Fil-Am hurdler makes Rio Games semis grade
RIO DE JANEIRO—Filipino-American hurdler Eric Cray turned in his second quickest time ever in the 400-meter hurdles to finish third in his heat and advance to the semifinals of the athletics event in the 31st Summer Games at the Olympic Stadium here.
Cray exploded off the blocks in the rightmost Lane 8 and cranked up sufficient pace in the straightaway to clock 49.05 seconds, tagging behind the heat’s Japanese winner Keisuke Nozawa and second placer Thomas Barr of Ireland.
Nozawa timed a personal-best 48.62 while Barr submitted his season-best 48.93 in pipping an astonished Cray at the line.
In advancing to the semifinals, the 27-year-old Cray improved on the feat of former Asian sprints queen Lydia de Vega, who reached the quarterfinals of the century dash in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Cray is the third Filipino 400m hurdler in the Games after Miguel White, who plucked a bronze in Adolf Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics showcase, and Pablo Somblingo (1956 Melbourne), who also competed in the 400m run.
“I’m really excited at racing in the semis,” said the father of two from El Paso, Texas, whose mother, the former Maria Brosas, is originally from Olongapo.
“I just want to go through the semis tomorrow (Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro) and run as fast as I can, hopefully get a PR (personal best) and hopefully make it to the finals.”
Only Nozawa, Barr and Cray progressed to the 24-man semifinals from the third of the six-heat qualification round. In all, 18 men made it through the heats plus six of the hurdlers with the 19th to the 24th best times.
The first of the three semifinal heats in Cray’s event fires off at 9:35 p.m. Tuesday (8:35 a.m. Wednesday in Manila), 30 minutes after the start of the qualification round of the women’s long jump where three-time Olympian Marestella Torres-Sunang will shoot for one of 12 berths in the finals.
Sunang, at 35 the most senior among the country’s 13 athletes in these Games, will be a cinch if she at least matches her national record of 6.72 meters, which she set in Kazakhstan only in July to qualify for Rio.
She made a 6.22-meter leap in London 2012 and failed to advance by a mere 18 centimeters.
But that is easily said than done in a field teeming with new talent and world champions.
Sunang’s stronger Group A is made up of 19 jumpers, 11 of whom have season-best (SB) leaps better than hers. Group B also has 19 entries, three of whom have better SBs than the Filipino former Asian champion.
“I have learned from my experience in London and Beijing (2008) that pressure [of making it to the next round] is part of the game,” Sunang said in Filipino. “I need to focus, avoid foul attempts as much as I could and give it my best shot.”
Admittedly a slow-firing jumper, the mother of a two-year-old boy from San Jose, Negros Oriental, said she also needs a more intense warm-up before she proceeds to the competition venue.
The world No. 19-ranked Cray actually posted the 14th best time in the qualifying round, although it paled to to the 48.37 seconds of top qualifier and favorite Annsert Whyte of Jamaica or the 48.49 of Karsten Warholm of Sweden and the 48.53 of Javier Culson of Puerto Rico.
Cray carries a seventh-best PB in his semifinal heat against Nozawa, Spain’s Sergio Fernandez (49.02), Jamaica’s Jaheel Hyde (48.81), Great Britain’s Jack Green (48.96), Algeria’s Abdelmalik Lahoulou (48.62), Kenya’s Boniface Mucheru Tumuti (48.89) and the United States’ heat favorite Kerron Clement (48.40).
“I thought I got second [in Tuesday’s heat] but when I came off the hurdle 10 and I glanced to the left, I didn’t see anybody,” Cray said. “But close to the finish line, one guy (Barr) got me. So next time I need to make sure I focus all the way through.”