Building better humans

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2019 - 12:00am

The message from Pilipinas Obstacle Sports Federation president Atty. Al Agra was short and sweet in celebration of Olympic Day last weekend. “Let us remember the true essence of Olympism – building better humans,” said Agra.

It was Dr. Josef Gruss, an IOC member from Czechoslovakia (now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia), who presented the concept of a World Olympic Day to promote Olympism in 1947. A year later, the first Olympic Day was held in Portugal, Greece, Austria, Canada, Switzerland, UK, Uruguay, Venezuela and Belgium with then-IOC president Sigfrid Edstrom delivering a message of solidarity through sports. In 1978, the IOC made it a policy in the Olympic Charter for National Olympic Committees (NOCs) all over the world to promote the Olympic Movement through Olympic Day.

In 1987, 45 NOCs decided to organize an Olympic run to celebrate Olympic Day and it’s now become a tradition for participating NOCs to do the same year after year. IOC president Thomas Bach said, “every year, Olympic Day allows the whole world to unite behind the Olympic dream.”

In a nutshell, Olympic Day celebrates the journey of “getting active and living the Olympic values – we work, we play, we dream of a better self, of a better world.” Today’s concept involves the three pillars of “move,” “learn” and “discover” interfacing with the values of excellence, friendship and respect. Olympic Day has evolved into more than just a run or a sports event. “NOCs are deploying sports, cultural and educational activities which address everybody, regardless of age, gender, social background or sporting ability,” said the IOC.

Last Saturday, the POC held its version of Olympic Day at UP College of Science oval in Diliman with the participation of Olympians, Paralympians, the Philippine Olympians Association, POC, PSC and private partner CitiBank. The program was from 6 to 10 a.m. and involved over 100 Olympians and 100 Paralympians.

Event organizer Debbie Tolentino said CitiBank’s involvement was timely. “CitiBank has an annual activity called Freedom Walk which it coordinates with LGUs but this year, it wasn’t held because of the elections,” said Tolentino. “So we thought of joining forces since the POC planned the Lakad Para Atleta Legacy Walk or run for a cause, on Olympic Day. It became a unity walk with CitiBank and we came up with the theme ‘Unity and Transformation Through Sports.’”

Philippine Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo, PSC commissioner Charles Maxey, POC general manager Art Aro and Philippine Olympians Association president Akiko Thomson-Guevara attended the morning event with CitiBank Philippines CEO Aftab Noor Ahmed. Athletes and coaches got together with over 1,000 participants from CitiBank to celebrate Olympic Day. 

A torch relay around the UP track oval kicked off the event with five Olympians and five Paralympians doing the honors over a 500-meter distance before the lighting of the cauldron, symbolic of the opening of every Olympics. The torch bearers were Olympians Elma Muros (long jump, 1984, 1996), Roel Velasco (boxing bronze medalist, 1992), Christine Jacob (swimming, 1984), Stephen Fernandez (taekwondo, 1992) and Freddie Webb (basketball, 1972) and Paralympians Andy Avellana (athletics, 2012), Ernie Gawilan (swimming, 2016), Jerrold Mangliwan (wheelchair racing, 2012), Josephine Medina (table tennis bronze medalist, 2016) and Adeline Ancheta Dumapong (para powerlifting bronze medalist, 2016). After the torch relay came the Legacy Walk. There were also demonstrations and participative activities in arnis, skateboarding, karate, athletics, underwater hockey, petanque and para sports like braille chess, wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball and para athletics. A body combat session conducted by Fitness First was an interesting feature. The Philippine Olympians Association made its pitch for the environment by distributing 1,000 seedlings for tree-planting at UP. The trees were of an assorted variety, including cherry blossoms and fruit-bearing.

It would’ve been a fitting event to gather POC officials but unfortunately, none showed up. The display of camaraderie in the Olympic spirit of solidarity among the leaders would’ve resonated all over the country. Instead, athletes and the private sector celebrated as if to show the conflicted leaders what it’s like to be united.  

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