Why Filipino Olympians fall short
By DAVID CASUCO
Not much is expected from the 11-man/woman Philippine contingent to the ongoing London Olympiad. To those ignorant bloggers in the Net who are talking about a golden medal finish by one of the Filipino athletes, please cut out that crap. There will be no golden finish; not yet. Although, boxing had, at one time or another, delivered five Olympic medals for the Philippines, that chance is not there in this Summer Games.
The lone Filipino boxer, Mark Anthony Barriga, who is entered in the light flyweight division and is touted to have a shot at an Olympic medal, won his opening bout Tuesday, but he is not expected to get past the favored Cuban and Chinese sluggers in the latter rounds. Barriga, who answers the moniker “Little Pacquiao,” pummeled his Italian foe in the round of 32 with an impressive 17-7 score. However, the road to Olympic glory is still far off for Barriga. He needs all the luck to punch his way to the medal podium.
The remaining athletes are just there (in London) for the experience, or probably establish a new Philippine or SEA Games record in their respective sports disciplines.
But don’t ever, ever think that the Pinoy cannot compete against the best athletes in the world. There are a great number of naturally gifted Filipino world beaters that, given correct coaching and training, could harvest gold medals in Olympic Games like the Koreans and the Japanese.
So, what is the problem?
Lack of training and lack of competent coaches; those are the problems that bedevil the Filipino Olympians. And while the Philippine government could only afford a shoestring budget for training national athletes, the utter indifference of the private sector that is supposed to back up the government sports program makes the athletes’ plight even more pathetic.
I covered sports beat for some time in Manila, and few weeks before every international competition, my editor would ask me to check on how the national athletes prepare for the sporting event. The first time I encountered these athletes, I was surprised at the squalor of their living quarters inside the Rizal Memorial Stadium. Their rooms did not have air conditioning, and their daily food money was not exactly a budget for athletes who do daily energy-sapping training. And the most disgusting part of it all is that the people holding top positions in Philippines sports organizations are –you are right – politicos; stupid, pot-bellied trapos masquerading as sportsmen.
The storyline never changed the whole time I was doing the sports beat: Shoestring budget, not enough training, and no competent coaches. So, when the Filipino national athletes compete against their peers abroad in an arena where sports excellence is the norm, like the Olympics, they get beaten, routed, clobbered; the bearers of our tri-colors bite the dust all the time.
Ever wonder why Manny Pacquiao is a successful pro athlete? He has a Hall of Fame trainer. He has a very competent conditioning coach. He has an exceptional talent to complement the best training tools there are in boxing. Whenever he walks into the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, time stands still and people stand in awe. He is god inside the ring, revered and feared in equal measure. So, off the Pacman went: From a scrawny amateur pug to a most celebrated megabuck prizefighter. Did you see that? Did you see what correct training does to an athlete? Yes, he reaches his maximum potential; and when that happens, the athlete is on top of his game.
Now back up to early 90s and imagine Pacquiao in the training pool for the Philippines national boxing team. Can you imagine what would have happened to him? You guess it right; he would have ended up like the other talented young athletes – back in Dadiangas freaking poor, wasted, and miserable. That is because talented young athletes in the Philippines, who go by way of the government program, never flourish. I bet my Pinoy ass they never do; I have seen it myself, firsthand.
That dismal situation has not improved one bit until today. It is how it is in Philippine sports.
Also, in January this year, there was an excellent chance for the Philippines to make history at the Winter Youth Olympics. Fifteen-year old Michael Christian Martinez could have been the first figure skater from a tropical country to win a figure staking medal. He came in a strong third in the short program, but he sputtered in the long program and dropped to seventh overall.
Did you know why young Michael failed in the long program?
Not enough training, that is why.
Ilia Kulic, the former Russian Olympian champ, started giving Michael lessons on jumps for the long program in California before the competition, but there was no money to sustain the training. Some generous Fil-Ams who read my story in the paper contributed or did fundraising for Michael, but they could only do so much. Figure skating entails sufficient logistics; Michael needed a corporate sponsor, no less.
“He was a sensation after the short program. The cameras of the foreign press photographers were all on him,” said Michael’s mother Teresa, who acted as the coach of his son. “The media were really intrigued that the Philippines was up there with figure skating powerhouse China and Russia.”
And so, M.C. Martinez, the phenomenal Filipino figure skater from Muntinlupa City, exceptionally gifted that he is, joins the ranks of wasted sports talents because, unlike other countries, the Philippines does not take pride in training talented Filipino athletes. (David Casuco was former assistant sports editor of the Journal Publications in Manila. He studied journalism at the University of Santo Tomas, and took expanded theological studies at the Angelus Bible Institute in Los Angeles)