LONDON—It was Rene Herrera’s 14 minutes of fame. He performed on the biggest stage in the sporting world and got the biggest ovation he will ever get in his career, all for finishing last.
Herrera, one of only two Filipinos left competing in the 30th Olympic Games in London, was dead last in his heat in the 5,000-meter run on Saturday here, but his losing effort did not go for naught—he got the biggest cheer at the jampacked Olympic Stadium here.
The heat’s winner, Hayle Ibrahim of Azerbaijan, and his pursuers were 300 meters from the finish line when they lapped the Filipino, who still had 700 meters left. He had kept up with the pace, staying with the pack for two of the 12-and-a-half laps around the 400-meter track before dropping off.
The leaders finished 500 meters in front of Herrera and the Filipino had to the track—and the attention of 80,000 fans—all to himself after that, running the final 400 meters as if it was a victory lap.
The crowd had cheered the Filipino from the time he lagged 50 meters behind the main pack and the cheers got louder and louder as the gap grew bigger and bigger.
Herrera gamely kept his pace—a jog compared to that of the front-runners—waving to the crowd as they cheered him on. The cheer was loudest when he sprinted to the finish as the stadium announcer blared out his name and country.
He finished in 14 minutes and 14.1 seconds, only 10 seconds off his target. He crossed the finish line with a big smile, made the sign of the cross and dropped to his knees to kiss the track.
As he exited the stage after his short-lived fame, he was congratulated by the British runner, Nick McCormick, who himself failed to qualify for the final.
Ibrahim won the heat with a time of 13:25:23, but it was Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel who topped the qualifying with a time of 13:15:15 to lead 14 other qualifiers into the finals.
Herrera’s effort could not lift him out of tailend as he finished 42nd and last, but it was still his personal best over the 5,000-meter distance. The 33-year-old soldier is actually a 3,000-meter steeplechase specialist, but he was drafted to run the 5,000 meters because there was no slot for automatic entries like him in the event.
Herrera, long jumper Marestella Torres and swimmers Jessie Khing Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi were mandatory entries for the Philippines. Mandatory slots are given to countries which do not have entries who made the Olympic qualifying marks in athletics and swimming.