The rise of COVID-19 cases globally hasn’t dampened the country’s drive to set foot in Tokyo and end the Filipinos’ long wait for an Olympic gold.
And the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) will back them all the way, ready to send the country’s Olympians to Japan should the Philippines get an invite from
Summer Games organizers to participate in tests events meant to rehearse Tokyo’s ability to respond to pandemic situations.
“These are challenging times. But as I’ve said before, this is our best chance to win a gold medal. Our athletes will do their best despite the threat (of COVID-19),” said POC president and Cavite Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.
Leading the 87 athletes from 20 sports looking for Olympic berths are the country’s top ladies in waiting: weightlifter and Rio 2016 silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz, skateboarder Margielyn Didal and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, who are virtual shoo-ins for Tokyo and need just formalities to book their slots. The three are Asian champions and Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medalists who represent strong medal chances for the country.
Other female athletes who are SEA Games champions and also have strong qualifying chances are boxer Nesthy Petecio, karatekas Jamie Lim and Junna Tsukii, golfer Bianca Pagdanganan and trackster Kristina Knott. Asian champion golfer and the athlete of the year of the Inquirer and the Philippine Sportswriters Association Yuka Saso is also in the running.
They, and a host of other qualifying hopefuls, are looking to join pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo and boxers Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno in Tokyo.
Obiena, Yulo, Marcial and Magno have already qualified for the quadrennial meet and Tolentino is hoping to send Olympians to Tokyo to participate in a dress rehearsal for the Olympics should the country get an invite for the test events.
“It would be an honor for our Olympians to be part of such an activity for the Tokyo Olympics,” Tolentino told the Inquirer. “It would be a great experience for them, too.”
The events will be a dress rehearsal on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as organizers host an international sports event during a pandemic.
“At the moment we are currently gauging how many athletes would like to participate in the test events … We will coordinate with the government once we can confirm those numbers,” senior Tokyo 2020 official Yasuo Mori told reporters.
Test events for five competitions, including track and field and the marathon, could involve foreign athletes participating, the organizers said.
Diaz and five other weightlifters are just waiting for the final qualifying in the Asian championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on April 16 to 25 to solidify their chase for Olympic berths while Lim, Tsukii and other karatekas will vie for spots through a qualification meet in Paris on June 11 to 13.
Didal is also looking to formalize her entry through another qualifying event. At No. 14 in the world, the skateboarder from Cebu only needs to hold her post as the Top 20 get outright slots to Tokyo. Watanabe and Petecio are also looking to qualify outright via their rankings. Saso and Pagdanganan are also within the cutoff circle for qualifiers while SEA Games record-holders Knott (women’s 200m) and Eric Shauwn Cray (men’s 400m hurdles) are the nation’s bets in track and field. Swimming has SEA Games medalists James Deiparine, Remedy Rule, Luke Gebbie and Jasmine Alkhaldi.
“I’m not entertaining the thought that the Olympics will not push through as scheduled,” said Tolentino. INQ]
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