Lariba, Alora to share flag-bearing honors
(The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – While table tennis player Ian (Yanyan) Lariba is the Philippine delegation’s official flag-bearer in the parade of nations at the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics on Aug. 5, chef de mission Joey Romasanta said yesterday she’ll be relieved by taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora after passing the VIP box to avoid any form of muscle strain with her first match scheduled the next day.

“Yanyan remains our official flag-bearer but Elaine will take over once we pass the VIP box and our delegation is announced,” said Romasanta. “Holding up the flag might put a strain on Yanyan and her competition starts the next day. Elaine won’t play until Aug. 20. We don’t want Yanyan to miss the opportunity of parading with our team, that’s an honor she earned. I’m sure she’s excited to carry our flag.” The tag team compromise was hailed as a wise decision.

Lariba brushed off the notion that the flag may be too heavy for her to carry. “If the pole is made of wood, maybe it will be a little heavy but if it’s a light metal pole, I don’t think it will be a problem,” she said. “I won’t strain myself during the parade.” But Romasanta isn’t taking any chances. “Baka naman mangawit,” he said. “We won’t risk anything. She’s worked so hard to make it to the Olympics.”

After the delegation marches past the VIP box, Alora will take over as flag-bearer. “I’m excited, of course,” said Alora. “It’s a privilege to hold up our flag at the parade. I’m a first-timer like Yanyan so it’s a blessing to be given the honor of carrying our flag.”

Lariba and Alora will leave Manila tonight with other Olympic athletes Marestella Torres, Jessie Lacuna, Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia for the 25-hour and 25-minute trip to Rio via Dubai. Romasanta will lead the party of 16. Also in the group are coaches Joebert Delicano of athletics, Archie Lim of swimming, Kwon Mi Sook of table tennis, Roberto Cruz of taekwondo and Dondon Aldanete of weighlifting, security officer Col. Jeff Tamayo and Abac Cordero, Ferdinand Brawner and Jerome Ascano of the secretariat.

Lariba is one of 86 entries in women’s singles. In the world top 10 women standings, five are from China, three from Japan, one from Singapore and one from Germany. But Singapore’s Feng Tianwei, 29, and Germany’s Han Ying, 33, are both naturalized citizens from China. World No. 1 Ding Ning, 26 and world No. 5 Li Xiaoxia, 28, will represent China in women’s singles.

Lariba said despite China’s dominance, her table tennis idol is retired Swedish star Jan-Ove Waldner who took the gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and a silver at the 2000 Sydney Games. Waldner, now 50, is revered in China as “Lao Wa” or “Old Waldner” and “Chang Qing Shu” or “Evergreen Tree” and known as the Mozart of table tennis. “I admire his style,” she said. “He stood up to the Chinese and beat the best Chinese players. It wasn’t just his talent on the table. He was confident, smart and tricky. He played with power and technique as a server, blocker and attacker.”

Lariba, 21, said this is the first time she’ll travel outside of Asia. “I’ve been to Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia but never outside of Asia so I’m very excited to go to Rio,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Lariba caught national coach Noel Gonzales’ eye as early as when she was 10 playing at the Palarong Pambansa in Iloilo. She was often invited to play in national competitions and in Manila summer tournaments during her high school years at Corpus Christi in Cagayan de Oro. Then, La Salle and national coach Lauro Crisostomo took her to Taft for college. “I owe a lot to my coaches,” she said. “I would never have achieved my goal of playing in the Olympics without them.”

Lariba said qualifying for Rio was an “overwhelming” experience. “My parents (Antonio, 48, a sales marketing agent and Imelda, 50, a hotel accountant) couldn’t believe it at first and kept crying because they were so happy,” she said. “We used to just talk about competing in the Olympics and now, it’s finally happening. My sister (Ina, 14, a St. Mary’s student) is just as excited.”

When Lariba joined the Rio-bound Philippine delegation in a courtesy call on President Duterte at Malacanang recently, she made it a point to speak with the Chief Executive in their common dialect. “It was an honor to meet the President,” she said. “We were a big group so there was very little time to interact. We all gathered for a picture then very quickly, I was able to tell him that I’m from the south like him. He told me, ‘ok, ayos ’yan, good luck in Rio.’”

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