The Olympics may have flamed out, but Filipino athletes, officials keep gold medal hope afloat
The flame has been put out and the Olympics will be moved to next year. The new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may have shut down the biggest sporting event of the year, but Filipino optimism continues to burn bright as officials and athletes remain steadfast in their quest to end the country’s golden drought in the Summer Games.
Skateboarder Margielyn Didal continues to push closer toward finalizing an Olympic berth, the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) will make budgetary adjustments caused by the postponement, and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) continues to see the temporary shelving as a chance to push for more qualifiers and create more gold medal chances.
Meanwhile, pole vaulter EJ Obiena continues to train in Italy even as other athletes try to fortify their Olympic bids.
“Margie is good,” Anthony Claravall, vice president of the Skateboarding and Roller Sports Association of the Philippines, told the Inquirer. “We returned to Asia from the US recently. Margie and coach Dani (Bautista) are halfway through their quarantine period.”
After weeks of hedging, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took the unprecedented step of postponing the world’s biggest sporting event, a global extravaganza that’s been cemented into the calendar for more than a century.
The Tokyo Games, slated for 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries and at a reported cost of $28 billion, had been scheduled to start on July 24. They will now be pushed into 2021 on dates to be determined.
They will still be called the 2020 Olympics—a symbolic gesture that the IOC hopes will allow the Games to “stand as a beacon of hope,” as it stated in delivering the news on Tuesday.
“I don’t think anybody was really prepared for this virus happening,” said American sprinter Noah Lyles. Only World War I and World War II have forced the Olympics to be canceled; they were scrubbed in 1916, 1940 and 1944.
The Philippine government had allocated P100 million just for the foreign exposure of national athletes hoping to see action in Tokyo this July, and that will have to be realigned by the PSC, with the number of qualifying events already struck down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The lost opportunities and money spent for our Olympic preparations are manageable,” said PSC Chair William Ramirez.
“As I’ve mentioned before, the safety and health of the athletes remain our primary concern,” Ramirez said.
The POC also backs the postponement, and president and Cavite Rep. Ambraham “Bambol” Tolentino sees a positive in moving the quadrennial meet to next year.
“We will have more chances for a gold, or even many golds because those who qualified can train more and there will be a chance for more to qualify,” Tolentino said.
Aside from Obiena, also qualifying for the Olympics are gymnast Carlos Yulo and boxers Eumir Felix Marcial and Irish Magno. Among those on the brink of qualifying are Didal, Asian weightlifting champion Hidilyn Diaz and Southeast Asian Games judo champ Kiyomi Watanabe.
The rescheduling of the Olympics will give Didal, an Asian Games gold medalist, more time to work on her skills.
Didal is currently ranked No. 12 in the world, with the top 20 skaters at the end of qualifying tournaments punching their tickets to Tokyo.
“My hope is that given an extra year, she can get better,” Claravall said.
Another 62 Filipino athletes from 18 sports are looking to book Tokyo berths.
Four-time Olympic hockey champion Hayley Wickenheiser, the first IOC member to criticize the body’s long-held, dug-in refusal to change the dates, called the postponement the “message athletes deserved to hear.”
“To all the athletes: take a breath, regroup, take care of yourself and your families. Your time will come,” she wrote on Twitter.
When will that time be?
Nobody knows yet.
But the Philippine morale can be best summed up by Obiena, who is holed up in training in pandemic-struck Italy.
“If [the Olympics] were held this year, I would [have been] ready for it. If it would be done next year, I would be there and [be] ready for it,” Obiena told the Inquirer. “Any time that [the Olympics pushes through], I would be preparing for it.”