THE Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa) is going to the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore carrying high hopes of surpassing the best gold medal haul ever by a national athletics team.
Patafa president Philip Ella Juico said the highly-touted track and field squad is eyeing to bag a minimum of eight golds and a maximum of 12 in the June 5-16 biennial meet.
“We’re very optimistic. We expect to win at least eight holds, and even 12 to surpass the best gold medal haul in the SEA Games (by an athletics team), which happened way back in 1983. We’re also confident we have the numbers to have one-two finishes in some events,” said Juico, who took over the post from longtime athletics chief Go Teng Kok.
“But we must be heroes in delivery, and not just in promise. We’re claiming eight golds, with 12 as our stretch target.”
The legendary Lydia De Vega won the gold in the 200-meter dash to spearhead the 12-gold medal haul by the country in the 1983 SEA Games in Singapore.
Out of the 36-man athletics team Juico said the country can clinch a gold in decathlon, men’s 4x400-meter relay, men’s 400-m low hurdles, men’s steeplechase, men’s 1,500-m run, men’s long jump, men’s shot put, men’s hammer throw, men’s pole vault, and men’s 400-meter run.
The excellent training the athletes had in recent months plus support from the private sector are what makes Juico confident about Patafa’s projection.
“We want to give credit to the two US coaches referred to us by (sports benefactor) James Lafferty. Dick Beardsley and Bill Schnier gave tremendous help to our national team coaches in improving their coaching techniques, and to our athletes in boosting their confidence,” he said.
Beardsley, a long-distance runner best known for his second place finish in the historic 1982 Boston Marathon, crafted a very detailed and specific training program for marathon bets Mary Joy Tabal, Rafael Poliquit, and men’s marathon national record holder Eduardo Buenavista.
Juico related Beardsley was also helping the marathoners secure a corporate sponsorship from New Balance, which also provides support for Beardsley.
Schnier, University of Cincinnati’s athletics head coach for 33 years, spent three weeks with the national athletes and coaches, giving pointers on training techniques and helping boost morale.
He’s also helping Patafa with the framework for a master plan for development of athletes and coaches, which would cover everything from the coaching program to athletes’ training to image building.
Juico noted almost no private funding goes to athletics in the past, as corporate sponsors opt to invest in more high-profile sports like basketball and football and, recently, volleyball. The most recent support that athletics got was from Lafferty, general manager of British American Tobacco Philippines, through the Adopt-an-Olympian program.
Under the program, Lafferty is supporting the bid of long jump queen and SEA Games record holder Marestella Torres for the 2016 Rio Olympics, financing and personally overseeing her training.
At the recently concluded Taiwan Open Athletics Championship, Torres secured one of two golds for the Philippines with an impressive 6.53-meter leap.
Torres set the SEA Games women’s long jump record of 6.71 meters in 2011, but had to sit out the 2013 Games due to pregnancy. Indonesian Natalia Londa, the 2011 silver medalist, dominated the competition in Torres’ absence, leaping a distance of 6.39 meters.
The other Taiwan Open gold medal came from 2013 SEA Games silver medalist Mervin Guarte, who won the 1,500-m run with a time of 3:54.09.
Pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena settled for a silver medal, but set a new national record of 5.25 meters, erasing his own personal best and former national record of 5.21 meters.
“Athletes from the Asean were the best in the competition. It was a good warm-up for our team for the SEA Games. We’re very optimistic for our boys and girls,” Juico said.
The athletics team leaves for Singapore on June 3.