Wrestling with the present

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - May 10, 2021 - 12:00am

The Wrestling Association of the Philippines (WAP) has been one of the hardest hit among all of the national sports associations. It appears that, on multiple fronts, the pandemic has taken away athletes, opportunities, and even Olympic slots. After a spectacular 2019 campaign, they are now setting their sights beyond Tokyo and on to Hanoi for the Southeast Asian Games in November. Bear in mind that they topped the Southeast Asian championships, and the only reason they finished second to perennial power Indonesia in the last SEA Games is because some of their events were not included in the biennial event.

“That’s pretty heartbreaking to talk about, seriously. Everything was there. We had so many plans,” admits WAP president Alvin Aguilar. “I wish I could give a sunny disposition about the last two years, but I just can’t.”

The repeated quarantines and lockdowns deprived national wrestlers of much-needed face-to-face practice with multiple partners, save for some grapplers who are families that live together and have home gyms. Some freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers on the national team are enlisted personnel who were assigned to watch over COVID patients, and ended up getting infected themselves. Then, many of the association’s partner gyms closed down because of the repeated lockdowns. Travel was restricted. It was all becoming too much to bear. Even an important trip to Bulgaria fell through. In the end, they made the excruciating decision to simply forego Olympic qualifiers altogether.

“It would be very hard to make all these moving pieces move around, because everything has to work perfectly,” Aguilar explains. “Of course, PSC always supports, so we got the budget. The problem was, the visa section in Bulgaria all of a sudden closed. That affected a lot of other countries; we weren’t the only ones.”

But come hell or high water, Aguilar vows that training will resume next month. Since the start of the pandemic, they have repeatedly asked authorities to allow them to train, to no avail.

“Regardless of what happens, whether we get IATF or not, we just have to do our own bubble training,” says Aguilar, who is also founder of the URCC. “We’ll do all our testing ourselves. People want to arrest us, fine us, chastise us, whatever, we’re pushing through next month.”

The gains from the last few years may have been lost, but as Aguilar says, these athletes in particular are used to being beaten down and getting back up. With only six months to go before the SEA Games, the pandemic becomes just another challenge to overcome.

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