LEFT to carry the load for embattled Team Philippines following the ouster of boxer Mark Barriga, BMX rider Danny Caluag remains unfazed and ready to embrace the enormous challenge that lies ahead in the 30th Olympic Games.
“It’s an honor and I’m very aware of that challenge. All my teammates including the two in track and field who are still competing are very supportive of me. I appreciate it,” said Caluag, who plunges into his first Olympic foray in London three days from now.
Actually, two other Filipino athletes in long jumper Marestella Torres and 5000-meter bet Rene Herrera have yet to see action, but both are given a very slim chance of figuring in the medal fight given the depth of the field in their respective events.
But that can’t be said of the 25-year-old Caluag, who is expected to do well despite competing against a field teeming with big names in his sport, led by No. 1 Sam Willoughby of Australia, second-ranked Connor Fields of the United States and defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia.
“They’re practically the same people who I know, whom I competed with,” said Caluag as mechanic and girlfriend Stephanie listened. “They’re nothing new to me. It’s not like something that I need to be scared of.”
On Sunday evening, Danny, accompanied by Stephanie and coach James Richardson, walked through the BMX venue inside the Olympic Park, a 450-meter tack featuring a ride down an eight-meter high ramp, then a dirt circuit that has a banked corner, S-bend transfer and jumps mark.
“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Caluag said of the track, taking a few moments before he could say the words.
The son of Filipino parents from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija who migrated to the US before he was born, Caluag found himself the only remaining athlete capable of ending Team Philippines’ shameful run of disappointments since the Sydney Olympics after Barriga lost to Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Shakypov in a controversial bout on Saturday.
But Caluag is welcoming the big challenge like a man.
“That’s a duty I have to perform. I know it’s tough, but my team has worked it out and we are expecting for the best,” said Caluag.
Ranked only 84th in the latest world rankings “because I competed in much lesser races than those ahead of me,” Caluag said he’ll take the challenge race by race and not look at it as the overall outcome to ease himself of the pressure.
“I’ll take it one step at a time. That’s what it is all about, enjoying the moment,” he said.
Caluag is the only Asian in a select field of 32 cyclists, and will get his baptism of fire on Wednesday afternoon when he competes in the seeding run designed to ensure that the fastest runners won’t meet in the finals early.
In the course of his long buildup in search for an Olympic berth, Caluag said he had raced with many of the favorites and beat some of them, something that’s giving him the feeling that he won’t disappoint.
“The good thing there (US) is you get to compete with these guys often and you get to know how they compete. I know them well,” said Caluag.
Then he rattled off the other big guns who should be marked men in London— No. 3 Joris Daudet of France, No. 4 Marc Willers of New Zealand, No. 5 David Herman of the US and No. 7 Raymon Van der Biezen of the Netherlands.
“They’ll be among the favorites. But you can never tell. BMX is a different kind of sport,” said Caluag.