Tag Archives: Track & Field

“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

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!

Digging Deep

I felt tense watching from the stands. Perhaps it was due to the cold early evening air or the glare of the floodlights. Sheltered from the steadily falling rain by my trusty umbrella, I waited for the men’s 4x400m relay to start.

The grueling event has been the waterloo of Ateneo athletics. Ever since the Ateneo joined the UAAP, it has only won two bronzes – in the mid-80’s and the mid-2000’s – amidst a slew of heartbreaking close shaves with the podium. Despite the resurgence in Ateneo sprinting, the other schools stamped its dominance in the quarter-mile.

Read John Aguilar’s “The Blue Paint”

Maki de Jesus, a bemedalled former juniors standout, had a gutsy start. Running in the seventh lane, the rookie overtook the athlete in lane eight by a good five meters, as the first runner from powerhouse FEU streaked to an early lead. From then on, it was a battle for second place behind the dominant Morayta quartet.

The first baton exchange was executed with fine precision. Joel Magturo, another greenhorn, timed his take-off perfectly with the visibly exhausted de Jesus. The young Joel, a finalist in the 100m dash, held on to fourth place. Three schools – DLSU, UE, UST and Ateneo – were locked in a fierce tactical battle.

Carlos Soriano ran a gutsy third leg. He positioned himself well in the first 200m, conserving precious speed and strength by lurking behind the leading sprinters. As soon as the four-man peleton hit the last bend, Soriano turned on his afterburners. The back-to-back 100m dash champion overtook the early leaders to snatch second place coming into the final lap.

I screamed like a man possessed at Soy’s final burst of speed. Never has an Ateneo team won silver in the 4x400m relay. There and then, I felt my eyes blur as I cheered my lungs out.

Then came JP Azcueta’s anchor leg. From the stands, I saw the determined expression on his face. He took off life a bullet, maintaining the team’s second place position. Coming into the homestretch, I could feel the silver medal coming into fruition.

The dream silver wasn’t meant to be.

DLSU’s Patrick Unso, a bum stomach notwithstanding, ran a superb final 50m to snatch second place. UE’s last runner came hurtling towards the finish, threatening to overtake the decelerating Azcueta. But JP clung on to Ateneo’s first 4x400m medal in six years. After missing out on the 4x100m relay podium; Maki, Joel, Soy and JP struck back with a hard fought, well-deserved bronze. It was an exhilarating race – a scintillating, nerve-wracking experience for the spectator and an unforgettable experience to those who were victorious.

As soon as the JP crossed the finish line, he fell on his knees, burying his face in his hands. In the four days that I’ve watched my former teammate compete, he always seemed to linger at that very spot after every race. This time around, there wasn’t a single trace of disappointment on the grizzled veteran’s rain-soaked face. Instead, JP cried tears of joy, as he took in the wondrously triumphant moment.

There’s a line from “Chariots of Fire” aptly describing the quarter-miler as someone who digs deep. Those four young men ran their hearts out, mustering every strand of willpower possible. Years from now, people probably won’t remember who won the medals, much less the actual results. In the long run, what endures is the experience of giving it your all and leaving everything on the playing field.

Maki, JP, Joel and Soy posing with their medals (Photo from JP Azcueta)

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

Home Track: Thoughts on the Rizal Memorial Stadium

I’ve been an avid reader of Rick Olivares’ Bleachers Brew since 2006, the year of the Ateneo Football three-peat. I found inspiration in the exploits of that Hall-of-Fame champion team, which Rick so eloquently wrote about in one of his most endearing pieces. Since then, I’ve written incessantly about my experiences as an athlete. Words, when properly written, immortalize moments in a way modern media could hardly reprise.

To be featured in Brew is a great honor. Thank you, Rick!

I was a fifteen-year old high school junior when I first laid my eyes on the Rizal Memorial Track & Football Stadium. I can still remember that big lump of nervousness I felt on my chest, as I lined up for my first ever athletics competition. The track was wet, thanks to a light morning drizzle. Clad in my awkwardly long basketball shorts and spike-less running shoes, I shivered with both fear and cold as I waited for my heat to commence.

Click here to read the rest of the post

*Note: This article also appears in In the Zone.

 

Trans World Sport Athletics Features

Before going to be last night, I watched clips Trans World Sport’s features on various track & field athletes. Aside from the regular Diamond League and Athletix Mag airings in Eurosport Asia, we Filipinos don’t get much athletics-related shows. The next best thing is Youtube. In this day and age of HD videos and broadband internet, the live-streaming site is the next best thing!

Isabelle Pedersen:

Jacko Gill:

Mutaz Barshim:

Allyson Felix:

Watch an older clip of Felix here

Steve Hooker:

And of course, Usain Bolt!

The aforementioned athletes are quite a combination – even if you take Bolt out of the picture. Hooker is the reigning Olympic, World, World Indoor and Commonwealth Games pole vault champion. Then there’s the versatile Felix, who can excel in all the flat sprinting events. Gill, Barshim and Pedersen are all World Junior titlists from Moncton.

Among all the athletes featured above, I’d have to say that I’m most impressed with Jacko. To be able to throw the 7kg shot beyond twenty meters at such a young age, that’s certainly historic! For a sprint hurdler who has scant knowledge of the throws, seeing a teenager heave the youth shot put beyond twenty-four meters is interesting, to say the least!

Watch at least one clip and you’ll get an instant dose of extrinsic, athletics motivation!

Additional links:

Shelly Ann Fraser

Kirani James

Xavier Carter

Donald Thomas

The Running Boom and Philippine Athletics

I must admit that I was a tad bit surprised at the newfound popularity of running. Prior to the running boom, an almost deserted Ultra closed at exactly 8:00 PM. I can still recall our late night track & field training sessions at the Pasig oval. We practically had the venue to ourselves. The lanes were mostly free from foot traffic. Nowadays hordes of joggers frequent the Philsports track oval, which stays open until 10:00 PM.

Through the years, sports such as billiards, boxing and badminton had gone mainstream. The success of the legendary Efren “Bata” Reyes saw pool halls sprout like mushrooms across the metropolis. Most recently, boxing gyms and badminton courts had piqued the interest of the general populace.

And now, running takes its turn. Hardly a weekend goes by without a running event. In fact, a multitude of companies (from pharmaceuticals to bakeshops) utilize running events to better market their respective products.

Initially, I saw the running boom as nothing more than a fad. Running, with all the emphasis on wellness (not to mention the scores of celebrities who take part), is the “in” thing. In my nighttime training sessions in Ultra, I almost always bump into clicks of joggers who are  apparently more intent on socializing.

Fortunately, this is the exception, rather than the rule. Most are quite serious in their running. Denizens of the Internet forum, Takbo.ph, even have a regular training group. A club system, albeit crude, is starting to take form. Some even hire the services of professional athletics coaches, providing an additional source of income to top caliber athletes and former athletes alike. The most prestigious events provide lucrative cash prizes, large enough to attract professional African runners to Philippine shores.

For the hardcore track & field athlete that I am, this certainly is promising – especially when I see exuberant kids joyfully doing laps around the oval.

Aside from a couple of bronze medals in the 1930’s and some regional successes in the 1980’s, late 1990’s and early 2000’s, our national track & field squad flounders in international meets. Athletics, despite its status as the centerpiece of the Olympic Games, is in the fringes of the Filipino sporting psyche. Although we have produced multitudes of Southeast Asian Games champions, our athletes wither under stronger competition in the Asian- and World-level.

Cagers players aside, the most successful Filipino sportsmen are our professional boxers, bowlers and cue artists. Badminton, with its booming youth talents, shows signs of long-term promise. What I’m truly excited about is how the running boom could trickle down into renewed interest on the wider sport of athletics – at the very least.

Perhaps in the coming years, an honest-to-goodness club system for track & field could start to take form.

“More Than Just Pretty Faces” by Joboy Quintos

My Track Beauty of the Week posts are, without a doubt, the most popular entries of this blog. I believe that athletics has the potential to match the glamor of tennis’ Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki. Even if the popularity of athletics pales in comparison to women’s tennis, there are a multitude of female track & field athletes blessed with both beauty and brawn.

I’m a firm believer that in order to promote a sport, it is imperative to have established icons.

One good example is the popularity of women’s volleyball in the Philippines. The roots of the Shakey’s V-League can be traced to the Volleyball Grand Prix held almost a decade ago, featuring the likes of Maurizia Cacciatori and Leila Barros.

The international stars captured the fancy of women and men alike – vital building blocks to the popularity of a sport. Women’s volleyball is now televised. Various collegiate stars now have legions of fans. The men’s game isn’t far behind, with the LBC Men’s Volleyball League taking its cue from its female counterparts.

If there’s a fan base, surely, the sponsors would come next.

The renaissance of volleyball in the last five years or so could hopefully reverse the fortunes of our national teams, in the coming generations, at least.

Albeit with slight variations, interest in track & field can be stoked with the same fires. Hence, I’ve started the Track Beauty of the Week feature. It’s a small way of attracting the uninitiated to the wonderful world of athletics.

Who knows? Maybe in a few years or so, the likes of Darya Klishina and LoLo Jones could make their way to the Philippine track & field scene!

The target audience, of course, is mostly male. But I do make it a point not to make the posts demeaning to women in such a way that the pictures and videos border the tasteless. I focus on the athletic prowess of the female athletes more than their aesthetic endowments.

Article by Joboy Quintos

SPAR European Team Championships

Europe is the hotbed of track & field. Even if most of the talents hail from the United States, Jamaica and Africa, most of the big money meets like the Golden League and Diamond League are held in Europe. Based on the clips I’ve seen online and the articles I’ve read from net, various forms of athletics clubs exist in Europe.

Aside from the Europeans’ appreciation for athletics, what I find remarkable are the team competitions held between countries. In the recently concluded SPAR* European Team Championships in Bergen, Norway; Russian men and women outclassed the competition (Total points scored by the men and women contribute to the overall ranking of a country). Britain at 317 points was a far second from Russia’s 379.5 points. Defending champion Germany languished at 7th place, with host Norway finishing 2nd to the last – facing regulation to the lesser divisions of the Championships.

Like the ongoing World Cup in South Africa, there were several upsets. Hometown hero Andreas Thorkildsen managed only second place in the javelin (82.98m). The two-time Olympic Champion lost to Germany’s Mattias de Zordo‘s 83.80m heave. French youngster Teddy Tamgho, who jumped 17.98m in the Triple Jump last week, was far from his world-beating form as he finished in 3rd place (17.10m) behind Ukraine’s Viktor Kuznetzov (17.26m – PB) and 2009 World Champion, Philips Idowu (17.12m)

The format of the competition resembles Tennis’ Davis Cup. The top division or the so-called Super League is the most prestigious.  Less athletically-endowed countries compete among themselves in the First, Second and Third Leagues. The top 3 (or 2) placers in the minor leagues are promoted to the next most prestigious rung, while the bottom 3 (or 2) are relegated. The “bottom three teams of the Super League [Greece, Norway and Finland] were relegated to the First League for 2011.” Conversely, the top three teams in the First League (Czech Republic, Sweden and Portugal) climb up to the main draw.

Watch the highlights of Russia’s road to the top from this Eurosport link.

The Russians celebrate their dominance

An older albeit smaller team level meet is the Finnkampen ( “The Finn Battle”) or the Ruotsiottelu (“The Sweden Match”).  It’s a yearly, dual meet type of competition held between Sweden and Finland.

I hope that a similar format of competition take root in Asia. The team aspect – where entire countries are pitted against each other for an overall crown – is an interesting innovation. Us  Southeast Asians have the SEA Games (a multisport, regional spectacle), where a general champion is proclaimed.  But then again, a smaller meet like the Finnkampen/Ruotsiottelu would be a splendid, cost-effective way to promote the sport.

*SPAR – “is the world’s largest food retailer, with approximately 20,000 stores in 35 countries worldwide.”

Additional Links:

SPAR European Team Championships Wrap-up

Super League event reports

Ruotsiottelu

Finnkampen

Finnkampen Wiki

Photo Credits:

European Athletics

Video Credits:

Eurosport

%d bloggers like this: