WITH the clock ticking away on the country’s bid for slots in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics set to fire off on August 5, Sen. Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero on Friday urged the government to go all out in supporting the youngest and brightest hopefuls who remain in the hunt for the elusive berths.
The Philippines is facing the specter of qualifying the least number of athletes to the Summer Games in Rio, with only Olongapo-born hurdler Eric Shauwn Cray and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz assured of spots so far.
Trap shooter Hagen Topacio should have earned another Olympic ticket for the Philippines, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to recognize his points in the Asian Shooting Championship held in Kuwait after organizers refused to grant a visa to an Israeli participant.
Despite having just two slots assured for the Philippines for now, however, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) has asked sports officials to seek wildcard bets for their other hopefuls.
Olympic chief of mission Joey Romasanta, who is also the POC vice president, said athletes who have failed to qualify in the remaining Olympic qualifying tournaments can earn Rio tickets via a universality place or wildcard berths given by the IOC to athletes from countries under-represented in the Olympics.
Daniel Caluag of cycling, Miguel Tabuena, Angelo Que and Princess Superal of golf, Hagen Topacio, Amparo Acuna and Jayson Valdez of shooting, Marestella Torres and EJ Obiena of athletics, Mark Anthony Barriga, Rogen Ladon, Eumir Felix Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno of boxing, Pauline Lopez and Sam Morrisson of taekwondo, Kiyome Watanabe of judo and Nestor Colonia of weightlifting could still qualify via wildcard berths if they fall short in their respective qualifiers.
“We should give these athletes the chance to gain Olympic slots. Competition has become tougher through the years, but these are some of the youngest and brightest among our sporting stars. They deserve to compete in the Summer Games and gain experience that would toughen them up in their next try,” Escudero said.
There have been 12 Filipino representatives in the 1996 Games in six disciplines in Atlanta, 20 in nine sports in 2000 in Sydney, 16 in six sports in 20014 in Athens, and 15 in eight sports in 2008 in Beijing.
Escudero cited the case of Diaz, the first Filipina to compete in an Olympic weightlifting event. She was a wildcard entry in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and competed in the 2012 London Games before becoming a legitimate entry to Rio de Janeiro this year. She is to turn 24 years old next month.
“We have always supported investments for our youth. These are some of the best and brightest Filipino athletes. The Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) should be at the forefront in supporting them in their Olympic bids,” Escudero said.