Category Archives: Henry Dagmil

“Jump-Starting Philippine Athletics” by Joboy Quintos

Hardly anyone ever remembers Simeon Toribio and Miguel White. Toribio was the dominant force in Asian high jumping back in the 1930’s, lording it over the old Far Eastern Games, the pre-cursor of today’s Asian Games. The Boholano won the Philippines’ first medal in athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, a bronze in the high jump. Four years later in Berlin, White emulated Toribio’s feat in the 400m low hurdles.

The Philippines is in the midst a running boom. Hardly a weekend goes by without a running event in the offing. A multitude of companies (from pharmaceuticals to bakeshops) utilize running events to better market their respective products. The past few years have seen the arrival of professional East African distance runners who regularly take part – and dominate – the cash-rich road races all over the country.

One can consider the running boom as just a fad. However, running has perhaps been embedded deeper than billiards, boxing and badminton. With the multitude of running events, surely, the running bug has afflicted quite a large number of citizens. Besides, running is a relatively cheap physical activity – if you don’t join those expensive races, that is. To get that addictive runner’s high, one only needs a good pair of shoes and comfy clothes. Running, apparently, is here to stay.

As an athletics junkie and a track athlete, I’ve often wondered how this exponential interest in running could trickle down to the other disciplines of the sport. After all, the far less popular track events are, in principle, similar to these road races. The object of a sprint race and a road race is simple: to reach the finish line in the shortest possible time. Despite vast differences in tactics, training, strategy and event rules, the ultimate objective remain fundamentally the same.

The sport has almost been completely neglected by the media, corporate sponsors and the general viewing public. An infusion of interest, trickling down from the running boom, could be the driving force for an athletics renaissance.

To illustrate the current state of Philippine athletics, the medal-winning performances of Toribio and White are still competitive against the current generation of track & field athletes. For instance, Toribio’s 1.97m leap, accomplished using the old-school straddle method, at the 1932 Olympic Games high jump final is still good enough for the top three at the 2011 Philippine National Games. Similarly, White’s 52.8s time in the low hurdles would wallop most of the country’s top-level intermediate hurdlers.

Aside from a resurgence in the Gintong Alay days and a brief revival in the early oughts, Philippine athletics has been on a sharp downtrend. Since those double bronze medals in the thirties, the best finish of a Filipino in the Olympic Games was Hector Begeo’s semi-finals appearance at the 3,000m steeplechase. Even the great Lydia de Vega and Isidro del Prado could only reach up to the second round.

Although our lean and mean athletics squad is fairly formidable in the Southeast Asian Games, they wither in higher-level competitions such as the Asian Games. Our last medal in the said quadrennial event came way back at the 1994 Hiroshima Games. The Olympic “A” and “B” standards for athletics are much too high for the majority of our track & field elite; hence, the country only sends a handful of wild card representatives.

With these forgettable performances, it is unsurprising that athletics, despite its status as the centerpiece of the Olympics, languishes in terms of popularity and funding.

It is unfortunate considering the huge amounts of talent our country has to offer. Despite our lack of an honest-to-goodness grassroots development program, hordes of young athletes crowd the Palarong Pambansa and the Batang Pinoy Games. The cream of the crop progresses to the country’s top universities. As these talents grow older, however, their ranks thin. Except for a talented few that joins the ranks of the national team or the Armed Forces, graduation almost always means retirement from the sport. Case in point is the Philippine National Games. Some senior events were held as a straight-off final, with the athletes barely going beyond eight in a heat. In the youth and junior competitions, qualifying heats could number up to four.

To make a living out of the sport is grossly inadequate, especially when the prospective elite athlete has to provide for one’s family. In light of the gap in terms of elite-level performance and our local talent, a sustainable career in the international professional athletics circuit is next to impossible.

Nevertheless, a schools-based sports system, albeit crude; exists for local track & field. A clubs-based system is imperative to lift the dismal standing of the sport. One can start from the existing Armed Forces teams. The multitude of companies that sponsor weekly road runs could perhaps invest in their respective corporate teams, similar to the commercial athletics squads in Japan, an Asian track & field powerhouse. Moreover, university teams could field their crack varsity teams bolstered by select alumni.

What the sport needs is a winning figure: a marketable, articulate athlete that can act as the lightning rod of attention for this neglected discipline. It doesn’t have to be at the same level as a Manny Pacquiao, Efren Reyes or Paeng Nepomuceno. Someone who excels at the Asian level (the Southeast Asian level is much too small) would be a viable candidate. Having a world-beater as a national icon would jump-start the lethargic sport.

A promising niche market, national interest and larger-than-life track & field star could perhaps provide the catalyst for an athletics boom in the Philippines. If countries like Jamaica (sprints), Cuba (jumps and hurdles), Kenya (distance running) and Ethiopia (distance running)– whose level of economic development is more or less comparable to our own – I see no reason for the Philippines to find its own niche in this medal-rich Olympic event.

The resurgence of athletics will not happen overnight. It will take generations to overhaul our highly politicized system to equip the Filipino athlete as a world-beater.

Each time I read about a promising provincial lad making waves in the Palarong Pambansa or see a bunch of kids exuberantly running laps around Ultra with their running-bug afflicted parents, the future of the sport looks bright. Perhaps some time in the not-too-distant future, a Filipino could once again stand on the coveted Olympic podium, this time with the “Lupang Hinirang” proudly playing in the background.

Article by Joboy Quintos

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Henry Dagmil takes the 10-for-10 Quiz

Henry Dagmil first came to national prominence at the 2004 Philippine National Open. The Mapua Institute of Technology alumnus, then 22 years old, eclipsed the long-standing record of 1936 Berlin Olympian Nino Ramirez. Dagmil flew to a distance of 7.83m in the long jump, beating the 68-year old record by 18 centimeters.

Dagmil at the 2012 Philippine National Games. (Photo by Ed Karell Gamboa/Pinoymiler/Moriel Carreon)

Since that definitive moment, Dagmil has been the Philippines top male long jumper, complementing Marestella Torres’ sterling record in the women’s event. He has competed at the world’s highest stage, representing the country at the Berlin and Daegu World Championships and at the Beijing Olympics.

Click here to view Henry’s photos with Darya Klishina

Dagmil has amassed an impressive collection of regional-level medals. In an international career spanning almost one decade, the Filipino champion had won two Southeast Asian Games long jump titles (2005, 2007), on top of silver (2011) and bronze (2009) medals. In front of hometown fans at the 2005 Manila SEA Games, Dagmil teamed up with the 100m/200m national record holder Ralph Soguilon, Arnold Villarube and Albert Salcedo, to win a 4x100m relay silver, setting a new national mark in the process.

Click here to read more articles about Henry Dagmil on Pinoymiler

Video from Jad Adrian

The two-time SEA Games long jump champion has a lifetime’s best of 7.99m from 2008.  However, the eight meter barrier – the mark of a truly world-class long jumper – has continued to elude Dagmil by the smallest of margins. Now 31-years old, Dagmil has until the 8th of July to go beyond the 8.10m Olympic “B” standard – and secure a ticket to London.

Dagmil has the knack for the unexpected. Prior to his record-breaking feat in 2004, he was actually left out of the national team because of injury. “When others might give up he let that catalyst make him stronger,” said Andrew Pirie, the Ernie Baron of Philippine athletics and Dagmil’s close friend.   “[Dagmil] came back in 2004 to wipe out the 68 year old national record in the long jump.”

1.) How did you get started with athletics?

[In] Grade4, I started [competing in the] 50m and long jump. I was 10 years old.

2.) What’s the most memorable moment of your athletics career?

The most memorable is [when] I  represented [the Philippines at the] Olympic Games.

3.) What is your life long dream?

To be successful in life, jump [beyond the] eight-meter barrier. And to be a national coach [who can] produce a world class athlete.

4.) Let’s lighten up a bit! What would you rather wear and why? Short shorts or tights?

I like Mizuno. [It looks] good on me. I prefer tights.

5.) What is your favorite sports movie?

Sports movie? Yung mga nagbibigay inpirasyon. Kahit anong movie basta maluluha ako. hehehe [I like inspiring movies. Any kind of film that makes me cry].

6.) What’s the best pump-up song of all-time?

Kahit anong song basta inspiring [Any song. As long as it’s inspiring].

7.) If you could spend the rest of your days at any place in the world, which place would you choose?

I’ll spend my time with [my] wife and my kids, because I’ve spent [half of my life] on my athletic career.

8.) What do you do in your free time?

Rest, sleep, watch a movie, call my wife [and] my son on the phone, [and surfing the] net.

9.) Name three things you just can’t live without:

Money, phone, and laptop.

10.) What advice would you give to the young athletes of today?

I want them [to] dream. Ask the Lord’s [help], to be patient and willing to sacrifice [a] normal life to become an Olympian.  [Not to] be a fool even [if] you [achieve the dream of being an] Olympian.

Additional Links:

IAAF biography

All-Athletics profile

Thoughts on the 26th SEA Games

I’ve been reading about the Philippine athletics results  in the ongoing 26th Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia. To date, Filipinos have won only two gold medals, courtesy of Marestella Torres (Gold, Women’s Long Jump) and Rene Herrera (Gold, Men’s 3,000m Steeplechase).  Other defending champions did not fare as well as Torres and Herrera, with the likes of Arniel Ferrera (Silver, Hammer Throw), Rosie Villarito (Silver, Javelin Throw) and Henry Dagmil, To the casual observer, the initial reaction would be one of disappointment. After all, two gold medals is way off the target of six set by the NSA president, Mr. Go Teng Kok.

Come to think of it, we’ve been relying on these marquee names for the past decade. Most of our top athletes are in their thirties. The sport demands much from one’s body. Hence, it is unsurprising to see the likes of former champions win silver medals, instead of golds. Considering the fact that athletics in the Philippines is a fringe sport, our sporting heroes should be lauded. Aside from lucrative, mainstream sports, being a Filipino athlete isn’t exactly the most lucrative of careers.

Despite missing the fighting target, it’s good to see young turks like Melvin Guarte and Archand Bagsit excelling in regional competition. The 20-year old Bagsit snatched the silver medal in the 400m dash, thanks to a blistering finish, on top of his 4x400m relay silver. Guarte, still a junior, won silver medals in the 800m and 1500m runs, setting national senior and junior records in the former.

Regardless of how disorganized our local athletics scene is, the exploits of our young athletes speak volumes about the enormous potential of Philippine track & field. Should the ills of athletics and Philippine sports be miraculously cured, expect the Filipino athlete excel not just in the Southeast Asian Games, but also in the world stage.

*Special thanks to Yell Carreon and Andrew “The Ernie Baron of Philippine Athletics” Pirie for the SEA Games updates

Additional Links:

Pinoymiler’s SEA Games articles

Jad Adrian’s SEA Games write-ups

Darya Klishina Дарья Клишина with the Filipino jumpers!

The Philippines’ top long jumper, Henry Dagmil, posted photos of him and Marestella Torres with none other than Darya KlishinaДарья Клишина !

 

Salamat sa litrato, Kuya Dags!

A Long Shot: Asian Hopes at the Daegu World Championships

The Daegu World Athletics Championships is just around the corner. South Korea will play host to the most prestigious gathering track & field athletes after the Olympic Games, the third time for an Asian country to do so.

Sprinter Usain Bolt, in light of his spectacular array of world records, is the undeniable front-act. Other crowd drawers are triple jumper Teddy Tamgho of France (a stress fracture prematurely ended Tamgho’s season, unfortunately), high jumper Blanka Vlasic and javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway. The Kenyan 800m runner David Rudisha, fresh from a slew of world records last season, is on the hunt to rewrite the two-lap mark once more. The sprints, as always, will provide fast-paced action as the rest of the world pits their sprinting might against the dominant Jamaicans and Americans.

Read the rest of the article on InTheZone.com.ph

The Philippine Asiad Athletics Campaign

The Philippine Amateur Track & Field Association (PATAFA), one of the country’s best-performing NSA’s sent a crack team of Southeast Asian Games champions in the likes of hammer thrower Arniel Ferrera, steeplechaser Rene Herrera and distance runner Eduardo Buenavista. Henry Dagmil, a near 8.00-meter long jumper, and javelin throwers Danilo Fresnido and Rosie Villarito, also competed.

The Rundown

The Philippines sent its best athletes, led by 2010 Asian long jump champion Marestella Torres, to the Guangzhou Asiad, only to come home empty-handed. The Philippine athletics medal drought continues, with the country’s best hope, Torres, losing the bronze medal on count back.

  • Marestella Torres (4th, Women’s long jump)
  • Henry Dagmil (6th, Men’s long jump)
  • Rosie Villarito (9th, Women’s javelin throw)
  • Arniel Ferrera (9th, Men’s hammer throw)
  • Danilo Fresnido (10th, Men’s javelin throw)
  • Rene Herrera (13th, Men’s 3,000m steeplechase)
  • Eduardo Buenavista (17th, Men’s marathon)

Read “Torres Lands 4th at the Asian Games”

Read Pinoymiler’s Asiad Day 2 round-up

Photo from Daylife and Zimbio

Aside from Torres, the closest to the medal standings was Dagmil at 6th place with his 7.45m leap. The Men’s long jump was won by South Korea’s Kim Deok-hyeon’s (김덕현). The Olympic and World Championships veteran was far from his lifetime best of 7.99m and his season’s best of 7.77m.

Read Pinoymiler’s Asiad Day 3 round-up

Read “South Korea’s Twin Long Jump Golds”

Photo from Zimbio and Getty Images

SEA Games hammer throw record-holder Arniel Ferrera placed 9th (58.06m). Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov topped the field with his 76.44m heave. Likewise, Herrera finished 13th in the 3,000m steeplechase despite stopping the clock at season’s best of 9:02.93. The event was won by Tareq Mubarak Taher (8:25.89), a Kenyan-born Bahraini.

Read Pinoymiler’s Asiad Day 1 round-up

Photos from Daylife and Getty Images

The ageless Danilo Fresnido threw the javelin to 70.35m, good enough for 10th. Japan’s 2009 World Championship bronze medalist Yukifumi Murakami 村上 幸史 dominated the competition with his 83.15m mark. On the distaff side, Rosie Villarito (48.87m) finished second to the last at the women’s javelin throw competition. Japan scored a golden double in the javelin with Ebihira Yuki’s winning heave of 61.56 m.

Read GMA7’s article on Asiad penultimate day

Read Pinoymiler’s article on the Asiad Javelin Throw and Marathon

Read Pinoymiler’s Asiad Day 4 round-up

Buenavista, the country’s long-time distance running ace, ran a puzzling if not utterly shocking race in the Men’s marathon (2:45.07), a far cry from his national record of 2:18.44. According to a report by the Manila Standard, Buenavista will be facing a PATAFA inquiry on his Asiad performance. (As an athlete myself – and a huge admirer of Vertek – I do not want to judge. Let us hear it from the man himself. For all we know, he could have been nursing an injury. Let us keep in mind that Vertek has competed with distinction for Flag and Country in countless other meets).

Post-mortem

SEA Games success does not automatically translate into Asian Games success. Save for Torres and Dagmil, the level of competition in the Asiad was simply too much for our best track & field athletes. The government and the private sector did not spend millions on our track & field athletes, unlike the Smart Gilas Basketball team which finished 6th overall Filipino track athletes, like most Filipino athletes not playing in the PBA or not named Manny Pacquiao, are marginalized. Our lone IAAF-accredited stadium is currently under renovation with much controversy. Even if Torres and Dagmil had training and competition stints abroad, our domestic jumping facilities pale in comparison with our Asian neighbors.

The rest of the Asiad athletics campaigners aren’t as well-supported like Torres and Dagmil.

Indeed, you reap what you sow.

With their circumstances in mind, I cannot in all honesty lay the blame on our athletes alone. In fact, I’m welling up with much admiration for those eight brave souls – to go against Asia’s best for one’s motherland is an honor accorded to so few!

But then again, the words of POC’s Romasanta (a former Gintong Alay official) sounds promising. He emphasized focus on medal rich sports like gymnastics, swimming and athletics. I am not lambasting the well-meaning support of Smart for the country’s national basketball program since like most Filipinos, I’m a basketball fanatic as well. I’m just hoping that some kind corporate entity back an honest-to-goodness athletics program, similar to golf’ and shooting’s respective grassroots development schemes.

I’m a firm believer that a million pesos spent in the course of an athlete’s years-long preparation is money well-spent than a million peso reward given after winning a SEA Games, Asian Games or Olympic Gold.

Sources:

Gma7 news

Pinoymiler

Gz2010.cn

Yahoo News

IAAF

Wikipedia

Torres lands 4th at the Asian Games

Ace Filipina long jumper, Marestella Torres, narrowly missed landing a podium finish at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. Torres made only one legal jump (her first round attempt of 6.49m), which was good enough for 4th place. The Filipino national record holder at 6.68m lost to the Ukzbekistani Heptathlon Champion, Yuliya Tarasova, on countback.

Photos from Daylife and Getty Images

South Korea’s Jung Soon-Ok 정순옥 won top honors with her modest 6.53m leap. The 2010 World Indoor Champion in the Triple Jump, Olga Rypakova, grabbed the silver (6.50m).

Photos from Daylife and Getty Images

Torres was tantalizingly close to becoming the first-ever Filipino track & field athlete to win an Asian Games medal since the legendary Elma Muros-Posadas’ long jump bronze in the 1994 Hiroshima Games. In fact, the powerfully-built long jumper held the lead for the first two rounds, before Rypakova (the Asian triple jump record holder at 15.25m!) bettered Torres’ leap by 1 cm. Torres is a three-time SEA Games long jump champion and the surprise winner in last year’s Asian Athletics Championships.

Watch the ABS-CBN feature on Torres

According to a Manila Bulletin article, Torres twisted her ankle in the 2nd round.

Read the Manila Bulletin article here

Read the Inquirer article here

With Torres’ heartbreaking 4th place finish, the last Filipino hope for an athletics medal is long jumper Henry Dagmil. The long jump is an unpredictable event. In the event where the word “Beamonesque” was coined, anything can happen. Unless you’re a Carl Lewis, rock-hard consistency is hard to come by.

The competition could have gone both ways. Had Maris made a legal jump in one of those failed  attempts, she could have won gold! A 4th place finish is a respectable result nonetheless.  We’re proud of you Maris! Your time will come!

Additional link

Long Jump results

Liu Xiang (刘翔) and the Asian Games

Since it’s Asian Games time again, I couldn’t help but watch  Liu Xiang’s 刘翔 gold medal-winning performances in Busan and Doha.  The 2002 Busan race was memorable. I was just starting out with the sport. I became an instant Liu Xiang fan once I saw him race! I even recorded the event on VHS; hence the grainy format.

Read my “Sidekicks” post on Liu Xiang

2002 Busan Asian Games – 110m High Hurdles (from Todor Krastev):

  1. Liu Xiang 刘翔 (CHN) – 13.27s
  2. Satoru Tanigawa (JPN) – 13.83s
  3. Park Tae-Kyong 박태경 (KOR) – 13.89s
  4. Dongpeng Shi    史冬鹏 CHN    13.92s
  5. Mubarak Atah    SAR    14.07s
  6. Mohammed Aissa Al-Thawadi    QAT    14.26s
  7. Mohd Faiz Mohammed    MAS    14.57s
  8. Jung-Ho Lee    KOR    14.61s
Satoru Tanigawa of Japan was a far second, almost six hundredths of a second behind the then 19-year Liu Xiang. 18-year old Shi Dong Peng 史冬鹏 – the other half of the high hurdling Chinese duo – dropped out of contention for the medals after he clipped a hurdle. 2002 was the year Liu Xiang broke Renaldo Nehemiah’s world junior record, when the latter stopped the clock at 13.12s (over senior hurdles, not the junior ones!) in Lausanne, Switzerland.Fast-forward four years later in the Doha edition of the Asiad. Liu Xiang is now a household name in China, with world championship bronze and silver medals, an Olympic gold and a world record (12.88s, also set in Lausanne) to his name.

Liu was a monster in the race. He was a lot quicker in between hurdles; his technical proficiency was at a different level. Liu was the epitome of the complete sprint hurdler. Now 23-year old, Liu was approaching the peak of his physical fitness. The winning margin was not as glaring as in 2002, since Shi Dong Peng is a decent hurdler in his own right. Liu clocked 13.15s as he practically jogged to the tape once the victory was his. Big Shi ran a respectable 13.28s, one-hundredths of a second off Liu’s winning time four years ago.
2006 Doha Asian Games – 110m High Hurdles (from Wikipedia)
  1.     Liu Xiang (CHN) – 13.15s
  2.     Shi Dong Peng (CHN) – 13.28s
  3.     Naito Masato (JPN) – 13.60s
  4.     Park Tae-Kyong (KOR) – 13.67s
  5.     Tasuku Takonaka (JPN) – 13.88s
  6.     Mohammed Essa Al-Thawadi (KSA) – 13.89s
  7.     Lee Jung-Joon (KOR) – 13.91s
  8.     Hassan Mohd Robani (MAS) – 14.04s
Comparing the results of the two editions, one can see the dramatic increase in the level of competition. If the 2002 silver medalist, Tanigawa (13.83s) ran in Doha, he would have placed a dismal fifth! Perhaps the improvement in the quality of performances can be attributed to Liu Xiang’s rise to the top – and the subsequent emergence of the sprint hurdles as the centerpiece event in Asian athletics.Under much criticism, Liu was given a “free pass” to the Guangzhou Asian Games. The 2004 Olympic Champion was allowed to miss the national championships, in light of his recovery from his troublesome Achilles. I personally believe that an athlete of Liu’s stature should be given this special treatment. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve the extra lee-way. Despite all the challenges, I wish the best for my idol!

Also, godspeed to all the Filipino athletes competing in the 2011 Asiad, especially the tracksters – Arniel Ferrera (Hammer Throw), Mariz Torres (Long Jump), Henry Dagmil (Long Jump), Rosie Villarito (Javelin Throw), Danilo Fresnido (Javelin Throw), Rene Herrera (Steeplechase) and Eduardo Buenavista (Marathon).

Additional links:

Roman Šebrle: Decathlete Extraordinaire

One of my favorite world records is Roman Sebrle’s 9,026 points in the Decathlon. Sebrle is the only man ever to have gone above the 9,000 point barrier in the grueling 10-discipline, 2-day event. His countryman Tomas Dvorak (8,994), Dan O’Brien (8,891) and the legendary Daley Thompson (8,847) went tantalizingly close to breaking the barrier, but only the indefatigable Roman Sebrle himself was able to achieve this momentous milestone.

I’ve always admired and envied the multi-events. Admired – since they had to learn 10 disciplines, contributing to a holistic experience of the sport. Envied – because among all the events in athletics, the decathlon is without a doubt the most grueling and draining. Decathletes (and heptathletes) are “the world’s greatest athletes,” as King Gustav V of Sweden told the 1912 Olympic Champion, Jim Thorpe.

The elite level decathletes (and heptathletes) are the most impressive of all, needless to say. With their mastery of the 10 disciplines (or 7), the best times of a particular world-class decathlete can rival or even exceed the respective, individual national records of a small country like the Philippines. In Sebrle’s mythical 9,026 point performance, his 8.11m leap in the long jump and his 13.92s time in the 110m high hurdles  are better than the current Philippine records of 7.99m (Henry Dagmil) and 14.76s (Alonzo Jardin), respectively.

In terms of overall personal bests, Sebrle’s best clearance of 5.20m in the Pole Vault exceeds Edward Lasquette’s 5.00m vault. Likewise, the Czech’s farthest throw in the shot put, 16.47m, is better than Bruce Ventura’s 15.83m Philippine record.

Naturally, the Philippines’ best decathlete, my former coach Fidel Gallenero (6,963), was light years away from the standards of Sebrle.

If for some far-fetched reason, Sebrle switched allegiance to the Philippine flag at his prime, he could have set at least 5 national records in one decathlon!

Sebrle is without a doubt a legend in athletics. Even at 35 years old, Sebrle is far from retired, having competed at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Championships. Being the elder statesman of the sport and his event, Sebrle is a role model for track athletes of all ages and ability.

And he can belch out a mean song number too, endearing the 2004 Olympic Champion to this karaoke aficionado!

Additional link:

Wiki

Video Credits:

throweraustria

411babylon

jezzevcik

The 4x100m relay: Where Underdogs Thrive

Track & field is an individual sport. There is some measure of teamwork in the distance events, where packs of runners can stay together throughout the entire race (like Flying Finns of the olden days) or follow a designated pace maker for particular stretches. But in the end, an athlete’s result for a particular event is credited only to the effort of one. The team aspect of the relays sets it aside from the other disciplines. Passing the baton from one sprinter to the other makes for an exciting spectacle. The speed involved makes little room for error, where the slightest mistake in timing and release could spell the difference between triumph and defeat.

Perhaps that is why the relays are traditionally held at the latter parts of an athletics competition. It is a fitting finale to the showcase of speed, strength and endurance that is track & field.

It is in the explosive 4x100m relay where an underrated quartet can overcome a faster set of opponents through slick passing. Unlike its longer counterpart, the 4x400m relay, the underdog squad can overcome glaring differences in aggregate speed at the shorter race. Whereas in the longer relay, the most dominant force in the quarter-mile, the Americans, almost always reign supreme.

2008 Beijing Olympics

My favorite relay race of all is the 2008 Beijing Olympics 4x100m relay, where the indefatigable Nobuharo Asahara anchored the Japanese team to an unprecedented bronze (38.15s).

Japan has always been a consistent qualifier to the 400m relay finals (4th – 2004, 6th – 2000, 6th – 1992, 5th – 1932); it was about time the Japanese won something big on the Olympic athletics stage. This proves that Asians, with the proper combination of fortunate circumstances and great teamwork, can distinguish themselves in the elite sprinting ranks.

And yeah, need I say more about the Usain Bolt-led Jamaican relay world record?

2002 Busan Asian Games

Thailand’s 2002 Busan Asian Games 4x100m victory is another favorite. The smooth-passing of the Thais (38.82s) overcame the advantage of the Japanese team (38.90s) in terms of aggregate speed. It’s important to note that Thailand’s fastest sprinter at that time was Reeanchai “Ultraman” Seeharwong at 10.23s. The other members weren’t as impressive:

The Japanese, in contrast, had near 10-flat sprinters in Asahara (10.02) and Shingo Suetsugo (10.05s in 2002, 10.03s lifetime best). The other two members have faster personal bests than the Thais:

On paper, the Japanese squad was the favorite. However, an underrated Thai team overcame the stark differences in aggregate speed with their flawless baton exchanges.

2004 Athens Olympics

The formidable American quartet of Shawn Crawford (9.88 – 2004), Justin Gatlin (9.85s – 2004), Coby Miller (9.98s – 2002) and Maurice Greene (9.79s – 1999) lost to the British by a hair’s breadth, thanks to the former’s faulty baton passing – a fixture in American relay races. On paper, the Brits were a lot slower than the Americans.

With a generous splattering of Olympic gold medalists and former/current/future century dash record holders in the American lineup, the gold medal was theirs to lose. And they lost it by the infinitesimal of margins, with Lewis-Francis edging out the fast-finishing Greene, 38.07s to 38.08s.

Among the aforesaid underdog feats, the most impressive (Asian bias aside!) in terms of performance, glamor and glitter would have to be the Great Britain’s 2004 upset win. Whereas the 2008 Japanese relay quartet won bronze with both the American and British teams disqualified prior to the final, the 2004 British quartet overcame a loaded U.S. squad composed of 3 Olympic gold medalists and marquee names in sprinting.

A decent enough aggregate speed and slick baton passing is imperative for a world-beating relay team. Although the traditional sprinting powerhouse, the United States, is well-endowed with prolific sprinters, baton passing has been an eternal thorn since American sprinters are a diverse group of athletes, spread among a vast country. As Shawn Crawford said during an interview, practicing baton exchanges becomes a difficult in light of the varying schedules and locales.

A much smaller country like Britain, Japan and Thailand could muster more frequent training sessions. From what I’ve heard, the Thailand team practically lived together as a team. The Japanese team, similarly, are a tightly bonded lot, as exhibited by the emotional farewell they gave to their long-time ace sprinter, Asahara.

The current Philippine national record stands at 40.55s, set during the 2005 Manila Southeast Asian Games where Philippine 100m/200m dash record holder Ralph Soguilon (10.45s), Albert Salcedo, Long Jump record holder Henry Dagmil and decathlete Arnold Villarube won silver. If the Philippines can assemble a formidable array of mid- to low-10 second sprinters and perfect the baton exchange, surely, a sub-40 clocking is a possibility.

Rizal renovation leaves track & field athletes homeless

The PSC is converting the historic Rizal Memorial Track & Field Stadium for football use. The news of the tie-up with DLSU came out months ago, so I was not really surprised at the turn of events. From what I heard from people, the field will no longer be used for the throwing and jumping events. The 8-lane track would temporarily be closed to the national team athletes and the general public to make way for the renovation.

There are conflicting views on the issue. Apparently, the long-standing feud between the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee plays a central part.

Note: Another issue in question is the proposed commercial complex beneath the bleachers. Since Rizal is an art deco gem, new additions to the stadium’s original design naturally goes against its general architectural theme.

As a track & field man who traces his roots in this once grand stadium, I’m engulfed by a certain sense of sadness. After all, I ran my first ever sprinting and hurdle races in Rizal. The most memorable moments of my young life took place in that very stadium.

History

Built for the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games (now the Asian Games), Rizal, as its habitues simply call it, has hosted all of the major international events held in the Philippines, the most recent of which is the 2005 Manila SEA Games. Years ago, while reading about the exploits of the 1932 Olympic High Jump Bronze Medallist, Simeon Toribio, the stadium was the constant milieu, the ever-present backdrop of Toribio’s inspiring life story. Philippine track & field greats like Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros-Posadas and Isidro del Prado competed with distinction on the 70-year old track. Blurry photographs of yore evoke feelings of nostalgia for a time long lost.

Jampacked Rizal. Sea Games 2005.

Despite the disrepair, the leaking roof and the relatively cramped confines, Rizal is a stadium us Filipinos can be proud of.

Rizal has nurtured generations of Filipino athletes – Filipino track & field athletes. For those athletes, myself included, Rizal is more than just a training facility or a place of competition – it is something akin to a home away from home.

Jumpers and throwers – permanently displaced

The conversion of Rizal into a football-specific stadium would temporarily displace the multitude of young track & field athletes based in Manila, in light of the capital’s lack of athletics facilities. The jumpers and throwers would suffer in the long run. It’s unfortunate to think that the Philippines’ ace long jumpers, Henry Dagmil and Marestella Torres, would lose their home track. Dagmil, the current national record holder at 7.99m, broke Nino Ramirez’s 75-year old long jump record at the National Open held in Rizal in 2003. Both Dagmil and Torres scored a long jump double for the Philippines in Rizal, during the 2005 Manila SEA Games.

Likewise, many time SEA Games Hammer Throw Gold medallist, Arniel Ferrera, would have to shift training bases to either Baguio or Ultra. However, throwing in the cramped confines of Philsports poses some sort danger to the multitude of joggers who frequent the Pasig oval.

More importantly, the current crop of youngsters would bear the most sacrifice. Public school students who flock to Rizal during the PATAFA weekly relays would have to make do with the substandard jumping pit in Ultra. The elementary and high school students from populous Manila would have to bear the brunt of extra travel time as well.

Win-win situation for both Football and Track

I have no arguments against the PSC’s goal of promoting the beautiful game. But please, don’t accomplish the latter at the expense of track & field. Manila only has three synthetic tracks open to public use* – Marikina Stadium, Philsports, and Rizal. Marikina has an abominable asphalt bike lane at the inner lanes while Philsports has a shorter-than-usual 110m starting line, certain uneven areas on the track and a badly-maintained jumping pit. Of the three, only Rizal barely meets international track & field standards.

I’m not espousing a black and white, all-or-nothing approach. Football is a fine sport where Filipinos once reigned supreme in the Asian ranks. I’d love to see the next Paulino Alcantara strut his football wares on the world stage. But then again, one cannot disregard the fact that our track & field squad has contributed its fair share to national glory. In light of our country’s shoestring sports budget, a win-win situation between should be reached.

Consider the example of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium. It underwent renovation a few years back. The centerpiece of Hitler’s Olympics hosted the 2006 World Cup for football and the 2009 World Championships for track & field. It currently serves as the home stadium of a Bundesliga squad and as a venue for various track & field meets.

The following line of Quinito Henson’s column seems promising enough: “The school will also be responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the football field and track oval, amenities and equipment during its use of the facility for varsity practices, tournaments, physical education classes and fitness activities.”

But the wording from a Manila Times article evokes fear in this track & field fanatic: “PSC Chairman Harry Angping and the De La Salle University (DLSU) community assured on Friday they would push through the transformation of Rizal track oval to a world-class football field.

The Philippine Olympic Committee has opposed the PSC’s renovation plans, according to this Inquirer article. I’ll be eagerly anticipating updates on this issue. Let’s just hope our bickering officials resolve their differences and work towards the betterment of Philippine sports.

For now, unless the Philsports/Ultra Oval’s sub-standard facilities undergo a face lift or an entirely new track stadium is constructed, Filipino track athletes – especially those competing in the field events – will be left marginalized and homeless.

* – The newly-constructed University of Makati Oval is for the exclusive use of UMak students only, except for a short two-hour window each morning.

Additional Links:

Quinito’s article

Inquirer article

Manila Times article

Ian Velasco’s blog post (about the renovation going against Rizal’s art deco design)

Photo credits:

Carlo Ricohermoso

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