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Ian Suyu

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IYOMI Watanabe (top) has a good chance of making it to the Tokyo Olympics next year.   ROMAN PROSPERO @tribunephl_RRP

National sports associations (NSA) declared readiness to train hard and send “as many athletes as possible” to the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Philippine Judo Federation president Dave Carter said he is optimistic that the country is capable of sending 38 athletes to the Summer Games, especially with the momentum it has following a successful participation in the 30th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last month.

Carter’s federation offers a lot of promises.

Aside from Kiyomi Watanabe, who is already sure of making it to the world’s biggest athletic conclave, Carter is tipped to send a couple or more judokas to the Olympics in SEA Games medalists Shugen Nakano, Keisei Nakano and Mariya Takahashi.

“Kiyomi will surely qualify. Right now, she already made the continental quota. But come April or May, she will formally make it to the Olympics,” Carter said, adding that the Nakano brothers and Takahashi also have handsome chances of making it.

“If that event happens, we will still have two to three athletes hoping to qualify under the continental quota. We are thinking of the Nakano brothers or maybe Mariya Takahashi. Those are vying for the last slot if ever.”

Another federation with good chances of sending multiple athletes is athletics.

Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Philip Ella Juico said sending 38 athletes is also very possible based on their performance in the previous SEA Games.

In fact, Juico already has an Olympic athlete in pole vault specialist EJ Obiena, who punched the ticket to Tokyo following an impressive performance in a tournament in Chiara, Italy.

Aside from Obiena, also tipped to make the Olympics are hurdler Eric Cray, vaulter Nathalie Uy, thrower Willie Morrison, long-distance runner Christine Hallasgo and sprinter Kristina Knott, who already broke the 30-year-old record tallied by the legendary Lydia de Vega-Mercado in the women’s 200-meter run.

“That’s a good number. It means that there are more opportunities for our athletes. It means that we are improving,” said Juico, an old hand in local sports after serving as chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

“Considering that Olympics is also getting bigger, we are still able to send more athletes. Having 38 athletes is good for this edition of the Olympics.”

Lani Velasco of the Philippine Swimming Inc. (PSI) strongly agrees.

Velasco, who guided the national swimmers to their first gold medal after a decade of drought, said sending a total of 38 athletes to the Summer Games would be a dream-come-true as it reflects the vast improvement of Filipino athletes.

PSI already has four swimmers on the verge of Olympic qualification after capturing the Olympic Qualifying Time-B (OQT-B) in the previous biennial meet.

James Deiparine, the first Filipino swimmer to win a gold medal since the 2009 SEA Games in Laos, captured the OQT-B in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke while two-time Olympian Jasmine Alkhaldi, Remedy Rule and Luke Gebbie nearly made the cut in the women’s 50-meter freestyle, men’s 100-meter freestyle and men’s 50-meter freestyle, respectively.

“To send 38 athletes to the Olympics would be a dream. It shows that we now have many athletes who can meet the Olympic standards,” Velasco said.

“As an NSA leader, it is great that all NSA and Olympic sports can have an athlete representing our country. That would definitely bring us honor. Actually, to send athletes is already a big honor.”

Velasco said his wards have good chances of joining the Olympic delegation.

“For the first time, we have four swimmers who have achieved Olympic Qualifying Time-B as of December. And if you ask me, all of them have the chance to get the OQT-A because they have six months to prepare and join all the qualifying meets in the Olympics,” she said.

“They really have a great chance to qualify in the Olympics. There’s no pressure for us. If ever we won’t be able to accomplish that, we still have one male and one female under universality.”

In a previous statement, PSC chairman William “Butch” Ramirez and Olympic chief of mission Mariano Araneta said they are looking to send 38 athletes to the Olympics — the biggest ever for the past 30 years.

Ramirez said they would spend the Olympic fund, including the P100-million donation from President Rodrigo Duterte, wisely to make sure that they would have a big Olympic contingent.

“We will be strictly monitoring their training,” said Ramirez, who is tipped to go all out in funding the 49 athletes who have good chances of qualifying in the Olympics.

“This is a collective effort. We really need to support our athletes to achieve a common goal of winning our first Olympic gold medal.”

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