Friday, July 27, 2012

Fair Play: When will our Olympic impunity end?

IN A profile of editors for a journal on Cebu journalists, I wrote, as my three goals--1.) To write a sports column, 2.) meet Maria Sharapova and 3.) write about the country's first Olympic gold medal.  One goal, obviously, has been met, the other could be met next year in the Australian Open and the third, god I hope will be marked off, this year.

Ever since I watched Roel Velasco lose in the semifinals in Barcelona, hereby settling for the automatic bronze medal, I thought winning the gold medal was just a matter of time.  Roel's younger brother did, actually, winning the final in the eyes of most observers but unfortunately, not according to the people that mattered--the judges, so Onyok came home with a bronze.

And we all thought, surely the next one would be the one?

But Sydney 2000, turned out to be the first of three straight Olympics where we didn't win a single medal.

It's expected, of course, that in track and field and swimming, where our best are worlds apart from the medalists, that our athletes would be aiming for just their personal bests.

But it's been particularly hard our best hope, our boxers, fell short. In Beijing, Harry Tanamor, one of the medal favorites according to Sports Illustrated  because he was a silver medalist in the 2007 world championships, lost in the second round to Ghana, his second straight exit in the round of 16.  In fact, since Sydney, no Pinoy has gone past the round of 16.

Our best chance for medal in the past three Olympiads was in Taekwondo in 2004, when the then 16-year-old Mary Antoinette Rivero (if I'm not mistaken) was seconds away from a gold medal bout, but a last minute kick by Greece's Elisavet Mystakidou booted her out of a finals slot and she lost, too, in the repechage and a chance for a bronze medal.

In Beijing, we had three entries in our best chances for a medal, Tanamor and taekwondo's Rivero and Tshomlee Go.

In London we have one, boxing's Mark Barriga, the lone boxer to qualify.

Barriga will shoulder the hopes of millions of Pinoys in his young shoulders and the pressure on this boy when he takes on his first round foe on July 31 would be immense.

Aside from Barriga, who else has a realistic chance of winning a medal? 

There isn't much hope in our token participants in swimming and athletics, or even in weightlifting but perhaps Rachel Cabral and Mark Javier can spring a surprise in archery and they will be the first to see action today at 3 p.m.  Brian Rosario, in shooting, could be a dark horse too, while Tomohikp Hoshina's time spent training in Japan for judo may pay dividends.

We also have an entry in the new sport of BMX, Daniel Caluag, and as the only Asian representative in his sport, I hope the Filipino-American can spring a surprise.

Some people always ask, how could a nation of 90 million fail to win an Olympic gold? 

But I think that’s wrong, we may be 90-million strong, but our pool of athletes is not even 9 million-strong, or, for that matter, 90,000-strong. 

Tell me, how many do you know are into sports, seriously? Our biggest annual competition for the youth—the Palarong Pambansa—has 8,000 athletes.  And these are the same athletes who make the national finals whenever there’s a national meet for their own sport.

So, how can a nation of 9,000 athletes win an Olympic medal?

The simple answer is we don’t.  

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