Tag Archives: isidro del prado

“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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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)

Alonzo Jardin: The Hurdling Artist

I had my first taste of national level competition back in May 2003. I was 17 years old, barely out of high school. I shaved off 1.44s off my personal best over the high hurdles, qualifying for the semis with a time of 17.55s. The 2003 Nationals was also the first time I encountered the Philippine national record holder for the sprint hurdles, Alonzo “Dudoy” Jardin.

More than 7 years since that day, my recollections are just vague flashbacks. But one instance stood out. At the dugout of the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I wished him the best of luck as he went head-to-head against Thailand’s Suphan Wongsriphuck, then Southeast Asia’s best sprint hurdler.

The Philippines is not known for its athletics tradition, much less the high hurdles. Aside from notable exceptions like Lydia de Vega-Mercado, Elma Muros-Posadas, Isidro del Prado and Marestella Torres, most of our athletes wilt under Asian-level competition. The Philippines’ last Olympic medals in athletics were won way back in the 1930’s (Miguel White in the 400m low hurdles and Simeon Toribio in the High Jump). Hence, it is not surprising that Dudoy’s 14.75s national record is light-years away from the Olympic “B” standard of 13.72s.

If I can choose one compatriot whom I look up to in the sprint hurdles, I can only name one – Alonzo Jardin. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate Coach Nonoy Unso’s hurdling prowess, but since I haven’t seen any footage of his best years, I cannot make an honest assessment of the athletics legend. The same reasoning applies to my mentor, national decathlon record holder Fidel Gallenero. Although he taught me the fundamentals of hurdling form, I haven’t seen him race.

In order for me to look up to someone – as a hurdler to another hurdler, I have to base my standards on more than just times and reputation.

Dudoy was different. Even if he shifted to the decathlon in the twilight of his competitive years, I had much respect for his hurdling technique. As a sprint hurdler myself, I put more importance in one’s efficiency of clearance than to brute sprinting power. Yes, the 110m high hurdles is a sprint race. But in order to fully appreciate this wonderful event, one must look at it beyond sprinting alone.

Hence, for me, hurdling is an art form. Everytime I watch Liu Xiang, Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson race clips, my jaws drop in awe at the symphony of speed. As a student of the event, I take much aesthetic pleasure from watching these great technicians demonstrate their craft.

In the past 10 years I spent as a sprint hurdler, Dudoy is – without a doubt – the best exemplar of the Filipino hurdling artist.

I had the privilege of racing the Filipino champion twice in my career. The first time was during the 2006 National Open. It was the finals of the sprint hurdles, Dudoy was at the lane beside mine.

I wound up a far fourth place (15.65s – a new PB) behind Romel of TMS Ship (15.1), Joemary Padilla (15.1) and Orlando Soriano (15.5s). It turned out that Dudoy didn’t even finish clearing the 1st hurdle, to save his legs for the grueling decathlon.

Months later, we went at it again. This time, he emphatically stamped his class, edging out Padilla of Mapua. I placed a distant 3rd (15.6). Dudoy ran a 15.1, if I’m not mistaken.

Emer Obiena and Fidel Gallenero once told me about an Australian trainer’s awe at learning that Dudoy is only a a high 14 second sprint hurdler. With his hurdling proficiency, the Australian reasoned, Dudoy should be running in the 13 seconds. Perhaps it was his lack of flat out speed (he ran the 100m in around 11.3 to 11.4). An Olympic-level hurdler should be able to run the 100m in at least 10.5s.

The last time I saw Dudoy was in 2009. I was in the midst of my first, ill-fated comeback. He was training again after tearing the ligaments in his knee after a freak javelin training incident.

Alonzo Jardin’s 14.75s national record is bound to be broken one of these days. The younger Unso has the most potential to reclaim the national mark of his illustrious father. In a country where athletes from the less popular sports tend to get marginalized, Jardin will probably be forgotten by the generations of tomorrow.

Writing this piece is the least I can do for a fellow hurdler. Never mind the results; never mind the accolades.

Alonzo Jardin is one of the best, if not the best, hurdling technicians this country of ours had ever produced.

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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