Monthly Archives: May 2010

Fidel Gallenero

This is a two-year old piece I wrote about Philippine Decathlon record holder, Fidel “Toto” Gallenero. The durable Gallenero was a mainstay of the resurgent Philippine National Track & Field squad in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  After coaching stints in San Beda and Ateneo, Gallenero is now in Brunei, training the oil-rich sultanate’s athletics team.

I have had quite a few mentors in track. Among my teammates, I consider Xave Medina, Carlo Ricohermoso and Khole dela Cruz as worthy role models. My high school coach, Ed Sediego, taught the me the rudiments of track & field. Mick Perez, my college coach for five years, instilled the value of discipline and refined my understanding of sport and my place in it. Among all my mentors, I consider Coach Toto Gallenero as the one who made the most pivotal impact.

Coach Toto as an Athlete

Coach Toto was not the child prodigy athlete. He pretty much started from the bottom rungs of the sport hierarchy and certainly was not at the same caliber as Jose Renato Unso, Mike Mendoza and Bryan Sutingco when he was at the same age. He came from the humblest of towns, from the province of Capiz. His childhood was not as comfortable as mine, or any other privileged member of the middle and upper classes, for that matter. It was a Spartan life. I recall him telling stories about how he had to cross a couple of hills and a few rivers just to get to school. Gallenero did not put much emphasis on his studies. In fact, he often told me how he regretted not having finished his college degree and constantly reiterated to us, his athletes, the value of education.

Gallenero was originally a national class rower. For some reason, he started to attend track and field practice with the guys in Rizal Memorial. “Saling-pusa lang ako,” (I just tagged along) were how he described himself. “Hindi ako nahihiya, sinubukan ko lahat ng events. Laban lang!” (I wasn’t shy at all. I tried all events. I faced it all head on) He has experienced the most primitive of coaches and training approaches throughout his tenure in the sport; hence, the feeling of rancor against such coaches he encountered in his later, more athletically prestigious years. He considered Coach Dario de Rosas as a definitive influence in terms of proper, scientific training. For his part, Gallenero has undergone a few IAAF-accredited seminars to further his track & field know-how. More importantly, the years that he have spent as an international class competitor are priceless.

As the national record holder for the decathlon (6978 points), Coach Toto has had a storied track & field career, winning medals in international events, particularly the SEA Games. Gallenero first came into limelight by beating the then National Record Holder, the celebrity athlete David Bunevacz,  at the 1997 National Open in Manila. His first SEA games medals were two bronzes in the 1999 Brunei edition, one in the Decathlon and the other in the 4x400m relay. In 2001 in Kuala Lumpur, he emerged the sole victor in the grueling, 2-day event. In 2003, he won the bronze in the same event again, a basketball injury sustained ruining his chances for a back-to-back gold.

One wonders what stellar heights Coach Toto would have reached if he had been exposed to scientific training at an early age, or if he had specialized in the sprints, since he was a prolific sprinter (with a hand-timed personal best of 10.4). Nevertheless, he made the most out of his situation; hence, the accolades.

Coach Toto (circa 2002)

I first took notice of Coach Toto during the 2003 National Open. Since my teammate Khole dela Cruz was entered in the same event, we watched the Decathlon religiously. Coach Toto injured himself in that meet and was unable to finish the Decathlon, which Khole won, by the way. During one of those PATAFA weekly relays in freshman year in college, I had just run the 100m dash and was on my way back from the finish line to get my stuff. My vantage point was perfect. As the gun fired, I saw first hand the proper way to start a sprint race. All the muscles in his body were contracting and expanding in a symphony of speed, and yet his face remain relaxed all thoughout.

Coach Toto as my Mentor

Days before the 67th Season of UAAP track was about to start, Mick Perez – the Ateneo Track & Field Program Head and Head Coach –  hired Gallenero as an assistant trainer. His inputs, of course, were far too late to have made a significant impact in my hurdling. Naturally, I faltered a few days later, despite clocking a new personal best, 16.67s. I was in ninth place and narrowly missed a spot in the final. I was jaded, of course. I can still remember that particular afternoon. My teammates and I were huddled around our new coach, asking whatever track & field question came into mind.

When it was my turn, I asked, “Coach, ano kayang time ko next year? kaya ba 16 flat?” (Coach, what time could I possibly run next year? A 16 flat, perhaps?)

“15.5 seconds,” he replied without batting an eyelash.

“Oh? talaga” (Really?)

“Oo, job,” (Short for Joboy, my very Filipino-sounding nickname) he said in his confident manner. “Basta ako lang hahawak sa’yo.” (So long as you’ll train under me)

Breaking 16 Seconds

Suddenly, I felt the disappointment of missing the finals disappear. I couldn’t wait to start training already the moment I heard his words. My third year was an eye-opener. Gallenero taught me the basics of hurdling.

In order to be a good hurdler, he said, one must master the simplest of hurdle drills. After demonstrating the correct way of doing it and assigning a specific technical workout, I immediately set out to master everything he had taught. For two grueling months, I spent my Tuesdays and Thursdays doing endless hurdle drills. I arrived at Moro (Moro Lorenzo Sports Center, the home of Ateneo Track & Field) at about 12nn, warmed up a little and did a few running and starting drills. I did hurdle drills for about an hour and a half, then did the prescribed workout for that day. I was so engrossed in mastering the basics that I did the exercises even as I dreamt and slept.

It was one of the hardest experiences of my track career. I never felt so much pain in training. When I got home, I could barely lift my legs, much less lift the pages of a book. I was so tired that I sometimes cried my heart out.

As I mastered the drills, Coach Toto began to teach more advanced facets of sprint hurdling – the actual clearing, the trail leg action, lead leg action, arm action and of course, the 8-step approach to the first hurdle. By August of 2005, I was ripe for competition and eager to strut my new wares. The first race of the season was good enough, a hand timed 16.4s, which was much better than previous season’s best time of 16.9s.

I can vaguely remember that Saturday morning, but I remember feeling overly pumped up at the starting line. As soon as the gun fired, I got out of the blocks as fast as I can. Everything was a blur since then, but I recall overtaking two or three athletes on my way to the tape.  Even if I had not seen my time yet, I knew for a fact that that was the best race I had run in my career, so far. After the race, I went to the timers to get my time.

I can still remember that moment. One of the officials showed me the actual stopwatch used to time my sprint – I ran a 15.62 (but for some reason, they rounded it up to 15.8). Nevertheless, I was ecstatic! I had just broken the 16 second barrier! I was so excited to tell my teammates that I literally jogged to where they were situated.

Coach Mick and Coach Toto (circa 2006)

The rest was history. That particular Saturday morning started it all. I was on an exponential rise to the top, culminating with my unexpected UAAP bridesmaid finish in my third year.

Coach Toto and I (circa 2006)

Beyond Technique

I felt a sense of pride whenever I was in Rizal or Ultra with Coach Toto at my side. Here I was standing side by side with a Philippine Track legend as my mentor. Even after Ateneo Track & Field and Coach Toto parted ways, Gallenero did his utmost best to watch some of my races and provide some much-needed inputs. Even if he wasn’t officially my coach, I still valued his words of wisdom.

Gallenero did more than teach hurdling technique. He taught me the importance of proper track attire and its relationship to one’s performance (I took it a couple of steps further though by adding the word “fashion”). When I competed, I have different sets of clothing for different weather conditions. He was instrumental in molding the kind of athlete I am today – fearless, hardworking and disciplined. I remember how he used to chide me for being a “nerbyoso” (nervous) on the track with the way I paced up and down like a nervous wreck before a race. “Tapang lang,” (Be fearless) were his favorite words. “Malakas naman kayo, kulang lang kayo sa tapang.” (You guys are strong. You just have to be dauntless) He taught me how to be smart through his patented “gulang”* methods learned throughout his career. And by Jove, I absorbed all these like a sponge.

In the latter months of my UAAP career, not once did I heard him utter “nerbyoso” to my face again. Perhaps, I earned his respect. He sure as hell has earned mine.

I remember the last time Coach Toto actually trained me. It was during the sembreak in the latter parts of October. The core of the team was competing in the Bacolod Unigames, while I chose to remain here in Manila to be with the other members of the young team. In those three days of training camp, we focused on my start. He explained the basics again and fine-tuned my starting technique. When my teammates came back, they  were suprised at the obvious improvement.

Whenever Coach Toto and I sit down and talk, I never fail to stress the fact that he made me strong. “Coach, ikaw nagpalakas sa akin,” (Coach, you taught me how to be strong in my event) I always say. He would always reply by saying, “Ikaw ang nagpalakas sa sarili mo Job, tinulungan lang kita.” (You made yourself fast. I just helped you along the way).

Coach Toto, together with fellow Filipino track & field icons Dario de Rosas and Isidro del Prado (the Philippine record holder for the 400m dash), is now handling the national athletics team of the oil-rich sultanate of Brunei. Although the departure of three of the best coaches and former athletes is a loss to the mother country (and a gain to the Bruneians!) going overseas for the proverbial greener pasture is part of the reality that is the Filipino diaspora. I’m glad that my former coach is on track to financial stability.

Read: “SEA Games champ Gallenero wants to inspire Bruneians”

I shall remain eternally grateful for Coach Toto’s effort, patience and wise words. I will never forget his faith in me, how he egged me to do better. Not once, did he express doubt at my abilities – not once.

We had a great relationship as athlete and coach. My only regret, of course, is that we did not have the chance to compete against one another.

*- A Filipino trait. Akin to being knowledgeable about the inner workings of something, being street smart and wordly

Track Beauty of the Week: Nadin Sergeeva (Надя Сергеева Nadezhda Sergeyeva)

Nadezhda Sergeyeva (Nadin Sergeeva Надя Сергеевa) is this week’s track beauty!

Nadin in Gotzis (Photo from Calgary Herald)

I stumbled upon her photo while reading up on the IAAF Combined Events Challenge in Gotzis. Nadin has a personal best of 6,118 points in the heptathlon, set in Kaunas back in 2009.

She has since shifted to bobsledding, an event well-suited to her athletic physique.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Photo credits:

Joel Velut

Shifting Gears

My friends and I went to Zambales last weekend. It was a tiring trip, but worth it! I probably drank an entire case’s worth of beer throughout the whole trip! I’ll write more about the trip in the coming days.

The beach getaway was a good chance to pause for a bit before training resumes. From now on, my alcohol intake will be drastically reduced to a trickle. By mid- to late-August, I intend to be in race shape yet again. For the past month, I focused mostly on strengthening my injured hamstrings and maintaining a sound fitness base.  Two more weeks of conditioning and I’ll be gradually switching to event-specific training.

Liu Xiang (刘翔) vs. Dayron Robles

I was talking to a friend last weekend, arguing about who’s better: Liu Xiang or Dayron Robles? The hurdles is a “black man’s sport,” he pointed. Is it really?

Read about the Daegu 2011 110m high hurdles final here

Race is not a factor

First of all, let me debunk the theory that athletes of West African descent are more genetically-endowed to excel in the sprints. The sprints is an explosive event, involving the utilization of fast-twitch muscle fibers. If we subscribe to the aforesaid thought, then weightlifting (another sport which requires explosive movements) should be dominated by athletes of West African descent – it is not.

Genetics indeed play a significant part in athletic ability, but race alone does not determine genetics.  Instead, it’s a confluence of factors such as the environment one grows in or the athletic ability of one’s forebears.

The former world record holder in the 110m High Hurdles, Colin Jackson (incidentally, part African, European and Native American) cites the sports background of his parents as major influences to his athletic prowess.  Jackson’s 12.91s world record (set in Stuttgart, 1993) was equaled by Liu Xiang in the 2004 Athens Olympics and bettered by the prodigious Chinese speedster in 2006 (12.88s).

Nevertheless, the fastest times in the century dash were run by athletes of West African descent, from the traditional sprinting hotbeds of the United States, Jamaica and Nigeria.

Too much speed

Would a Sub-10 second sprinter edge out a mid-10 second sprinter in the hurdles, with factors such as hurdling technique being equal? I don’t think so. Following Renaldo Nehemiah’s train of thought, “too much speed” is detrimental to the sprint hurdler.

The distance in between hurdles is set at 9.14m. Running faster almost always means elongated strides. Doing so produces a “crowding” effect, causing the fast athlete to hit the hurdles; hence, it is important to follow a short-long-short stride pattern in between. Sprint hurdlers taller than 6’3 are also susceptible to crowding.

Liu Xiang (100m PB of around 10.3) is the perfect hurdling specimen. He is not too fast like Terrence Trammell (who has a tendency to smash hurdlers, like most American hurdlers do) or too tall like the spindly Florian Schwarthoff. Liu’s technique is flawless. No movement is wasted. The same can be said of Allen Johnson (10.41s PB) and Colin Jackson as well – and yes, the world record holder, Dayron Robles.

The hurdles is an art-form. True technicians gifted with decent speed could easily overturn the brutish, less graceful sprint hurdlers.

Clincher: The Trail Leg!

Now, if a healthy Liu Xiang and an in-form Dayron Robles square off, who would win? It will be a close fight with both athletes being superb hurdling artists. Bias aside, I’d still pick Liu Xiang to win over Dayron due to experience and to one small minute detail – the trail leg.

Liu squares his trail leg better than Robles, who usually brings his trail foot a little closer to the height of the squaring knee than Liu. Robles’ trail foot isn’t parallel to the top bar, increasing the possibility of hitting the hurdle. But then again, who am I to cite hurdling technique?

Liu Xiang’s Perfect Trail Leg Action

Dayron Robles’ Not-so-perfect Trail Foot!

In that case, I’m still picking Liu Xiang based on sheer fanaticism alone!

Photo credits:

Coach Rio

I was a high school junior when I first saw Rio dela Cruz compete. I cannot remember the medals that he won or the actual event that he ran in, but I still clearly hear how passionately his teammates from UP cheered him on. And they had tons to cheer for, since Rio was at the top echelons of the UAAP seniors division.

The shouts of “Go Rio!” were infectious.  Soon enough, my teammates and I were cheering along with our competitors from UP.

Fast forward almost a decade later, Rio is now at the pinnacle of the running boom. With his posters and billboards (with the likes of Piolo Pascual and Donna Cruz!) strewn all around the Metro, he is now a celebrity (read his life story).

While training in Moro back in 2007, I chanced upon the nascent Coach Rio diligently teaching the rudiments of running to a youngster. Three years later, he’s training hundreds of runners at a time in Ultra and organizing long runs almost every week for thousands of people! What a guy.

Coach Rio’s popularity is good for Philippine Track & Field – if the public interest in recreational running trickles down to athletics itself.  Being too young to remember the heyday of Lydia de Vega, I often wonder if Rio is an even bigger celebrity than Asia’s former Sprint Queen.

I bumped into Rio during last week’s National Open. We talked a bit about his busy schedule and some of his upcoming projects. I wish him the best of luck.  I’m happy that us track & field guys finally has a legitimate poster boy – a model at that!


The Three Musketeers

French athletics is in tip-top shape, with youngsters Renaud Lavillenie, Teddy Tamgho and Christophe Lemaitre leading the way.  Lavillenie, still only 23, had won a World Championships Bronze in Berlin. 19-year old’s Lemaitre  and Tamgho are both World Junior Champions, with the latter shattering Christian Olsson’s World  Record in the World Indoor Champs in  Doha last March.

With the decline of 2005 World Champion, Ladji Doucoure, it’s good to see other French athletes taking up the cudgels for the Les Bleus.

I’m particularly excited for Lemaitre. The 19-year old speedster lowered his personal best in the century dash by one-hundredths of second, sprinting to 10.03s at the French National Club Championships. Aside from Frankie Fredericks and Patrick Johnson, only athletes of West African descent have broken the 10 second barrier.  The great Pietro Mennea and Matt Shirvington both timed almost 10 seconds flat, while Robson de Silva, Koji Ito and Marian Woronin stopped the clock at exactly 10.00s.

It’s about time someone from the non-traditional sprinting powers to break that barrier.

Cool Team USA Kits

Gah! I’m drooling over these replica Team USA track stuff.

Capones Island, here we come!

I can’t wait for this weekend’s beach trip with my high school buds.  My 1 month hypertrophy program would surely do wonders in front of the camera! Been brushing up on my videoke tunes too. I’d probably sing songs from Glee (like “Hello”) and of course, my usual repertoire of oldies.

I can almost smell the fresh sea breeze… and taste the ice cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen in my lips!

Photo credits:

Using the dominant leg as the trail leg

My high school coach, Ed Sediego, has a novel way of identifying a potential hurdler’s lead leg. Instructing the athlete to stay put (or to count to 10) before he abruptly calls the hurdler to come forward. The first foot which made the first step is, naturally, the lead leg (and the front leg at the crouch start).

With this standard in mind, my natural lead leg is the right. But for some peculiar reason, I lead with my left leg! Back in college, my coach noticed how smoothly I executed the lead leg action with my right leg – in stark contrast to the wilder, jerky movement of my left leg. We tried to shift lead legs, but then again, things did not really work out.

Reading about how Rafael Nadal’s uncle trained the Mallorcan to play left-handed, a wild thought hit me: What if one teaches a right-footed (right lead leg) hurdler to lead with the left? One obvious benefit would be the trail leg action. With the dominant leg assuming the more complicated trail leg motion, a smoother trail leg clearance is bound to happen.

Looking at my past photos and videos, I’ve always liked how my trail leg moved. Rarely did I hit hurdles with my right, trail leg. The right knee squares perfectly under the shoulders, with the foot clearing the hurdle smoothly – almost parallel with top bar. Although my overall hurdling form is a million light years away from being perfect, I’m damned proud of my trail leg.

My (Blog’s) New Home!

WordPress is way better than Blogspot, Multiply and Livejournal combined. I love the multitude of customization options. And it’s so user-friendly that I spent a good chunk of this evening tweaking the settings.

Although it’s marginally slower than the aforesaid hosting sites, the split-second delay is a small price to pay for aesthetics!

World Beaters

In a country of almost 80 Million, with more than half below the poverty line, sports is far from the Philippines’ top concerns. With the Philippine Sports Commission’s shoestring budget, it’s not surprising that that the Philippines is a laggard in sports other than professional boxing (Manny Pacquiao!), bowling (Paeng Nepomuceno!) and billards (Efren “Bata” Reyes!).

When I went to Rizal for the yearly Track & Field National Championships, I was greeted by a sad sight. Gone were the droves of athletes from the provinces. The foreign entries were down to a bare minimum, in light of budget constraints on the part of the race organizers. Aside from the national athletes, the quality of the competition were nowhere near Southeast Asian-, much less Olympic- level (well, Henry Dagmil and Joebert Delicano are certainly capable of high 7 meter or even 8 meter jumps). Although promising athletes like the young Patrick Unso (broke the Junior 110m High Hurdle record – 0.99m) and Jeson Cid (smashed Coach Dari De Rosas’ 30-year junior Decathlon record) distinguished themselves on the track, no Senior National Records were broken.

Nevertheless, the running boom provides some faint glimmer of hope for the sport. If public interest could just trickle down from recreational running to the grander arena of full Track & Field competition, perhaps well-meaning corporate entities could infuse some much needed cash into the sport.

It’s a pity, really, considering the multitude of talent. I long for the day when Filipinos can be world beaters at the track again. Most Filipinos forget that we were once among the track & field elite! Back in 1932, the lanky Simeon Toribio won the High Jump bronze by clearing 1.97m (he could’ve won gold if not for the call of nature!). In 1936, it was Miguel White’s turn to finish 3rd in the grueling 400m Low Hurdles (52.8s).

We should honor this men for those Herculean feats. Let every young Filipino track athlete learn of their exploits.

Han Solo!

For the past two years, I’ve contemplated a return to competitive track & field. The travails of employment (and sheer laziness) killed those nascent attempts of an athletics renaissance.

While watching my former college team’s major track meet back in February 2010, a teammate floated the idea of competing again. I laughed it off, thinking that my days on the track were truly over. However, the more time I spent on the decades-old Rizal Memorial Track Stadium, the more my legs itched for some high speed action!

In the end, the competitive urge was too much to resist. I’ve been training constantly ever since, hoping to run the century dash last 21 May. However, an unfortunate hamstring injury delayed my season opener by a good two months.

Track & Field in the Philippines is a vastly underfunded and much-ignored sport. Hence, the end of a track athlete’s college stint almost always means hanging up one’s spikes. There are no professional track clubs here. If a promising athlete wants to continue his/her running, jumping and throwing, qualifying for the national team or signing up for the armed services are the two most viable options.

With my PB in the 110 high’s far from the Olympic “B” standard (PB: 15.52s, 2/08), the privilege of being included in the national training pool is a far-off dream. With no honest-to-goodness track & field club in the Philippines, I must learn to fend for myself – juggling the demands of a looming quarter-life crisis, employment and chasing my lifelong dreams.

I have no other recourse but to train alone… to train as Han SOLO!

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