Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PATAFA bares Olympic hopefuls and challenges of regaining lost glory

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PATAFA bares Olympic hopefuls and challenges of regaining lost glory
by rick olivares

Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association President Philip Ella Juico bared the country’s Olympic hopefuls in an interview at the Metropolitan Club in Makati yesterday, February 9.

Juico stated at the moment, sprinter Eric Shaun Cray is the lone track and field athlete to qualify. “In all likelihood, pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena will most likely also make the Philippine team as well,” said Juico who is in the second year of his term as head of the national sports association. “EJ's objective right now is to equal or surpass the 5.7 meter standard in pole vaulting. In practices, he is 10 centimeters short. I have no doubt that he will make it.”

While the men’s slate has more or less been identified, for the women’s slot, it’s a toss up between 34-year old long jumper Marestella Torres and 17-year old Fil-American sprinter Kayla Richardson.

“Right now our desire is to have Marestella Torres take the slot that is if no one from the ladies makes the standard. However, there’s the possibility that Kayla Richardson can make it. If Kayla makes the standard then she’s the one.”

Torres, the Negros Occidental native, has represented the Philippines excellently since 2002. She has four golds and one bronze in Southeast Asian Games competition as well as one gold, one silver, and one bronze in Asian championship competition. “She understands that this could be her last hurrah,” noted Juico. “If she qualifies that would be a nice way to cap her career and hopefully, make up for her finish during the London Olympics.”

During the 2012 London Games, Torres finished 22nd in a pool of 32 athletes failing to advance to the final.  

Richardson, is the youngest champion in SEA Games history, winning the 100-meter dash in Singapore in June of 2015. She ended a 20-year drought in the event for the country and equaled the great Lydia De Vega who also won the event during the 1987 Kuala Lumpur Games. Richardson finished with a time of 11.76. 

Juico also talked about the challenge of bringing back glory to Philippine athletics on the international stage. Said the PATAFA President, "In the past, we have always been good at the Southeast Asian level although there was a slight dip in Myanmar in 2013. In 2015, we were almost there. The highlight of the Singapore Games was that we had the fastest man and woman in Southeast Asia because of Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson. In the Asian Games, we haven’t been as successful. You have to go all the way back to Elma Muros for our last medal placer. You have to remember that athletics has become even more competitive. China is there. They practically dominate all sports in Asia. Japan is there. Korea is there. The former Russian republics are doing well. We have to spend more just to keep up with them. We have to be for more creative in our planning and search for talent.”

There has been backlash against the recruitment of Fil-foreigners to the national cause but Juico says that the country isn’t producing top notch talent the way it used to. "Right now, we are using or harnessing our Fil-Heritage athletes. For me, I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as they have Filipino blood. Of course, we must not forget to develop our homegrown talents. We have a large population that is our biggest resource. But we cannot accomplish that alone. One key is to get the Department of Education involved. Physical Education has gone down in schools and that has hurt our talent pool. Research shows that you need at least one hour a week of vigorous training and exercise. Kung mawawala yan do not expect to develop good homegrown talents. We cannot expect miracles. From time to time you will find extraordinary talents but they are few and far in between.” 

Juico expects the athletics roster for the Philippine delegation to Rio to be finalized not later than July. "It’s either they make it or they don’t,” Juico downplayed of their chances. "But all our athletes are being trained to perform in other tournaments for the 2017 SEA Games, the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 SEA Games, and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. You have to look at the big picture." 

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