This appears on abs-cbnnews.com
RP athletes get it on in Rio
by rick olivares
RIO DE JANEIRO – After the months and weeks and days, the opening of the ceremony of the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics is hours away.
For some like hurdler Eric Cray or table tennis paddler and opening ceremony flag bearer Ian Lariba, it’s the culmination of a dream. For others like swimmers Jessie Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi, it is an opportunity for redemption after their previous Summer Games stint didn’t go as planned. While for others like weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang, it’s the end of the road as they are hanging up their sweats after Rio.
For all the 13 Filipino athletes competing in this Olympiad, they feel it’s a lucky number. Save for late comer judoka Kodo Nakano, who was a late replacement for an Iranian counterpart who backed out of the tournament, everyone qualified for their event. Many of them went through rigorous competitions and elimination processes to get here. So they are among the best in the world. And seeded or not, they have a chance — and they aim to — end the 20 year medal drought by the country.
The historic Maracana Stadium, which built to host the 1950 World Cup and refurbished for the 2014 World Cup, will be the venue of the opening ceremony Friday night. There will be songs and dances from over 5,000 volunteers. The world-famous Rio Carnavale will be on full display.
The Summer Games will commence amid threats on security, political instability and the dreaded Zika virus, which has forced some of the biggest names in golf, tennis, and a few other sports to withdraw their participation. Filipino golfer, Angelo Que, was one of those who pulled out.
Philippine chef-de-mission Jose Romasanta, however, said the rest of the Filipinos who qualified for this year’s Olympics, are here to carry on. “Everything else is the least of the concern for our athletes. Their concern is being able to further improve and enhance their competitiveness until game time,” he said on the eve of the Games.
“They are not really concerned about or distracted by other things except focus on what they need to do. That’s what they are eagerly anticipating,” said the vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Aside from Cray, Lariba, Lacuna, Alkhaldi, Diaz, Torres-Sunang, and Nakano, others carrying the fight for the Philippines are boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez, track and field’s Mary Joy Tabal, another weightlifter, Nestor Colonia, taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora, and golfer Miguel Tabuena.
Cray and Nakano are arriving in Rio just hours before the opening ceremony that is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and expected to last late in the evening. Tabuena is flying in Saturday.
Lariba, Lacuna and Suarez, will kick off the Philippine campaign the following day, August 6, when they see action and hope to stay alive.
“It’s when and where the real business begins. And that’s what our athletes are eagerly anticipated. They are all going to do what they do best,” said Romasanta.
“It’s something which they have to prove to themselves, and they will compete as hard as they can,” he added.
Lariba, a 23-year-old native of Cagayan de Oro, is the first table tennis player from the Philippines to see action in the Olympics. For her first match, she goes up against Congo’s Han Xing, at around noon here, which is close to midnight in Manila.
Lacuna will swim in the men’s 400m freestyle, hoping to look good against swimmers way faster than him. Then Suarez, a legitimate medal hope, takes on Great Britain’s Joseph Cordina in the early bouts of the lightweight division.
Romasanta said there’s no point pressuring the athletes to win the medal.
“Let’s just take things as they come. Whoever the opponent will be will be faced with equal competitiveness by our athletes,” he said.
Lariba, ranked No. 297 in the world, is facing someone who’s ranked No. 125. But the first-time Olympian from the Philippines is not looking at the numbers.
“I talked to Ian and she’s not worried about any opponent she will face. Inevitably, she will have to face anyone of them,” said the chef-de-mission.
Security is tight in and around Rio, which is facing political unrest following the impeachment of its President. The magnitude of the event also makes this Olympics a clear target for terrorist attacks.
The past two days were marred by bomb scares at the Olympic Aquatic Center and the Athletes Village. This has forced Brazil to tighten the security, as if 85,000 police and military personal that’s been deployed to protect the Games are not enough.
“People are aware. Anything left unattended is something we should worry about,” said Romasanta of the twin bomb scares the past two days.
But nothing will stop the Olympics.
“Let’s get it on,” said the Filipino chef-de-mission.