of Filipino magazines and newspapers in America. She has just been one example of foreign nationals who have become Americans to win medals for their adoptive homeland. Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon, whose papers were rushed to make the US Dream team in 1996, is one of a handful of NBA players who were converted.

In Novales’ case, Gonzalez, who corresponds with Michael’s mother, has received their assurance that they will remain Filipino.

"She said that, any time we need them, they will come back for flag and country," Gonzalez declares.

In the name of our frustrated Olympians and sports fans, we hope it stays that way at least until he brings home a gold from Utah. If not, we’ll paraphrase one of our sayings to "Ginto na, naging yelo pa."











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