Nerves, excitement as PH athletes leave for Rio

Rick Olivares
Nerves, excitement as PH athletes leave for Rio

Josh Albelda/RAPPLER

Members of the 12-strong PH athlete delegation depart from Manila as first-timers and veterans alike approach the 2016 Olympics with nervous anticipation

MANILA, Philippines – “Okay, it’s close to being real,” said table tennis player Ian Lariba as she prepared late last night to board an Emirates Alrlines flight bound for Dubai before catching a connecting flight to Brazil. 

The ticket with her name on it and the Philippine jacket notwithstanding, it likely won’t sink in for Lariba and her fellow first timers taekwondo bet Kirstie Elaine Alora, weightlifter Nestor Colonia, golfer Miguel Tabuena, and boxers Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon, until they step foot inside the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb in Rio. 

“As excited as I am, I am trying my best not to be overwhelmed by this,” said Lariba who will also be the flag bearer for the delegation during the Opening Ceremony on the night of August 5 (August 6 Manila time) at the Maracaña Stadium. “I am sure that my training will kick in and I’ll be fine.” 

Despite this being her third Olympiad, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz remained a little anxious. “Ano bang lugar ng Brazil ‘to? Problema ba talaga yung Zika virus? At syempre yung resulta ng laban ko. Para hindi ko maisip lahat mga ito, binabalikan ko yug training ko.

(“I know it’s in Rio but where is that in Brazil since I have never been there before? How bad of a problem is this Zika virus? And of course, there’s the matter of performing in my event. So I do not get overwhelmed, I revert back to the training and focusing methods taught to me.”)

Marestella Torres-Sunang snaps a selfie with husband and former national team shot putter Eliezer Sunang at the airport. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler

Jessie Lacuna will be making his second trip to the Olympics. “While we are all focused on our individual games, I am sure we are all looking forward to bond with each other,” he said with regards to the 29-man Philippine delegation that includes 12 athletes, 10 coaches, 6 officials, and 1 caddy. “As much as possible, we’ll all be cheering each other on in the different venues.” 

Trackster Eric Michael Cray, swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi plus boxers Suarez and Ladon are currently in the United States and will fly from there to Brazil, while marathoner Mary Joy Tabal is finishing up her preparations in Japan. 

Philippine security officer Colonel Jeff Tamayo has monitored the arrest of the ISIS affiliated terrorists two days ago in a police operation in Brazil with great concern. “Given all the terrorist incidents that have occurred lately, I keep thinking of Munich and the United States,” said Tamayo, referring to the 1972 Munich Massacre that saw the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists, and the Olympic park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics.

“It is the host country that handles all matters. I know that as soon as we arrive, we will have a proper briefing on all the latest security and safety details.” 

Chef de Mission Jose Romasanta also bared the unsuccessful request for additional coaches. Rio organizers only allowed the boxing team a single trainer – Nolito Velasco -for the two boxers due to the delegation size, though AIBA (the international boxing organization) typically allows 3 for each boxer. “We have two boxers and one coach. We put in a request for an additional coach but it was denied by the IOC.” 

Cray and Torres will share a coach, as will Diaz and Colonia, plus Lacuna and Alkhaldi, while there will be one coach each for the marathon, golf, table tennis and taekwondo events.

Romasanta said he and Col Tamayo will be filling in as assistants. “If we have to be the waterboys and towel person then so be it. After all, we are all in this together.”  

POC President Jose Cojuangco Jr was on hand to see of the RP delegation. “I’ll be flying out to Brazil on August 3. However, it’s good to be here and support our delegation.”

The Philippine team will arrive at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 24th, Brazil time. The South American country is 11-hours behind the Philippines. –

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