Budding athletes get to watch London Olympics and training camp to boot

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MANILA, Philippines—In a few years, one of them might finally bring home that elusive national dream of an Olympic gold.

A group of 11 bemedalled young athletes will get the ultimate inspiration for their Olympic dream as they travel to London in July to study—and have fun—at a British boarding school and watch the summer Olympics.

A first in Philippine sports, top performers from the Batang Pinoy Philippine Youth Games are flying to the United Kingdom for two weeks of schooling at St. Bede’s International School as scholars of the British Council Philippines and the British Embassy in Manila. The young athletes will stay in Britain from July 28 to Aug. 11.

“It is my pleasure to promote an initiative that brings together… the UK education system with perhaps our greatest passion, our passion for sport,” said British Ambassador to Manila Stephen Lillie.

Presenting the Filipino scholars to the press on Friday, Lillie said the program “aims to inspire more young people into sports—people like you—not just in Britain but all around the world.”

Lillie said the British government also hopes to give the athletes the chance to experience not only the physical benefits of sports but also the values the Olympics fosters: respect, excellence, friendship.

“Who knows? The future Filipino gold medalist might just be in this very room,” Lillie said at the press launch held at the Manila Peninsula.

The initiative, implemented with the support of the Philippine Sports Commission and the MVP Sports Foundation, selected student athletes who have the “potential to compete in the international level,” said PSC executive assistant Albert Almendralejo.

“This early, we’re trying to help them visualize what the Olympics is all about,” he said.

The first batch of scholars represents student athletes from across the country, all showing promise in sporting events Filipinos have long been known for, among them martial arts and boxing.

Aged 14 and 15, the chosen teens won multiple medals in the Batang Pinoy games while a few have also competed overseas.  The youth games, open to in-school and out-of-school youth aged 15 and below, aims to serve as a grassroots sports program to discover new sports talents.

Almendralejo said the athletes are being groomed for the 2014 Youth Olympics in China.

The scholars are: boxer Roberto Miguel Jalnaiz of Cagayan de Oro; triathlete Gabrielle Allen Santiago of Manila; taekwondo jin Irene Therese Bermejo of Bacolod City; swimmer Ariana Herranz of San Pablo City, Laguna; judo athlete (judoka) Floyd Derek Rillera of Baguio City; badminton champs Jon Edgar Reyes of Malolos, Bulacan and Joella Geva of Victoria, Laguna; thrower Garry Santiago of Guiguinto, Bulacan, runner Mary Anthony Diesto, also of Bacolod City, archer Bianca Cristina Gotuaco of Makati and weightlifter John Kyle Macrohon of Zamboanga City.

The flight out to London will be the first trip abroad for Rillera, the diminutive judoka from Baguio City.

“I’m excited because it’s my first time to go overseas.  I’m expecting that it will help me a lot in my studies although I’m a little anxious because it’s my first time to meet new friends from different countries,” said Rillera, the smallest in the group at 4’8’’.

The trip is a dream come true for Laguna swimmer Herranz, who at first got into the water at two years of age to cure her asthma. Years of training has since honed her as one of the country’s top young swimmers.

“It will serve as an exposure for us and give us the strength to train hard.  It’s every athlete’s dream to go to the Olympics and we are going to be there to witness it,” Herranz said.

The Filipino athletes will be among some 1,500 students from around the globe who will gather at St. Bede’s, enjoying the school’s world class learning, sports and boarding facilities.

“You will make new friends, you will hear and speak English all day and learn from qualified teachers,” said Justine Gillie, St. Bede’s assistant principal.

“You won’t have a single second to be bored. You will belong to a harmonious international community and will have lots of fun,” she said.

London’s 2012 Olympics hosting is the third for the country.  Some 10,500 athletes from 205 different countries will compete in 302 medal events in 26 different sports, said Lillie.

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