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Tokyo expedition

Ian Suyu

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Ranking sports officials are looking to turn the Tokyo Olympics into a massive party.

Olympic chief of mission Nonong Araneta and Philippine Sport Commission (PSC) chairman William “Butch” Ramirez said they are looking at sending 38 athletes when the Summer Games unwrap in the Japanese capital in July. Ramirez, who was the chief of mission when the country plucked its second overall crown in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last month, said they have already identified 49 athletes from 17 sports who are capable of making it to the Olympics.

Aside from qualifiers Carlos Yulo of gymnastics and EJ Obiena of athletics, Ramirez and Araneta are resting their hopes on the likes of SEA Games gold medalists Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting, Nesthy Petecio and Eumir Felix Marcial of boxing, Eric Cray, Kristina Knott and Willie Morrison of athletics, Kiyomi Watanabe of judo, Pauline Lopez and Samuel Morrison of taekwondo, Kim Mangrobang of triathlon, James Deiparine of aquatics and Margie Didal of skateboarding.

Other athletes who are fighting for Olympic slots are those from 3×3 basketball, golf, cycling, rowing, table tennis, karate and archery.

Should Araneta and Ramirez hit their target of sending 38 athletes to the Olympics, this would be the biggest Olympic delegation of the Philippines since the 1972 Munich Olympics, where it deployed 53 athletes in 11 sports.

Part of that squad were the men’s basketball team of legendary players like Bogs Adornado, Jimmy Mariano, Ed Ocampo and Tembong Melencio as well as shooting bannered by Arturo Macapagal, the son of former President Diosdado Macapagal who challenged Jose “Peping” Cojuangco in the Philippine Olympic Committee elections in 2008.

In the past three decades, the most number of Olympic athletes for the Philippines was 26 in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.|

Noted swimmers Eric Buhain and Akiko Thomson bannered the delegation, which was bloated with the inclusion of demonstration sports basque pelota and taekwondo.

In the previous Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the Philippines sent only 13 athletes while 11 competed before that in London in 2012, 15 in Beijing in 2008 and 20 in Athens in 2004.

Araneta and Ramirez sat down with national sports association (NSA) leaders of the potential Olympians yesterday, where they were given a clear picture of their chances.

“We discussed how many athletes would be competingin their respective qualifications. We have already secured one slot for gymnastics and one for athletes so we have around 49 athletes for qualification in 17 sports,” said Araneta, who is also the president of the Philippine Football Federation.

Ramirez said they would require various sports federations to submit their respective programs in order to plot the management of the P100-million Olympic budget that President Rodrigo Duterte donated through the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).

The PSC chief said the Commission on Audit (CoA) instructed them to strictly monitor the training program to make sure that the fund would be properly spent. “We will be monitoring their trainings as required by the CoA to make sure that the allocation of fund is legitimate,” Ramirez said, adding that they will require an honest-to-goodness progress report from the national sports associations.

“As part of each sports federation’s responsibility, they should give us reports on all qualifying competitions where they will participate so that we can know the actual status and progress of our athletes rankings near qualification.”

Araneta said Pagcor officials were also in the meeting and would be involved in the disbursement of fund.

“The PAGCOR (executives) also attended the meeting. They want the programs and the budget. Chairman Ramirez told them to submit the program by Friday,” he said.

For Ramirez, the unity and coordination within the NSA is a great sign of eagerness for each sport to enter the Olympic stage and ultimately grab the elusive gold medal.

“If we are able to set up this kind of template, I think it will be comfortable for the NSAs and potential Olympic athletes to chase the gold medal because the task will become much lighter.”

“We would like to spend the whole P100 million. If they (athletes) need a sports psychologist, we will immediately send one to them,” the PSC chief said.

“It is a collective effort now and it is great to see the Pagcor, NSAs and PSC there. We really need to support our athletes.”

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