One final shot at Olympic glory
TWO YEARS after giving birth and now 35 years old, Marestella Torres-Sunang surprisingly finds herself at her peak.
“It’s like I started all over again after giving birth,” said the country’s long jump queen.
“I think the maturity is there. And I’m more inspired now. I’m happy when I train because of my family. It really helps that after training, I see my baby. It’s one motivation for me to have a good performance.”
Defying age and the challenges of motherhood, Torres-Sunang earned a third Olympic ticket in a suspense-filled, record-setting fashion in the Kazakhstan Open athletics championship this July.
And Torres-Sunang owes it all to the changes in many aspects of her life. Her new family, she said, pushes her to do even better. Her retooled training and diet also allowed her to close in to a single-digit body fat percentage for a higher level performance.
“Im more prepared now mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually,” said Torres-Sunang, who shattered her own national record and also surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard with a winning leap of 6.72 meters in the Kazakhstan qualifiers.
Torres, though, isn’t the only one dealing with change.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the only other three-time Olympian among Filipino athletes heading into the 2016 Rio Olympicsóhas also been feeling stronger these days.
And a lot of it has to do with Diaz sliding down to a weight class that surprisingly allowed her to reap more medals the past year.
“I didn’t like it at first,” admitted Diaz. “It was hard to lose weight and I thought I wouldnít have the same strength.”
But the shift to 53 kilograms from 58 kg, the division she competed in the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympics, proved to be ideal for the 5-foot-2 Diaz.
Last November, Diaz clinched an Olympic berth after bagging three bronze medals in the World Championship in Houston where she lifted 96 kg in the snatch, 117 kg in the clean and jerk for a 213 total in the womenís 53 kg division.
“I’m totally focused now,” said the 25-year-old Diaz, noting that she has been committed to her training regimen and nutrition program.
Torres-Sunang has also been focused, but more so now after her scintillating performance in the Kazakhstan qualifiers.
As her Olympic hopes hinged on one last jump in the sportís last qualifier, Torres-Sunang admitted her chances had looked bleak.
The San Jose, Negros Oriental, native had fallen short of the Olympic standard of 6.70m in two attempts and fouled thrice, the last two coming before her sixth and final try.
“I guess it was the most dramatic,” she said. “It was my last chance, my last jump in the last qualifier.”
Yet Torres-Sunang, overcoming the wet and slightly windy conditions, amazingly smashed her previous best and Southeast Asian record of 6.71m by a centimeter to clinch an Olympic slot.
“Natulala ako (I was shocked) after seeing the score,” said Torres-Sunang.
“Then I cried. It just felt impossible-my last jump in the last competition. It took some time before I got over it. I couldn’t move on, I couldn’t sleep. That whole night I just kept thinking how I did it.”
This month in Rio, Torres-Sunang hopes to do the improbable anew against the traditional American and European favorites. Then there’s also her age as she’s likely among the oldest to compete in the event.
“My goal is to make it to the finals, the top 12,” said Torres-Sunang. “It’s not about the age. Right now, I know how to listen to my body more. I also know how to handle situations, how to adjust.”
Similarly, Diaz hopes to make the most out of her third consecutive stint in the world’s biggest sporting stage.
Diaz, a daughter of a tricycle driver in Zamboanga, tagged as a learning experience, her 2008 Beijing stint where she was just a wildcard entry at 17 years old. But she admitted to succumbing to pressure in the 2012 London edition where she hogged the spotlight as the country’s flag bearer.
The past year, though, had been good for Diaz. Before picking up three bronze medals in the World Championship, she bagged a gold in the Southeast Asian Championships in Bangkok and three more gold medals in the Asian Senior Championships in Phuket all in her new weight class.
Knowing it could be her final Olympic run, Diaz said the thought drives her to aim for a medal finish.
“If it’s your last, you will really do your best,” said Diaz. “I’ve been competing for years, so I need to get a medal. That’s my aim in my last Olympics.”
So for Diaz and Torres-Sunang, even if they’re at a stage that some consider as the twilight of athletic careers, it may just be their time.
As Torres-Sunang said: “After everything that I went through, this might be my most unforgettable Olympics.”
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