MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association president Philip Ella Juico stated that sprinter Eric Shaun Cray is the lone track and field athlete to qualify for the 2016 Olympics so far, but expressed hope that others will join him in Rio De Janeiro.
“In all likelihood, pole vaulter Ernest John ‘EJ’ Obiena will most likely also make the Philippine team as well,” said Juico,who is in the second year of his term as head of the national sports association.
“EJ’s objective right now is to equal or surpass the 5.7 meter standard in pole vaulting. In practices, he is 10 centimeters short. I have no doubt that he will make it.”
While the men’s slate has more or less been identified, for the women’s slot, it’s a toss up between 34-year old long jumper Marestella Torres and 17-year old Fil-American sprinter Kayla Richardson.
“Right now our desire is to have Marestella Torres take the slot that is if no one from the ladies makes the standard. However, there’s the possibility that Kayla Richardson can make it. If Kayla makes the standard then she’s the one.”
Torres, the Negros Occidental native, has represented the Philippines excellently since 2002. She has 4 golds and one bronze in Southeast Asian Games competition as well as one gold, one silver, and one bronze in Asian championship competition.
“She understands that this could be her last hurrah,” noted Juico. “If she qualifies that would be a nice way to cap her career and hopefully, make up for her finish during the London Olympics.”
During the 2012 London Games, Torres finished 22nd in a pool of 32 athletes, failing to advance to the final.
Richardson, is the youngest champion in SEA Games history, winning the 100-meter dash in Singapore in June of 2015. She ended a 20-year drought in the event for the country and equaled the great Lydia De Vega who also won the event during the 1987 Kuala Lumpur Games. Richardson finished with a time of 11.76.
Juico also talked about the challenge of bringing back glory to Philippine athletics on the international stage. Said the PATAFA President: “In the past, we have always been good at the Southeast Asian level although there was a slight dip in Myanmar in 2013.
“In 2015, we were almost there. The highlight of the Singapore Games was that we had the fastest man and woman in Southeast Asia because of Eric Cray and Kayla Richardson. In the Asian Games, we haven’t been as successful. You have to go all the way back to Elma Muros for our last medal placer (in 1994).
“You have to remember that athletics has become even more competitive. China is there. They practically dominate all sports in Asia. Japan is there. Korea is there. The former Russian republics are doing well. We have to spend more just to keep up with them. We have to be for more creative in our planning and search for talent.”
There has been backlash against the recruitment of Fil-foreigners to the national cause but Juico says that the country isn’t producing top notch talent the way it used to.
“Right now, we are using or harnessing our Fil-Heritage athletes. For me, I don’t see anything wrong with that as long as they have Filipino blood. Of course, we must not forget to develop our homegrown talents. We have a large population that is our biggest resource. But we cannot accomplish that alone.
Juico theorizes that involving the Department of Education could improve the development of homegrown athletes in the Philippines.
“Physical Education has gone down in schools and that has hurt our talent pool. Research shows that you need at least one hour a week of vigorous training and exercise. Kung mawawala yan do not expect to develop good homegrown talents. We cannot expect miracles. From time to time you will find extraordinary talents but they are few and far in between.”
Juico expects the athletics roster for the Philippine delegation to Rio to be finalized not later than July. “It’s either they make it or they don’t. But all our athletes are being trained to perform in other tournaments for the 2017 SEA Games, the 2018 Asian Games, the 2019 SEA Games, and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. You have to look at the big picture.” – Rappler.com
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