MONICO PUENTEVELLA - Hunting for an Olympic medal

Starting today, 10 of our national weightlifters will join the world’s best in the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Cup in Pattaya, Thailand for the whole week from September 17 to 28. Accompanying the weightlifters are their two mentors, former Olympian and Cebu coach Ramon Solis and Zamboanga’s Greg Colonia. And I shall also represent the country in the IWF Congress tomorrow, September 17, as Honorary President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation.

This will be the gateway for these athletes, six women and four men, to hopefully make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and likewise, to the 2024 Paris Olympics. But of course, before that, they will show their best in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games that the Philippines will be hosting from November 30 to December 11. No promises, but I’m sure, we’ll get some gold medals for the country. Para sa Bayan ito.

Our sport and association, among 45 National Sports Associations, is the only one that luckily got a medal, after 20 long years, in the 2016 Río Olympics through the first Filipina Olympian medalist in history, Hidilyn Diaz, whom we are all hoping will repeat her feat in Tokyo next year. But it didn’t come easy. As the song goes, “The road is long, with many a winding turn.”

Hidilyn started when she was about 11 years old in the first Philippine youth games, Batang Pinoy, in 1999, my pet project when I was still commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission under then-President Joseph Estrada. Then, in 2008, elected as the first Filipino Asian Weightlifting president, I made sure she would compete as a wild card in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as the youngest athlete at 16 years of age. I didn’t care whether she would make waves there or not — just to experience the pressure and compete against the best in the world, just to inspire her in continuing the struggle — win or lose. My kumpadre Manny Pacquiao, now a senator, was the flag bearer then for the opening Olympic parade. She went home disappointed with her performance. But now, she has become a young certified Olympian under coach Tony Agustin.

Then came the 2012 London Olympics. That time, she was not a wild card anymore — she qualified for the Games. Under our Philippine Olympic Committee Chef de Mission then and now Congressman, Manny Lopez, Hidilyn was chosen as flag bearer of the delegation and I was wary of the assignment because this could add more pressure on Hidi, lessening her chance of succeeding. There were only around eight athletes who qualified for the Games, as the road then to the quadrennial meet was more difficult. And I was right. Again, she failed and cried all the way back to the Athletes Village with Coach Tony. I told her then that she was still too young at 21 and should look forward to the Río Olympics in another four years. Nothing lost.

These past two Olympics haunted her, traumatized her, and challenged her for a higher goal. Unless you pass through these painful gates, you may never reach your dream — the impossible dream.

Came the Río Olympics and she was crying again. On her way to the Bank. And to Malacañang. More of this in my piece next Monday.

It could have been worse for Team USA. They lost to a more determined French five. And Serbia got its only consolation by beating the Americans, too, if only to play for fifth place. Imagine if the smaller Americans would have had to play Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Spain and Australia?

But I still salute US coach Gregg Popovich for giving tribute to his young fighting team for showing up at the tryouts if only to represent and play their guts out for the American flag — sarcastically pointing to the superstars who will now answer the call and try out for the Dream Team to the Tokyo Olympics and redeem their lost pride. If I were the USA Basketball Association, it should ban all the NBA superstars who ignored the call for tryouts for this particular World Cup and send this same young fighting team, adding five more skillful and dominating centers. To teach some smart guys a lesson to honor their flag. Spoiled brats don’t belong to the Dream Team. But then, why should they? I’m not an American.

Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella is a former Philippine Sports Commission commissioner and Philippine Olympic Committee chairman


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