Freeman Cebu Sports

Historic campaign still for Cebuano Olympians

Emmanuel B. Villaruel - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  They failed to win medal they aspired for.

Nevertheless, it was still a historic campaign for first-time Olympians Margielyn Arda Didal, Elreen Ann Ando and Kiyomi Watanabe for Team Philippines at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

For the first time in the chronicles of Cebu sports, three Cebuano athletes donned the country’s tri-colors in the most prestigious sporting event on the planet that happens only once every four years.

Didal’s modest seventh-place finish in the women’s street skateboarding was already a feat in itself as she even placed ahead of World No.3 Aori Nishimura of Japan and eliminated skaters Pamela Rosa, the 2019 World Skate champion, and 2013 X Games titlist Leticia Bufoni, both from Brazil.

Most importantly, the 22-year-old pride of Barangay Lahug, Cebu City charmed her countrymen and won the hearts of fans around the world for her jolly disposition and unflinching positivity throughout the competition.

Despite falling in her initial runs and enduring a sprained ankle that saw her limping after her first trick in the final round, Didal was always smiling, flashing a thumbs-up sign and waving her hands as if she dished out a winning performance to the delight of the small crowd at the Ariake Sports Park and the thousands of fans watching the live feed of the competition through telivision and various online platforms.

 “This is for the country. I’m really proud to represent the Philippines,” said Didal, the ‘Golden Girl’ in the inaugural skateboarding events of the 2018 Asian Games and the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Ando, on the other hand, certainly made an impression after winding up seventh in a field of 10 in weightlifting’s women’s 64kg division.

Ando’s remarkable showing in her Olympics debut did not escape the watchful eyes of no less  International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) secretary-general Hasan Jalood Mohammed.

“That girl is good. Take care of her,” said Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas president Monico Puentevella of what he’s told by Mohammed at the sidelines of competition last Tuesday night.

“That’s the same thing Hasan Mohammed told me when he first saw Hidilyn (Diaz),” Puentevella added.

If there’s any consolation for the Barangay Carreta, Cebu City-native Ando, it’s the fact that Hidilyn Diaz took three Olympics (Beijing, London and Rio) before clinching a medal, and eventually a historic gold for the Philippines just four days ago.

For Puentevella, the 22-year-old Ando won’t take three Olympics to medal in the quadrennial games.

“Hinog na si Elreen sa 2024 Paris Olympics,” said Puentevella. “She is our project for 2024, together with Vanessa Sarno. Magaling lang talaga kaya nasama na kaagad sa Tokyo.”

“What I’m doing to Ando is what I did to Hidilyn,” assured Puentevella.

For her part, four-time SEA Games gold medalist Watanabe, whose mother Irene Sarausad hails from Toledo City, crashed out in the first round after losing to Spain’s Cristina Cabana Perez in just 38 seconds in their women’s -63kg judo match.

Watanabe though can still hold her head up high for carrying out the gargantuan task of fighting for the flag and country.

Regardless of the outcome, they all performed remarkably well and will definitely be medal prospects for the Philippines in the 2024 Paris Games.

Meantime, Didal, Ando and Watanabe deserved a hearty pat on their backs for their hard work and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds that make them champions in their own right.

And Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William “Butch” Ramirez said it best:“Our athletes are a source of inspiration and pride. The chance to show the world your athletic excellence, a chance to make your Olympic dreams come true, at a time when sports competitions, training and qualifications, values and character were greatly challenged, a chance to show a global arena, what Filipino athletes are made of.”

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