Tag Archives: lydia de vega

“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

10-for-10: Katherine Kay Santos

Despite the peaks and troughs of the Philippine athletics scene, Filipino women have competed with distinction in the long jump for more than two decades. Since Elma Muros-Posadas’ maiden long jump win in the 1989 edition of the Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines had fallen short of the title only once. The last Filipino to win an Asian Games medal was the evergreen Muros-Posadas in 1994. Marestella Torres emphatic win at the 2009 Asian Championships was the most high-profile achievement of a Filipino track & field in recent memory.

Photo from PATAFA/Roselyn Hamero

Katherine Kay Santos is poised to become the next best Filipino long jumper. The Baguio-based Santos is currently fifth in the Women’s Long Jump All-Time List (compiled by Andrew Pirie). She has a personal best of 6.25m, which she set en route to winning the 2011 Southeast Asian Games bronze medal. Illustrious names like Torres (6.71m), Muros-Posadas (6.56m), Lerma Bulauitan-Gabito (6.56m), and Lydia De Vega-Mercado (6.27m) are all ahead of Kat in the all-time list.

Santos is gifted with both raw flat out speed, having won several medals in national-level competition, and good jumping technique. The 22-year old is on the brink of barging into the big leagues. Although it’s a tad too early to say that she’s Torres’ heir apparent, the statistics show that the University of Baguio student is the Philippines’ second-best long jumper. Kat is actually a protege of Bulauitan-Gabito, herself a SEA Games gold medalist and an Olympian.

As she gains experience from regular exposure in the regional athletics circuit, it will only be a matter of time before Kat Santos makes her mark.

1. How did you get started with athletics?

When I was in 5th grade I wanted… to be part of the athletes in our school. But eventually the coach in our school hesitated to choose me. I didn’t know why [she did that]. But in [the] 6th grade I [pushed] myself to join [the] try outs.  I proved that I can be one of them [the varsity athletes] and [the coach eventually] chose me.

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

Most memorable? Of course the 2011 SEA Games in Indonesia. Maybe because it was my first time to compete in [the] SEA Games. [I had] mixed emotions.. (;  In my 1st attempt to jump I was really shaking. Suppeeeeer­rr. Hehe.

3. What’s your life-long dream?

To be an Olympian. ‘Diba? Sarap ng pakiramdam maging part man lang ng Olympics [It’s a great feeling to become part of the Olympics].

4. Name three other sports you’d love to do aside from athletics?

The 1st is synchronized swimming. I love watching it. [And also] sports climbing [and] sumo haha joke! The last is biking [cycling].

5. Who is your sporting idol?

My idol is DARYA KLISHINA. Ganda na [She’s beautiful], [a] model, and magaling pa [Darya excels] in our same event which is [the] long jump.

6. What do you when you are not on the track competing or training?

At home doing household chores, kulitan [playing] with my bunsong kapatid [youngest sibling] and my cousins na nakatira sa house namin [who live in our house], or sleep until noon… para makabawi sa pagod ng training [to recover from the exhaustion brought about by training].

7. What is your favorite pre-race pump-song?

Kahit ano lang [Anything]. Haha. Usually mga new ones na song [I usually listen to the new songs]… yung mga nauuso [the ones that are popular]! Gangnam Style. Haha lately yun!

8. Do you have a pre-competition ritual?

I just watch my diet mga [around] 2-3 weeks before the competition para magaan sa laro [so that I’ll feel light during the competition]. Kasi [Because] during preparation for such competition nagloload ako, so mabigat ako kapag sa [I bulk up in] training para makabuhat ng [to be able to lift the] target pounds pag nag weweigths training ako [in my training program].

9. Describe your dream vacation.

I want to be in a large and famous cruise ship and travel around the world. Astig diba? [Isn’t that cool?] (: Sarap mangarap, libre eh. [I love daydreaming. It’s free.]

10. Name three things you can’t live without.

Food! Water! Shelter! Siyempre [Of course, my] family ko. Daming money! And yung lifelong partner pag dumating na. I have no need for gadgets. (:

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)

Glory Days

The ageless Emerson Obiena uploaded an old photo to his Facebook account a while back. Judging from the designs of the Philippine team uniform, I figured that the picture was taken sometime during the early to mid-1990’s.

Photo from Emerson Obiena

Coach Emer’s subtitles confirmed my hypothesis. The bespectacled Filipino-Chinese athlete on the left is non-other than Coach Emer himself, the founder of the Philippine Pole Vault Club and a many-time international campaigner for the Philippines. On the rightmost side of the photo is Bruce Ventura, the Philippine national record holder for the shot put at 15.83m. Then Senator Joey Lina is at the center, beside the spunky-looking Edward Lasquette, the pole vault national record holder at 5.00m.

Obiena is the only holdover from that by-gone era. In his late 30’s, the father of two is still the best Filipino pole vaulter. Coach Emer is a two-time SEA Games Pole Vault silver medalist (1993 and 1999). He has a personal best of 4.95m, set during the 1999 National Open.

Obiena’s 4.93m clearance (Taipei, 2008)

The Herculean Bruce Ventura won silver in the shot during the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore. The Filipino-American Lasquette, who set the now 18-year old Philippine record in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is a three-time SEA Games champion (1991, 1993 and 1995).

Filipino SEA Games Medalists since 1991

During the early years of my track days, I could barely find write-ups about the Gintong Alay days. I was fortunate to stumble upon an old book, Philippine Sports Greats, which featured a lengthy piece on the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics High Jump bronze medalist, Simeon Toribio. Articles about the resurgence of Philippine athletics during the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s are also hard to come by. Looking for actual clips of those storied races online is an impossibility! And don’t expect our sensationalist TV networks to air replays of past Philippine track & field campaigns.

Hence, I had to make do with meager competition results available in the world wide web, taking pride in the fact that a handful of my compatriots had distinguished themselves in international competition. Yell Carreon’s insightful interviews with Hector Begeo and John Lozada and Zytrexx’s nostalgic historical piece on Toribio and Miguel White are rare informative examples.

It’s quite unfortunate how Filipinos today hardly even remember the sporting heroes of our past. Aside from big names like Lydia de Vega-Mercado and Elma Muros-Posadas, most of our local athletics greats have been almost forgotten by the very people – the very country – they fought so hard for.

If archived footage or even detailed write-ups somehow find its way into the mainstream, perhaps a new generation of Filipino athletes – not just track & field athletes – will be inspired by those feats of greatness to do better than their forebears. Indeed, Filipino sports has so much more to offer.

Video credit:

mjuo1969

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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