Tag Archives: Athletics

“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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Pascal Behrenbruch and Dolph Lundgren

As a big fan of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” series, I could not help but notice similarity between the German decathlete Pascal Behrenbruch and the Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, who played the unforgettable Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.

 

Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Gage Skidmore

The German champion is one of the world’s best decathletes. After two consecutive finals appearances in the World Championships (2009 and 2011), the 1.96m-tall German won the European Championships gold in Helsinki last July. He amassed an impressive 8,558 -point personal best to clinch the gold medal. However, his Olympic debut was fraught with disappointment as he failed to match his Helsinki standard. Behrenbruch could only finish in 10th place in London.

If athletics were more like professional basketball, where players take on colorful nicknames, “Ivan Drago” or “Drago” would be appropriate!

Philippine Athletics at the Olympic Games: 1924 – 2012

Athletics competition is simple. The athletes who run the fastest, throw the farthest, and leap the highest (and longest) win. The victors are determined by the stopwatch and the measuring tape; their triumphant efforts immortalized in the annals of history.

Back in my college athletics days, I found inspiration in the feats of past Olympic champions. In the subsequent years, I consumed as much Olympic- and athletics-related material as possible. I’ve written quite a lot of articles about those champions from foreign lands, but when it came to my countrymen, I knew next to nothing.

One can argue that most of the past Filipino Olympic performances in athletics are forgettable. Track & field only takes centerstage every four years, so who remembers those who came in, say, 49th place?

Hence, I’ve compiled a list of all Filipino track & field Olympians since the 1924 Amsterdam Olympics, the first time our country took part in the quadrennial event. To be an Olympian is an achievement in itself. And I’m quite certain that statistical results and overall rankings are inadequate measures of one’s struggle just to be able to compete at the world’s highest stage.

I hope that this list would prod other Filipinos to read up on our past sporting champions – to look beyond the numbers – since each and every name in this list has a unique story. This is my small contribution in honoring their efforts for Flag and Country.

Note: This is still a work in progress. Please message me for corrections.

Philippine Athletics at the Olympic Games

Sources:

  1. “Athletics at the Summer Olympics.” (Wikipedia, 26 August 2012). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_Summer_Olympics (27 August 2012)
  2. “Official Olympic Reports.” (LA84 Foundation, 2012). http://www.aafla.org/5va/reports_frmst.htm (27 August 2012)
  3. “Philippine Olympians: 1924 – 2004.” (Philippine Olympic Committee, 19 November 2004). http://www.olympic.ph/pdf/olympians.pdf (27 August 2012)
  4. “Philippines.” (Sports Reference, 2012). http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/countries/PHI/ (27 August 2012)
  5. Todor Krastev, “Sports Statistics – International Competition Archive.” (Sports Statistics, 26 August 2012). http://todor66.com/ (27 August 2012)

Bleasdale vs. Isinbayeva

Pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva (Елена Исинбаева) always makes her first jump when everyone else had made theirs. The Russian usually isolates herself from the other competitors, opting to cover her face with a towel and nap. British Olympic hopeful Holly Bleasdale was not amused. She called Isinbayeva “disrespectful” and likened her to a “tramp.”

Click here to read the full article…

Saudi Arabia’s First Female Olympians

This is historic. Saudi Arabia will be sending two female athletes to the London Olympics. The oil-rich Middle Eastern kingdom was the last to heed the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) moves to end sexual discrimination in sport, following Qatar and Brunei. Judoka Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and middle distance runner Sarah Attar will the first Saudi female Olympians.

Click here to read the full article…

Talksports: Boring Sports Made Fun

This clip by TalkSport is tremendously funny. Watch how they enliven sports like equestrian, snooker, and golf with such heartfelt commentary!

Snapshots from London 2012

In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, and broadband connections, it is a lot easier to be a sports fan. One can subscribe to their favorite athlete on Twitter and Facebook, and get instantaneous updates straight from those sports personalities. Social media work hand-in-hand with traditional media to create a multi-dimensional sporting experience.

Olympian Rene Herrera and journalist Ed Lao share some of their photos from the hustle and bustle of faraway London.

For more London 2012 updates, please subscribe to Rene Herrera’s Facebook page.

Ed Lao, Rene Herrera, Marestella Torres, and Joseph Sy. (Photo from Ed Lao)

Philippines reprezent! Rene proudly sports his Hypersports shirt as Jasmine Alkhaldi flaunts her PH credentials. (Photo from Rene Herrera)

The Philippine delegation with members of the Filipino community. (Photo from Rene Herrera)

Team Philippines enjoying a sumptuous Filipino meal. (Photo from Rene Herrera)

Marestella Torres looking relaxed, despite the gloomy weather! (Photo from Rene Herrera)

Rene Herrera is all smiles as the Olympic Games draw near. (Photo from Rene Herrera)

Hoping for the Best

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

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)

London Olympics Preview: The High Jump

The high jump, as with all technical events, is a tough event to call. In this article, I’ll be doing my utmost best to provide the facts and make a sound judgment on my predictions for the upcoming London Olympic Games.

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

Women’s High Jump

Anna Chicherova Анна Чичерова (2.02m SB, 2012 world leader) is the hands down favorite for the Olympic title. The Russian has figured in the top three of all major championships since 2007, crowning her gradual rise with the world title in Daegu, in an epic duel with archrival Vlašić. The once dominant Croatian has taken a low profile since the 2011 world championships, opting to skip the indoor season.

 

Chicherova (L) and Lowe (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

Chaunté Lowe (1.98m SB in 2012), the American record holder and the 2012 World Indoor Champion, has shown fine form this year. So has Svetlana Shkolina (Светлана Школина), who has recently cleared a new outdoor personal best of 2.00m in Eugene. The defending Olympic champion, Tia Hellebaut, has gradually recovered her old winning form since making a comeback from pregnancy and retirement. To date, the Belgian has a season’s best of 1.96m.

    

Hellebaut (L), Di Martino (C), and Friedrich (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and InsaneDesign)

Chicherova is my pick to win the London Olympic gold medal. She has played bridesmaid for so long. At 29-years old and having played bridesmaid for so long. London should be the Russian’s playground – and the crowning glory of an illustrious career. In the battle for the minor medals, Lowe is ahead of the pack. Hellebaut, should she recover her old form, and the evergreen Antonietta Di Martino have strong chances to land a podium spot – although beating Chicherova and Lowe seem far-fetched.

The in-from Shkolina, a resurgent Emma Green-Tregaro, or the comebacking Ariane Friedrich might spring a surprise.

Vlašić’s recovery from an ankle injury has been hampered by a bacterial infection; hence, she remains “doubtful” for the London games, according to news reports.

The Croatian, with a personal best of 2.08m from 2009, trails only world record holder Stefka Kostadinova in the all-time list. Chicherova is fourth in the list, with her 2.07m clearance in Cheboksary last year. Friedrich, recovering from a torn achilles’ tendon, has a classy personal best of 2.06m from 2009. Lowe (2010) and Hellebaut (2008) have identical best marks of 2.05m. Di Martino has a lifetime’s best of 2.03m (2007).

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Anna Chicherova

Silver:  Chaunte Lowe

Bronze: Tia Hellebaut/Antonietta Di Martino/Ariane Friedrich

Men’s High Jump

In the past three editions of the World Championships, the women’s high jump top three was spread amongst just four women (Chicherova, Vlasic, Di Martino and Friedrich). Whereas, in the men’s competition, eight different athletes figured in the top ranks (Williams, Dmitrik, Barry, Rybakov, Iaonnou, Spank, and Bednarek). Unlike the women’s event, the battle for men’s gold is wide open.

The United Kingdom’s fast-improving Robert Grabarz is currently in pole position, with his world-leading 2.33m clearance from the Rome Diamond League. The American Ricky Robertson (2.32m) and the surprise 2012 World Indoor Champion, Dimítrios Chondrokoúkis Δημήτρης Χονδροκούκης  (2.32m), round up the next two. The World Champion from Daegu, Jesse Williams, has a season’s best of 2.31m.

 

Williams (L) and Rybakov (R). Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

To date, the highest ranked Russian is the mercurial Ivan Ukhov (Ива́н У́хов). Expect the other members of the crack Russian high jump corps (Aleksey Dmitrik Алексей Дмитрик, Yaroslav Rybakov Ярослав Рыбаков, Aleksandr Shustov Александр Шустов, and Andrey Silnov Андрей Сильнов) to turn in impressive marks as the their country’s outdoor season unfolds. The Bahamian Trevor Barry, the Bahraini youngster, Mutaz Essa Barshim, and Chondrokoúkis, are also prime contenders for a spot on the podium. Silnov is the defending champion from Beijing.

   

Ukhov (L), Dmitrik (C), and Chondrokoúkis (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

In terms of outdoor personal bests, Silnov leads the pack with 2.38m from 2008. Williams is a 2.37m (2011) jumper at his best. Ukhov (2010), Dmitrik (2011), and Shustov (2011) has each sailed above 2.36m.

With such a lineup – and with no hands-down dominant force – selecting a definite top three is terribly difficult.  In light of the depth of talent, anyone could rise to the ocassion and crown himself Olympic champion. Barring any unforseen hitches, Williams, an experienced international campaigner and the reigning world champion, should have a slight advantage over the others.

I’m banking on a narrow Grabarz win over Williams and the rest of the Russians.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Robbie Grabarz

Silver:  Jesse Williams

Bronze: The Russians (Ukhov, Dmitrik, Shustov, Andrey Silnov)/Dimítrios Chondrokoúkis

Sources:

2008 Beijing Olympics Results

2011 World Championships Results

2009 World Championships Results

2007 World Championships Results

2012 World Indoor Championships Results

2010 World Indoor Championships Results

IAAF Top List – 2012 Men’s High Jump

IAAF Top List – 2012 Women’s High Jump

The Champions of Tomorrow

The Philippine sporting scene is mostly patterned after the United States model. Athletes develop from the grassroots level to the collegiate ranks. Academic institutions play a major part in honing our sporting champions, unlike the club and sport school systems in Europe. Education takes precedence over sports, since a professional sporting career is a rarity outside the Four B’s: Basketball, Bowling, Billiards and Boxing.

The Leyte Sports Academy is a unique institution. It adheres to a special sports curriculum of the Department of Education. Established in 2010, it provides secondary school education to athletically-gifted students. A feature by Jessica Soho’s “Kapuso Mo” show provides a glimpse of the LSA’s novel approach to education and sports. Student-athletes wake up before dawn to train for their respective discplines: athletics, swimming and boxing.

My high school coach, Edward Sediego, handles the athletics program of LSA.

Read: “Leyte Sports Academy, a first of its kind”

The LSA shoulders the costs of the students’ food and sporting equipment needs, as well board & lodging. In fact, the living quarters of the student-athletes are perched right on top of the classrooms. The training facilities are sufficient by Philippine standards. An Olympic-sized swimming pool, a boxing gym and an athletics stadium are easily accesible. However, as shown by Soho’s feature, some of the most vital training equipment like boxing gloves are quite worn out.

The choice of sports is a noteworthy move. The Philippines has won nine Olympic medals since its first appearance at the 1924 Paris Games. All of these medals came from boxing (2 silvers, 3 bronzes), athletics (2 bronzes) and swimming (2 bronzes). Our country came tantalizingly close to winning its first Olympic Gold medal in 1964 and 1996, where Anthony Villanueva and Onyok Velasco lost closely-fought bouts, respectively. Athletics and swimming are medal-rich events, where Filipinos have achieved some measure of success, albeit in the distant past.

The Filipino sporting potential in those three sports are huge – the prospects for much-bigger international success is astounding, considering our young population of one hundred million.

This early, LSA students have reaped success in national level competitions like the Batang Pinoy Games and the Palarong Pambansa. John Smith struck silver at the Batang Pinoy boxing competition last year. Vivencio Cabias emulated Smith’s feat, as he cleared 3.11m in the pole vault, en route to silver medal at the recently concluded Palarong Pambansa.

The LSA, with its unique, scientific, and holistic approach to grassroots sports development has taken the concept of the Filipino student-athlete several leaps forward. This no-nonsense focus on honing one’s skills, while maintaing certain academic standards, is unparalleled. It gives the LSA students a definite competitive advantage  as they progress from the grassroots level to the collegiate, and ultimately the elite ranks.

The youth of today are the champions of tomorrow.

Thoughts on the 2012 Palarong Pambansa Coverage

I must admit that I’ve never felt the Palarong Pambansa (the Philippines’ premiere elementary and secondary National Championships) vibe – until now. This is understandable, considering the fact that I had just hung up my spikes. Prolonged exposure to anything athletics-related (and to smart/eloquent/sporty news correspondents!) might result in a sudden change of heart. More importantly, I did not get the chance to compete in the Palaro back in high school (with my then measly personal best, I would have wilted under top notch competition).

In the past few years, I’ve read many news articles about the Palaro – often with an air of disinterest. This year’s coverage of the grassroots sporting event has improved exponentially. For a general overview of the Palaro, I turn to the Rappler. And since I’m an athletics man to the core, I satisfy my track & field fix from the blog Pinoymiler and the official Facebook page of the Philippine Amateur Track & Field Association (PATAFA).

1.) Rappler:

Kudos to Maria Ressa’s “The Rappler” for its far-reaching coverage of the games. The Rappler’s sizable online footprint (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube) makes it a potent force in media. If I am not mistaken, this is the most extensive media coverage of the Palaro to date.

2.) Pinoymiler:

The hardworking guys of Pinoymiler have been providing timely updates about the centerpiece athletics events. Airnel Abarra, the lone Pinoymiler member in Lingayen, has continuously turned in incisive reports on the various disciplines. Such detailed, sport-specific accounts are invaluable. Pinoymiler’s updates and photos are posted real-time.

3.) PATAFA:

As they say, two is better than one. National team coach Roselyn Hamero has been tediously posting the results of each heat, qualifying round and final event in the athletics competition, through the PATAFA Facebook page. Like Pinoymiler, the scanned, handwritten results are posted in real-time. Video clips of the events are also available.

Even if I’m stuck in the air-conditioned confines of my Makati office, I get constant news feeds from these three outfits. It’s the closest I’ll get to being in the thick of action. To all the participants of the Palarong Pambansa, godspeed!

Thank you to the Rappler!

I have much respect for Maria Ressa’s Rappler. It’s a no-nonsense approach to journalism, devoid of the sensationalist streaks rampant in today’s local news outfits.

While checking my blog stats a while back, I noticed that some of my blog hits came from one of favorite internet news sources. It turns out that a certain Mr. Jonathan Baldoza quoted one of my old blog posts to a Rappler article entitled “Athletics: The Sport That Started it All.”

Coming in the wake of my recent retirement from the sport I hold dear, Baldoza’s article bears a subtle tinge of irony. Despite the end of my competitive days – and my athletics dreams – it is heartwarming to know that people actually read the stuff I write.

Perhaps there really is hope for Philippine athletics, no matter how minute.

Athletics and Belle & Sebastian

A few years back, I was searching the old Gnutella P2P network for track & field songs. I stumbled upon Belle & Sebastian’s “The Stars of Track & Field.” Frankly speaking, I did not like it. I found the vocals and the guitar strumming quite puzzling. The song was too laid back – too deep, even!

For years, the song languished in my hard drive. I couldn’t bear to listen to it, finding the music and lyrics boring. Soon enough, I’ve developed a liking for the Scottish band. The turning point came when I listened to “Write About Love” (the actress Carey Mulligan was featured on vocals). Hell, it was catchy! A lot more fun-sounding than”Stars of Track & Field.”

I’ve downloaded a bunch of Belle & Sebastian albums a few days back, stumbling upon another athletics-oriented song, “The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner.”

Years after I ignored the band, I can now say that I’m a convert. The soft vocals, the oft-poignant lyrics and the mellow melodies had that hypnotic feel. It was like listening to the mythical Pied Piper of Hamelin, so to speak. A Movies and songs about the sport, save for the iconic “Chariots of Fire” and “Hey There, Delilah,” are a rarity. Belle & Sebastian has two – not just one! – songs about the sport that we love.

From budding running enthusiasts, grizzled athletics veterans to middle distance runners, you might want to include the aforesaid songs in your playlists!

Olympic Non-Participation

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.

Sunday Morning Thoughts (2 October 2011)

During last Sunday’s training session in Moro, I chanced upon a professional basketball team working out. I couldn’t help but look at the millionaires with certain tinge of envy.

In the hierarchy of Philippine sports, the cagers are at the very top. Basketball players get paid a maximum of Php 420,000.00 while the rookies earn a maximum of Php Php 180,000.00 – excluding won-game bonuses. For this part-time sprint hurdler with a full-time day job, such amounts are staggering. Being corporate-sponsored teams, the players get top-of-the-line coaching and strength & conditioning to say the least. The fact that they get to play the sport they love for hard cash seems like a pretty good deal, albeit with the caveat of relatively short career spans.

The opportunity to take part as a professional athlete is an interesting, if not utterly impossible prospect. It’s nothing but a pipe dream, since I’m nearing twenty-six years old. There are no corporate athletics teams in the Philippines. I only have a few years left before my body succumbs to aging. Reality bites. I honestly don’t see myself competing in the European big leagues in such short a time span.

Irregardless, I won’t hang up my spikes any time soon. Despite being an amateur in every sense of the word, I’ll continue to soldier on. The most unexpected things happen in the realm of sports. Who knows? Maybe one day I can live the dream, should the stars align and the moon shine brightly enough.

Until then, I’ll be doing my utmost best to work within these circumstances – hoping for the best and working to be the best.

“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” – Emil Zatopek

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