On to Tokyo
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2020 - 12:00am

The tempo is picking up. With six months left before the Tokyo Olympics, national sports associations and the Philippine Sports Commission are increasing their efforts to get more Filipino athletes qualified for the Games. There are several qualifiers in different sports over the next four months, so our athletes are scrambling to catch the last bus for a shot at Olympic glory and the riches that come with it. Four years of preparation - at least - for a lifetime of security. But the right to be called an Olympian alone is a singular accomplishment.

Right now, members of the PSC board are making the rounds of all the athletes’ training sites, to see for themselves how things are going. All the country’s best individual athletes have entire teams behind them, as it should be, but the commission is watching over them in person. This time, even Chairman Butch Ramirez wants to know firsthand how national athletes abroad are doing, something that was taken for granted by past administrations. Now, activating their visitorial and oversight powers, the board members are making sure they know where all the money spent really ends up. After all, the culture of other countries may influence the athletes while they are there.

Of course, the first step is getting there. The process of qualifying alone is daunting, and quickly trims down the field. Hundreds of athletes fan out all over the globe, but only so few break through to the Olympics themselves. In 2007, before the current administration of ABAP took over, only Hary Tañamor qualified for Beijing. That’s how tough it is. As it stands, the Philippines will likely have only a handful of strong qualifiers. Right now, you could count on one hand those who have already made it. That number is not going to rise dramatically. 

Ironically, the Philippines could field a battalion of world champion athletes, albeit in non-Olympic sports. In 1988, bowling was demonstrated at the Seoul Olympics, and Arianne Cerdeña won a gold medal. At least twice, foreign contingents have invited Filipino billiards champions to campaign for cue sports’ inclusion, only to back out after they were repeatedly and resoundingly beaten in exhibitions. Jiu-jitsu would be an almost certain medal for the Philippines in Olympic competition, as would outdoor sports like skateboarding. If pistol shooting were an Olympic event, the country would surely medal. Bodybuilding would be another potential medal winner for Filipino athletes, along with mixed martial arts. There is just an abundance of talent. Unfortunately, it’s outside the Olympic fence.

Be that as it may, there have also been Filipino athletes who have already won Olympic gold medals, unfortunately for the United States. The aptly named Victoria Manalo (aka Vicki Draves) won two gold medals in platform diving in London in 1948. She also coached American divers to at least four more golds in succeeding Games. Her father was Filipino, and she grew up in the San Francisco area, where a park is named after her. We have also heard that American athletes with Filipino heritage have won Olympic gold medals in women’s volleyball and women’s football. So we know it’s possible.

Once you do get to the Olympics, there are still adjustments to the weather, temperature, food, water, accommodations, time difference, and so on. Travel time between venues and athletes’ quarters factors in. Time difference and the need for an interpreter are considerations. Time between heats are also a big deal. You have to be prepared for various contingencies. The luck of the draw is also a major factor. 

The present estimate is that the Philippines will have a delegation of about 15, including coaches. The small number, though, will be the distillation, concentration and summation of all our efforts. Let’s bear in mind also that we have been cheated out of Olympic gold medals at least twice in our history. In 1936 in Berlin, the US was allowed by the German organizers to break the rules in men’s basketball, at the expense of the Philippine Islands. And in 1996, Onyok Velasco was clearly and publicly cheated out of a gold medal in boxing, simply because his opponent Daniel Bojilov was the lone surviving countryman of the head of AIBA.

All things considered, this writer has a good feeling about the Tokyo Olympics.

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