To be able to qualify for Olympic-level athletics, the aspiring athlete must meet a particular set of performance standards in specific span of time. For the men’s 100m dash, in example, there are the “A” and “B” standards, 10.18s and 10.24s, respectively. Ralph Soguilon’s 100m dash national record at 10.45s is more than two-tenths of a second slower than the “B” standard – light years away from an outright Olympic slot. Such is the case for most of our national records.
Amongst our elite athletes, Marestella Torres is the lone exception. En route to winning the 2011 SEA Games Long Jump gold, Torres went beyond the 6.65m “B” standard by six centimeters. Her 6.71m national record is more than enough for an outright Olympic slot.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a story about Marestella Torres and Rene Herrera being given the mandatory athletics slots* for the 2012 London Olympics. I was particularly disturbed by the nonchalant tone. There was hardly any mention of the Olympic entry standards, save for single line from Go Teng Kok. Has Philippine athletics sunk so low that not qualifying for an Olympic slot has become the norm?
It’s sad to say that the answer is a resounding yes. Filipino track & field athletes have fallen so far behind the curve. Blame it on the sports officials, the media, the Philippine propensity for basketball or corruption: the fact remains that we are at the bottom of the athletics heap. If our homegrown boxers, swimmers, archers and taekwondo jins can bag Olympic berths, I’m sure our track & field athletes (with ample support, of course) can do the same.
One can harp about bagging dozens of medals in the Southeast Asian Games or dominating the general standings, even (think about the 2005 Manila SEA Games). But this doesn’t necessarily translate into Olympic success – or at the very least, Olympic participation. News of the Philippines fielding the smallest Olympic contingent in recent memory has been met with indifference. In contrast, the SEA Games debacle went, for a time, into the national headlines.
So long as our athletes struggle to even qualify for the world’s most prestigious sporting spectacle – as long as we prioritize low-key regional meets over the biggest stage of sport – I’m afraid that our dream of Olympic Gold will be no more than a far-flung fantasy.
* – Torres’ slot could be given to Melvin Guarte, should Torres’ 6.71m is formally recognized as meeting the “B” standard.