LONDON — BMX rider Danny Caluag went practically everywhere building up for the 30th Olympic Games, mindful of the tough challenge ahead and the big expectations of a nation desperately wanting to end a humiliating run of defeats in the biggest sports stage of all.
“Yes I am aware of it (Filipinos expecting him to land a medal). It’s a big challenge for me,’’ said Caluag when told that he’s the closest thing to a podium finish among the 11 Filipino athletes seeing action in the London Games.
Accompanied by longtime partner and mechanic Stephanie, Caluag hit town on Tuesday morning after a 12-hour trip from Los Angeles, looking as if he could get on his US$3,000 Speedco bike anytime and take on anyone at any place.
Over lunch at the Athletes Village, the 25-year-old Caluag said he built up for his first Olympics like never before, competing and training in The Netherlands, Kentucky and Canada where he had raced against some of the big guns he will face here.
That includes Latvian defending champion Maris Strombergs, whom he had beaten on several occasions in the course of their training for the Games.
"I have beaten him in some tournaments and training sessions. He’s a fast guy,” said Caluag of Strombergs, who won when the event made its debut in the Beijing Games four years ago.
"He’ll still be the favorite, I guess. But anything can happen,’’ said Danny, adding his father, a native of Malolos, Bulacan who’s married to a nurse from Licab, Nueva Ecija, will come and be his biggest cheerer when he hits the track on August 8.
Since he believes that the road to success is built on pain and hard work, Caluag does not intend to relax and enjoy the splendor and charms of London in the days leading up to his event.
This morning, Caluag willl bike around the sprawling Athletes Village for around 90 minutes, something he’ll do every other day up to the first day of competitions. In between, he’ll proceed to the gym for body conditioning.
"I love to succeed. This is a great sport. That’s why I can’t afford to be lazy. I won’t take this opportunity (competing in the Olympics) for granted,” Caluag said, helping himself to a bowl of noodles and some slices of beef in his first meal at the massive dining hall.
He may not come into the battle as one of the solid favorites, but he’s definitely going to the fray armed with a record that’s something to smile about.
The 5-6, 170-pound Caluag made it to the Games on the strength of his impressive stint in the world championships in Birmingham, England a few months before the Games, becoming the only Asian to make it to the starting field of 32.
When told that he’s one of at least two Filipino athletes fancied to end the country’s medal drought that began in the Sydney Games in 2000, he did not think long to say who’s the other one.
“Is it Barriga?’’ he asked.
When a Team Philippines official nodded, Caluag, presently ranked ninth in the US Elite standings, said there’s no surprise there since "he (Barriga) is a good boxer who has trained for a long time."