AS CALUAG CARRIES LAST TORCH
It's the Olympics and they're talking about the Southeast Asian Games... and our athletes' so-called personal best.
That, in fact, has always been the case for Team Philippines as it is threading yet another possibility of coming home empty handed in this 30th edition of the Summer Games in London following the second round collapse of boxer Mark Barriga at the hands of Kazakhstan's Birzhan Zhakypov on Saturday.
Barriga was the best bet among the Philippines' Olympic hopefuls. But he faded in the third round despite leading his Kazakh rival in the second and lost all his chances at becoming the first Filipino Olympic medalist since Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco salvaged a silver medal in a final match loss to Bulgaria's Daniel Bojilov in Atlanta in 1996.
The Philippines' seemingly fading Olympic medal campaign now rests singly at the hands of Danny Caluag, a rated BMX rider who is tipped as a possible gold medalist in his event, but only if he gets a good start in the plunge that would give him a headstart in his bid.
"Caluag is a gold medal contender. But everything rests on the riders' descent before they negotiate the course. That's where all riders are equal. You spill and you lose big points," a PhilCycling official told The Daily Tribune.
Caluag had a spill during practice the other day, resulting in minor bruises which the Filipino-American rider simply brushed off. In fact, Caluag seems unperturbed by the pressure that rests on his shoulders.
“That’s a duty I have to perform. I know it’s tough, but my team has worked it out and we are expecting for the best,” said Caluag.
“It’s an honor and I’m very aware of that challenge. All my teammates including the two in track and field who are still competing are very supportive of me. I appreciate it,” said Caluag, who sees action three days from now.
His other teammates who have yet to compete before the Olympic curtain is brought down are long jumper Marestella Torres and 5,000-meter bet Rene Herrera.
Torres and Herrera are regarded as SEA Games powers. But they are second-class citizens in the Olympics dominated by names that sound like Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
The two are in London as Class B entries, which translate as accommodations to International Olympic Committee-member countries whose athletes have yet to reach world-class status. Athletics is also a requisite event in the Olympics, along with swimming, where all countries are required to field in entries.
Torres' only goal in London is to erase the stigma of her forgettable performance in Beijing in 2008 and shoot for a personal best time.
“I’ve trained for this one for so long. I know I will do good this time,” said Torres before she competes in her second Olympic stint. “Honestly, the field is too strong. But you’ll find me in the field on Tuesday doing my best.”
“That’s the target, and I believe I can make it,” she said.
So, that leaves Caluag alone.
Caluag, 25 and No. 84 in the latest UCI rankings, will compete against the big names in his sport, led by No. 1 Sam Willoughby of Australia, second-ranked Connor Fieldes of the United States and defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia.
“They’re practically the same people who I know, with whom I've competed with,” said Caluag. “They’re nothing new to me. It’s not like something that I need to be scared of.” Caluag is a son of Filipino parents from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija who migrated to the US before he was born.
Like Caluag, Fil-Japanese judoka Tomohiko Hoshina dreamed of giving the Philippines an Olympic medal. He lost in his first round try.
Hoshina represented the Philippines because he was aware a slot in Japan's judo team was almost impossible. After his debacle, Hoshina had made known his intention to retire from the sport and focus on his job as a teacher in Japan, where he lives with his Filipino mother.
“He told me he wants to retire to become a full-time teacher,” judo president Dave Carter revealed. But Carter also made known his plans for Hoshina.
Carter has asked him to reconsider, saying the association wants him to see action in the next Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar “if judo or his division is included in the program” or in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea.
“Baka mapilit pa natin. Tutal naman, he has represented the country a lot of times already. Sa tingin ko, pagbibigyan tayo.”
That is how we squeeze the last drop out of a spent athlete.
With POC/PSC pool report