Silva-Netto: The country’s original marathon man
LONDON—Benjamin Silva-Netto was nostalgic as he watched the Olympic marathon bring down the curtains of the athletics program of the London Olympic Games on Sunday.
The Philippines’ original marathon man, he was the first Filipino to run the Olympic marathon, clocking two hours 56 minutes and 19 seconds in Mexico in 1968.
Had he run on Sunday in the Olympic marathon, that clocking would have put him last among the finishers. Sunday’s last finisher was Lesotho’s Tsepo Ramonene, who clocked 2:55:54. The marathon was won by Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, whose time was 2:08:01.
While he was the slowest among the few Filipinos who have run the Olympic marathon, he was the highest placed at 49th of 57 entries. The other Filipino Olympic marathon runners were faster but placed lower.
They are Victor Idava, 2:38:23, 57th in Montreal 1976; Leonardo Illut, 2:49:39, 77th in Los Angeles 1984; Herman Suizo, 2:25:18, 52nd in Barcelona 1992; Roy Vence, 2:37:10, 100th in Atlanta 1996; and Eduardo Buenavista, 2:28:18, 67th in Athens 2004.
Silva-Netto, now 74, is in London as leader of the athletics delegation that also includes long distance runner Rene Herrera, long jumper Marestella Torres and coach Joseph Sy. He is now secretary general of the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa).
He shuttles between Manila and New Jersey, where he currently lives virtually half of the year as an immigrant. He lives with his wife and their only daughter’s family.
He has what he calls an “apostolate” in New Jersey where he takes care of his apo (grandchild), he joked.
While Ben has not lost his sense of humor, he no longer has the strength of his legs. Once the lord of the distances from 5,000 meters to the marathon, he can jog only 45 minutes for a total of five kilometers.
“The knees are gone,” he said. Otherwise, he doesn’t have any health problems.
In an era long before mass running turned thousands of ordinary mortals into marathon runners in the 1980s, Silva-Netto belonged to a rare breed of athletes. He was one of few long distance runners in the country. The first recorded full marathon (42.195 kilometers) race in the country was held in Roxas City in 1968. He won that race and he went on to represent the country in the Mexico Olympics that same year along with sprinter Rogelio Onofre, discus thrower Josephine de la Viña and pentathlete Lolita Lagrosas.
He recalls running the 10,000, the 5,000 and the marathon aces in that order over the course of the athletics competition. He went all out in the 10,000, then used the 5,000 as a recovery run before going all out again in the marathon.
Very few long distance runners do that now. Some run only the marathon and the others do only the shorter long-distance races.
Silva-Netto himself was a big part of the running boom in the early ’80s. He was the technical man and finish line director when Jose V. Castro Jr., acknowledged as the “father of mass running” in the country, and Asian Games trackster Dr. Aparicio Mequi launched a series of running clinics and marathons in the country.
Silva-Netto was shuttling between Manila and the US a couple of months ago when he was called to join the athletics team to London.
A true Olympian, he just could not resist the lure of the Olympics.