Meet the Philippines’ Olympic swimmers

Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Lacuña, the country's two young swimmers representing the Philippines, could not believe at first that they were going to London

Jasmine Alkhaldi. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

MANILA, Philippines – Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Lacuña have been swimming their whole lives.

“I started swimming when I was 3 years old because I almost drowned after jumping in the water, and my parents decided to enroll me in summer swimming,” said 18-year-old Alkhaldi, originally from Parañaque but now based in Hawaii.

Lacuña, a year older and from Pulilan, Bulacan, started even earlier.

When he was only a three-month-old baby, he was already paddling around the pool in armbands with his siblings, three of which are also swimmers.

“Our home was inside a resort, they told me i was crawling from the house into the pool,” he recalled.

Rappler interviewed both before traveling to compete in the London Summer Olympic Games for the Philippines, an archipelago of 7,107 islands but not known for its swimmers.

Initial shock

Both young athletes were shocked when they were told they were going to London.

Alkhaldi explained it took her a while to realize that she was to be an Olympian, and she couldn’t believe it at first, so she just waited a couple of weeks for her name to come out in the press.

“I didn’t believe it, actually. It took me a while before i believed. They told me and i was like, really? but at the back of my head i was like, no…” she said.

Lacuña remembered he felt almost the same.

“The first time I heard I was going, I was shocked and couldn’t believe i was going. After a while it sinked into me and I was so happy and excited to tell my parents that I was going. They were shocked also,” he recalled.

Jessie Lacuña. Photo by Carlos Santamaria

Humble expectations

Alkhaldi and Lacuña enter the Olympics feeling relaxed. They said they simply want to do their best in the Games, where they will be up against tough rivals like the Singaporeans and admite they have little chance of taking a medal home.

“I don’t know, I haven’t ever been to the Olympics, so I don’t know what to expect. I just hope that i will represent the country well,” noted Alkhaldi, who will be competing in the women’s 200m freestyle event.

Although he dreams of beating his idol, 16-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, Lacuña agreed: “Everything happens there, you don’t know what happens, but for me just to beat my best time is my best achievement.”

Need to improve PH swimming

Regardless of what happens in the Olympics, both young athletes hope that in the future more can be done to improve the standard of the sport in the Philippines.

“They should encourage a lot of potential kids, encourage them into the sport, it would help a lot,” said Lacuña, who wishes the country had facilities like those of Singapore, where swimmers also enjoy strong support from the government and good coaches.

Alkhaldi admitted, “It’s kind of difficult, coming from the Philippines, because you have limited resources.”

“We are trying to make the most out of what we got, but I think we should build up more centers like the sports facilities in Laguna, where you can train and go to school so you can focus on sport,” she stressed. –