Lean Team Philippine departs for Rio
Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Six Filipino athletes from five disciplines, along with their coaches and a handful of officials, are leaving for Rio de Janeiro tonight determined to make their presence felt in the Summer Olympics slated Aug. 5 to 21.

Ian Lariba, designated as flag-bearer of Team Philippines, will lead the athletes that will take a back-breaking 25-hour trip from Manila to Rio via Dubai. The journey will cover a little over 16,000 kilometers.

Lariba, 21, is the first table tennis player from the Philippines to make it to the Olympics. She said a few days ago that like the other Pinoy bets to Rio, she’s out to give her best against the world’s finest athletes.

“We all have the responsibility to carry the fight for our country,” she said.

Joining Lariba in the 11:30 p.m. Emirates flight are weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia, long jumper Marestella Torres, swimmer Jessie King Lacuna and taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora.

Filipino chef-de-mission Jose Romasanta and Col. Jeff Tamayo, second vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, will accompany the athletes and their coaches. There are 16 Filipinos in the trip.

Six other athletes that will represent the country in the Rio Games will hook up with the delegation in the coming days. They are boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez, and track and field’s Eric Cray, who are coming in from the United States, swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi from Hawaii, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal from Japan, and golfer Miguel Tabuena from Manila after a tournament in Thailand this coming week.

POC president Jose Cojuangco will arrive in Rio days before the Aug. 5 opener, together with the other officials.

The other day, Cojuangco aired 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 the silver from Atlanta in 1996.

“It’s not good to put 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,” he said.

“But it would be nicer if they win,” he added.

Romasanta yesterday said he received a directive from Malacañang for him to work on the credentials of newly appointed Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez and Presidential Adviser on Youth and Sports Dennis Uy.

“I’m trying to contact Rio now and at the same time the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) to facilitate their accreditation,” said Romasanta.

Ramirez had wanted to stay behind and instead work on the transition within the government sports agency. But if Malacañang insists, then he has no choice.

“As sports officials we’ve been instructed to see the needs of our athletes in Rio,” said Romasanta.

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