PRESIDENT Aquino on Monday encouraged the lean, 11-man Philippine delegation bound for the 2012 Olympics to "surprise the world" as they take on the best of the best in London a month from now.
Energy Secretary Rene Almendras read Aquino’s speech during the formal send-off for the entire Philippine delegation, in which the President expressed his confidence in the Filipino athletes’ capacity to overcome great odds.
“I know the world may not be expecting us to take home multiple gold medals. But I believe in the capacity of the Filipino to surprise. I believe in the capacity of the Filipino to be excellent in anything they do — to be world class,” said the President.
“We have seen it in our sporting heroes, from Onyok Velasco to Manny Pacquiao, from the Philippine Azkals to the Philippine Volcanoes. We have seen it in our countrymen abroad, who consistently amaze their employers with their efficiency, their hard work and creativity.”
“But I -- and every single one of your countrymen -- will be counting on you to work even harder, so you can surprise the world once again, and win glory for yourself and for the Philippines on the world stage.”
The President, who failed to make it to the event held at the Blue Leaf in McKinley Hill at Fort Bonifacio owing to a previous commitment, also assured the athletes that they will get all the support they need from the government and from the 95 million Filipinos.
No Filipino athlete however, has won an Olympic medal since boxer Velasco clinched the silver in the 48kg light-flyweight class of the 1996 Atlanta Games.
After the President’s speech, the Filipino Olympians led by boxer Mark Anthony Barriga, were presented with their official team jackets by Almendras as pop singers Jet Pangan and Mocha serenaded them on stage.
Only seven of the 11 athletes who earned Olympic berths were present during the event. Aside from Barriga, also in attendance were shooter Brian Rosario, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna, long jumper Marestella Torres and long distance runner Rene Herrera.
Judoka Tomohiko Hoshina and BMX cyclist Daniel Caluag are currently training in Japan and the United States, respectively, while archers Mark Javier and Rachelle Anne Cabral – the latest two to qualify - are on their way back to the country after competing in the World Championships in Ogden, Utah.
Top brass from the sports and corporate world were also present to wish the Filipino athletes the best of luck.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose `Peping’ Cojuangco Jr. already congratulated the Filipino athletes even before they see action in London.
“They are Olympians, they are here ready to go and compete. They are already winners. They made the effort to qualify and become an Olympian,” Cojuangco said.
Among the sports big wigs who joined Cojuangco were International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Frank Elizalde, Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia, PH chef de mission Manny Lopez, Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines chairman Manny V. Pangilinan and president Ricky Vargas, respectively, past and present president of the Philippine National Shooting Association (PNSA) Art Macapagal and Mikee Romero, and ICTSI’s Enrique Razon.
“It’s not a question of numbers, it’s about heart,” said Pangilinan in his brief message to the Olympians.