PH Olympians: We did our best and proud of itBy Artemio T. Engracia Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LONDON—They didn’t win a single medal and all but one failed to advance to the next round. But those who think it was a waste of time and money to send a Philippine delegation to London for the 30th Olympic Games are missing the point of the Olympic spirit.
This was the consensus of the 11 Filipino athletes as they defended their dismal performance in the Games on Saturday on the eve of the Closing Ceremonies of what had been touted as “the greatest show on earth.”
“We earned the right to represent our country in the Olympics. We trained hard for this and we sacrificed months and even years just to get here. And we gave it our best,” said archer Mark Javier, one of the first to fall in a fortnight of action in London.
The athletes were reacting to criticisms of their performance in London, which was just a notch better than the Philippines’ showing in Beijing in 2008, the worst since the country joined the Olympics in 1924.
Only Mark Barriga’s first round win in boxing, the first since the 2004 Athens Games, made the Philippine performance here better than in Beijing.
Javier, Barriga and nine other Filipinos meet the Philippine press at lunch on Saturday and gave their assessment of their performance on the eve of the Closing Ceremonies at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
The other Filipino athletes were skeet shooter Brian Rosario, swimmers Jessie Khing Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, archer Rachelle Anne Cabral, judoka Tomohiko Hoshina, long jumper Marestella Torres, long distance runner Rene Herrera and BMX (bicycle motocross) rider Daniel Caluag.
Those who criticized them for failing to measure up to the opposition don’t understand what they had to go through to make it to Olympics, they said. They spent hours daily for months and even years to earn the right to be here. They put their lives on hold, sacrificing family, friends and even their studies to train and achieve what others can only dream about. And those who criticize them for not bringing home a medal should win the gold in punditry.
This was the collective sentiment of the athletes as they prepared to go home and sacrifice even more for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s heartbreaking to go home without a medal when we know we had a chance,” said Manny Lopez, chief of mission of the Philippine delegation. “But that’s not just what the Olympic spirit is all about. It’s all about participating in the Games and representing 95 million Filipinos in a congregation of nations that’s even bigger than the United Nations.”
“Its only now that I realized what the Olympic spirit is all about,” said Cabral, who also did not make it past the first round of the knockout matches. Soaking it all in competition and in visits to Olympic venues and the Olympic museum, Cabral said it’s not about winning. It’s about participating.
“It’s about unity in sports,” she said. “Athletes like us need all the support, not the criticisms. We need to have the facilities. We need to train and eat the right food. It’s better to just help. It’s better to be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Javier said qualifying for the Olympics is no joke.
“It’s like going through the eye of the needle,” he said. In his case, Javier tried twice—in the world championship and in ther Asian qualifying tournament before he and Cabral finally made it in the qualifying in Utah. It was the first time that a male and female archer represented the Philippines in the Olympics.
“I don’t even have a love life,” he said as he virtually lived in the archery range, practicing all day
“We were the ones among all Filipino archers to compete in the Olympics because we were the only ones who qualified, he said. “Those who didn’t think we were qualified don’t even know a bit about what we had to go through to make it here.”
One of those criticized, even before the Games started was Rene Herrera, one of two Filipinos in athletics. Herrera, described by organizers in the media guide in athletics, ran his personal best in the 5,000 meters but still ended up dead last and 500 meters behind the eventual winner, Mo Farah of Great Britain.
The Somalian-born Farah, also the winner in the 10,000 meters and hailed in Britain as a hero, walked up to Herrera after the qualifying run and congratulated him as the capacity crowd of 80,000 at the Olympic Stadium cheered.
“I was overwhelmed,” Herrera said. “I just cried afterwards.”
Villified at home, three Filipino women—Torres, Diaz and Cabral—said they, too, were overwhelmed by the reception they got from Filipinos in London and those who came here just for the Olympics.
“They were happy to see us, even if we lost,” said Diaz, who crashed out of competition in women’s weightlifting after failing three times to lift a routine 118 kilos—more than twice her weight—in the clean and jerk. .
Rosario, who bowed out of competition in a flash of glory, scoring a perfect 25 points in his final set of targets in the skeet, said representing the country in the Olympics is a proud moment for him.
Lacuna said seeing the likes of Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps was “an experience that I will bring with me for the rest of life.”