PH Olympians go about their business amid security concerns
PH Olympians go about their business amid security concerns
Security is tight as the Rio Olympics near, but that hasn't distracted the Philippine delegation from their preparations

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – As the 2016 Rio Olympics draws closer, security gets tighter at the different venues, and around the thousands of delegates, including the lean Philippine team that’s here to end a 20-year medal drought.

Over 10,000 athletes and 6,000 officials from 206 countries will converge in this city of samba and the famous Ipanema Beach for the Games set from August 5 to 21. Half a million tourists are expected to fly in to enjoy the Games.

Different heads of states, including the French president, and sports ministers will be at the Maracana Stadium for the opening ceremony.

There are threats of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that mostly affects pregnant women, and the state of political instability in the country. But the one that has raised the biggest concern is the threat on security.

“It’s always a threat. Security is always a concern during events of this magnitude. There is the threat of terrorism and it’s around us here,” said Philippine Olympic Committee vice president and chef-de-mission Joey Romasanta.

Security in Rio de Janeiro is at a very high level.

Even inside the Athletes Village, members of Brazil’s Special Forces are on standby, most of them carrying long firearms. Police visibility around the city is strong.

Colonel Antonio Tamayo, POC second vice president who is in charge of security for the Philippine delegation, issued his own “threat assessment” just 8 days before the Summer Games unfold amid previous calls for a postponement.

“The Athletes Village here is like a castle,” said the Philippine Army officer, who served as commander of the Presidential Escorts during the term of then Philippine President Joseph Estrada.

Tamayo said the 85,000 members of the Brazilian police and military tasked to secure the Games may not be enough to ensure that nothing untoward will happen during the Games.

But he’s convinced that Brazil is doing everything it can.

“The dictates in France and in other countries underline the threat. Very extra-ordinary ang style like what happened in Nice,” said Tamayo, who added that for events like this, there’s more than physical security that’s needed.

“It’s like Malacanang where even the food is controlled. There are security arrangements. The Athletes Village and the competition venues represent the inner ring. It’s where security is always tightest,” he said Wednesday here.

“At the Village, you can control their movement. Everybody is identified within the inner ring. I believe Brazil has done everything is can. To me, it’s like entering Malacanang. The challenge is to try and identify where security might collapse,” he said.

“It usually happens outside the inner ring,” Tamayo said, referring to incidents that may happen when delegates move around on their own doing shopping or visiting tourist sites.

“As soon as you go out of that inner ring and going further out shopping or going to the beaches is where a compromise might happen,” said the POC official, who’s also head of the Philippine Soft Tennis Federation.

“There are athletes or delegates who will go out of that inner ring. Any small thing will cause a huge impact. Foreign athletes or delegates should do their part. They themselves should take care,” said Tamayo.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said.

Amid all these threats, athletes from the different countries continue to pour in, and it’s visible inside the Athletes Village, in the dining halls and entertainment centers for delates, the fitness center and activity center.

The 7 of 12 Pinoy qualifiers went about their schedules Wednesday. They were at the training venues for what Romasanta said was the start of their tapering down.

“Our athletes are ready. There’s nothing more to do than maintain their form. They’ve trained long and hard for this. They’re ready,” he said.

Ian Lariba of table tennis was out jogging as early as 6 am and was at the training venue before noonwhile swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna were at the pool at noontime. Weighlifters Nestor Colonia and Hidilyn Diaz trained early as well.

Long jumper Marestella Torres did sprints on the track in the morning and was at the fitness center in the evening, joined by taekwondo’s Kirstie Alora who did light sparring with coach Kitoy Cruz.

Boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez are checking in Thursday morning from Las Vegas, to be followed by hurdler Eric Cray from Houston, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal from Japan and Miguel Tabuena from Manila.

“We’re all set. We’re all safe and sound,” said Romasanta. – pool report by Gilbert Cordero/ 

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