I was ten years old when boxer Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco won the silver medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Even though I have hazy memories of the fight, I can still feel the disappointment. Since then, our best Olympic hopes had fallen in the last three editions of the quadrennial event. Like the rest of the nation, I kept my hopes up each time our fancied amateur boxers and taekwondo jins donned the national colors in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing.
But an Olympic gold, much less a medal, has remained elusive.
I find it farcical each time our sports officials and politicians dangle cash incentives to our athletes, months or weeks prior the Games. Although it would surely add to the motivation for doing well, training for Olympic Glory takes more than just financial rewards. Even if our athletes excel in regional-level competitions, the international scene is several notches higher. You can’t turn a Southeast Asian Games medalist into an Olympic contender overnight. Our propensity for cramming is not a tried and tested approach to Olympic success.
Amidst all the internal bickering in Philippine sports and its structural flaws, I found myself disillusioned in the run-up to the London Olympics. I have written numerous articles on past Olympic champions from other countries. Except for the sporting feats of our past champions, but my mind goes blank each time I juxtapose the Philippines and the London Olympics.
As an athlete myself, I’ve always been enamored the Olympic ideal. The founder of the Modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, makes an apt description: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.” In the years I’ve spent devouring all sorts of media about the Olympics, I consider John Stephen Akhwari’s and Derek Redmond’s experiences as the most moving.
Akwhari was a Tanzanian marathoner who finished dead last at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968. Despite a painful knee injury, he hobbled on to the finish line to the loud cheers of the few spectators and volunteers left. Redmond competed in the 1992 Barcelona Games. At the 400m dash semifinal, he pulled a hamstring midway into the race. In tears and in obvious pain, the Briton bravely limped to complete the race, as his father ran to him from the stands.
Aside from sports like professional boxing, basketball, billiards and bowling, being a Filipino athlete is not a lucrative profession. Government support and public interest are scant, paling in comparison to the more established sporting nations. The national training facilities, at best, are spartan. To reach for one’s Olympic dreams is a struggle both athletic and financial.
As a Filipino, I’m hoping for a good result in London. Deep down, however, I know for a fact that another Olympic shut-down is possible. There will be finger-pointing when this happens, perhaps even a congressional inquiry. Expect to hear the usual pronouncements of new nation-wide sporting program. It’s all part of the vicious cycle of Philippine sports.
Our sports officials can bicker all they want, but one thing is for certain: our athletes are doing their utmost best under the circumstances The distinction of competing at the world’s highest stage is an achievement in itself.
The beauty of sport lies in the unexpected. Sometimes, the enormity of the moment could enable an athlete to transcend and deliver. Perhaps if the stars align in favor of the Philippines, one of our athletes might just reach the podium.
I long for the day when a Filipino finally tops an Olympic event. When I do see our athlete stand on top of the podium and hear “Lupang Hinirang” play in the background, I might just shed tears of joy. Until that moment comes, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.
To the Filipino Olympians, godspeed!
The Philippine Contingent to the 2012 London Olympics
Mark Javier (Archery)
Rachel Cabral (Archery)
Rene Herrera (Athletics)
Marestella Torres (Athletics)
Mark Barriga (Boxing)
Daniel Caluag (BMX)
Tomoko Hoshina (Judo)
Brian Rosario (Shooting)
Jessie Khing Lacuna (Swimming)
Jasmine Alkhaldi (Swimming)
Hidilyn Diaz (Weightlifting)