WORLD triathlon champion Chris McCormack may not have won, but he will be remembered for a heartfelt tribute to the 44 policemen who died last month in a battle against Muslim insurgents in Mindanao.
One of the early favorites in the Men’s Pro Elite, ‘Macca’ was forced to give up his title quest in the Challenge Philippines Subic-Bataan after he came down with a hamstring injury five weeks ago.
Instead, the 41-year old Australian decided to dedicate his race to the host nation’s police forces, specifically the 44 men of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) who died in Maguindanao province.
After McCormack completed the 1.9-kilometer swim and the 90-km bike course, he tackled the 20.1-km run in a relay with five SAF members who joined him in the last 100 meters to cheers from the crowd.
“It’s like being brothers for a day … It’s the first time I’ve done anything like that. When you are a professional athlete, you become selfishly-driven sometimes. It’s a way for me to say to the SAF, 'Thank you for your service,'" the Australian said after he crossed the finish line.
His companions were Police Inspector Lorenz Paul Claveria, PO1 Freddie Jabinez Jr., PO1 Jeric Wassig, PO1 Ramel Tan and PO1 Paul Craig Gabiana, all of whom are currently undertaking the tough SAF Commando Course in Subic.
During the after-race party, SPIN was able to talk to the commandoes, all of whom were proud of the chance to represent their comrades. Shortly after he arrived, Macca gifted Claveria, the boyish-looking Team Leader, with an autographed race jersey.
“Itatabi ko ito, iingatan ko,” a smiling Claveria, 22, told Spin.ph as his men mingled with the crowd during the party - a welcome break from their training schedule of small unit tactics and the water phase, the reason they were based in Subic.
The five men were selected from the trainees SAF Commando Course Batch 69, the Vipers, based on their strength and stamina. Four days before the race, the five men modified their training - from their daily 8-10 km hikes in the thick jungles of the former US Navy base with packs and full combat gear, they switched to running attire and the asphalt road.
Course director P/Insp. Anthony Villarosa said Macca’s gesture was “very flattering, so heart-warming."
"We have been recognized not just by our fellow Filipinos but by the whole world. We are very proud kasi hindi lang pala kami ang nagdadalamhati at nakikiramay - buong mundo pala recognize the efforts of the SAF when it comes to counter-terrorism. Proud din kami of being part of this event, one of the biggest international races in the country and we are running with one of the best athletes in the world.”
Villarosa said he only had one piece of instruction to the five-man team.
“You should run with the spirit not only for yourselves or for the SAF but your brave comrades na nauna na sa atin.”
And judging by the SAF motto of “By skills and virtue we triumph," they did.