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Meet Ian Lariba, RP flagbearer and Rio Olympics table tennis paddler
by rick olivares
Ian Lariba is a first-time Olympian who will be representing the Philippines for the first time in Olympic table tennis competition. More than that, the 23-year old lass from Cagayan De Oro will be the nation’s flag bearer during the Parade of Nation during the 2016 Rio Olympics’ Opening Ceremony at the Maracaña Stadium in Rio De Janeiro on the evening of August 5.
Who is Ian Lariba? And how did she arrive at this great honor?
"I was going into Grade 3 back in (Corpus Christi School) Cagayan De Oro and my parents wanted me to do something productive during the summer,” related Lariba. "They wanted me to get into sports. One time, we all went together to the nearby sports complex. For a while, I tried out badminton but for some reason, I had a hard time at it. It didn’t help that there were a lot of people playing badminton so getting time on the court was difficult. There was an area for table tennis and wala masyado naglalaro. The table was so small yet the action was intense. I found myself getting very interested in it so I gave it a try. It wasn’t easy but I found myself enjoying it very much. I was hooked and I’ve never stopped playing since."
For Ian’s college years, she moved to Manila where she enrolled at De La Salle University taking up Financial Management. “Yes, a course for nerds,” she laughed. “I don’t know why I like tough things like table tennis and my course. I guess, I like a good challenge and the sense of fulfillment is different.”
If it was fitness that Ian’s parents were looking for, they got it in table tennis. “It's a fast-paced sport that not only requires quick reflexes but also quick thinking and great fitness,” described Lariba of her sport. “You need to constantly practice because muscle memory is also important."
“I think the sport taught me a lot about discipline,” added Lariba. “Technique is important and one that you practice constantly. It isn’t an easy sport to master and it can get frustrating. That is where the discipline comes aside from your coaches and mentors providing you with more training and insights into your game.”
That kind of dogged determination to succeed was never more evident during her qualification for the Olympics. With one slot left to the women’s singles competition for Rio, Ian outplayed her opponent from Qatar then set up a return bout with Iran’s Majobeh Omrani who defeated the Filipina in a previous tournament. “A loss can weigh heavy on your mind. I have to really condition my mind that this is a new match and that we’re back to scratch. Lariba won the first three games before Omrani rallied to win the next two. In the sixth game of their match, Lariba, eked out an 11-8 win to advance to meet Indonesia’s Lilis Inoriani.
The Indonesian was listed at No. 296 in the world while the Filipina was 28 notched behind at No. 324. Lariba promptly swept her foe in the best-of-nine match to book that last slot.
“That was such an incredible feeling,” said Lariba of that win. “I was so nervous. But with every won game against Lilis, I felt more and more confident.”
And now, Ian Lariba is headed for the Olympics.
“It’s the Olympics and it is the most prestigious event an athlete can aspire for,” gushed Lariba last Tuesday during the athlete briefing for Rio at the Philippine Olympic Committee offices at the Philsports Complex in Pasig City. “It’s a mix of excitement and kaba that I am feeling. Whatever happens I will give everything that I’ve got and pakita ko lang best game ko. I intend to play with no regrets.”
Although her playing years in the UAAP with La Salle are done, Lariba has one term left to finish before she graduates. “I’ll go to the Olympics and compete, then finish out my term, and let’s see what’s next.”
“Right now, I will enjoy this incredible experience that is the Olympics."