RIO DE JANEIRO - Battling jetlag, members of the Philippine delegation, including the six athletes who are already here for the 2016 Rio Olympics, were given the chance to loosen up on Monday in this city that is preparing to host the biggest sports spectacle in the world.
Except for the Philippine flag bearer, Ian Lariba of table tennis, the rest of the athletes, from long jump specialist Marestella Torres-Sunang, swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna, taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora and weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia, took it easy the day after their arrival.
Members of the delegation headed Jose Romansata could still feel the effects of a back-breaking 25-hour flight from Manila to Rio via Dubai when they got up in the morning. Officials, including the coaches, thought it was better to give everybody some time to recover.
Lariba immediately plunged into training under her South Korean coach Mi Sook Kwon, a silver medalist in the 1999 World Championships. But she said she didn’t want to overdo herself and just wanted to break sweat to shake off jet lag.
“We did just enough,” said Lariba, 21, the first athlete from the Philippines to plunge into action in this Summer Games, being held despite serious concerns on the dreaded Zika virus and security threats.
Lariba competes the day after the opening ceremony, most likely in the morning, and ahead of Lacuna, and boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez who will also make their Olympic debut later in the day in different venues.
Track coach Joebert Delicano decided to give Sunang time to recover from jet lag as well, saying all he did was give the country’s long jump entry a rubdown to soothe her muscles. Besides, he said, Sunang practiced hard and did like a dozen jumps the day before they left Manila for Rio.
“Her muscles were tight due to the long flight. She had to stay out of the track at least for today. With another good sleep, her body should feel better tomorrow,” said Delicano, a long jump champion during his prime.
Weighlifting coach Alfonsito Aldanete said Colonia and Diaz will be at the training venue on Tuesday. At the same time, the coach has instructed his two athletes to skip the opening march because they are scheduled to compete two days later, or on August 7.
“Even if it’s two days after the opening ceremony, they have to skip the parade. It’s difficult for weightlifters to be spending a long time standing, especially during the parade, so close to a competition,” said the coach from Zamnboanga City.
The two boxers, Ladon and Suarez, are all set to fly in from Las Vegas where they trained more than a month for the Olympics. Team official Ed Picson said they’re also contemplating on asking the boxers to skip the Olympic parade.
Golfer Miguel Tabuena will only arrive in Rio the day after the opening, in time for the golf competition set from August 11 to 14.
Runner Eric Cray is arriving from Houston while marathoner Mary Joy Tabal will be flying in from Japan, in time for the opening rites.
The other swimmer from the Philippines, Jasmine Alkhaldi, arrived at the Athletes Village on Monday morning with her coach, Jennifer Buffin. They flew in from Hawaii, and said it took them 31 hours to get here.
“We flew from Hawaii to Dallas then Miami then Rio. What was supposed to be an eight-hour layover in Miami took even longer because of a further two-hour delay,” said the swim coach.
“It was a very long trip. But it was good,” said Alkhaldi, who stayed indoors the rest of the day.
Romasanta said it’s more important to make sure the athletes are well rested heading to the competition. While joining the parade is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most athletes, their physical condition is of greater importance.
When the opening ceremony takes place at the 79,000-seat stadium, only a few athletes, perhaps half a dozen, may end up joining the parade of the 206 competing countries. They will be joined by only a handful of officials.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco will arrive on the day of the opening ceremony. He will travel from Manila alone, and has decided to spend a night in San Francisco before flying to Rio than take the 25-hour trip from Manila.
“I’m not that young anymore,” he said.
Presidential Adviser on Youth and Sports Dennis Uy is also flying in, as well as POC treasurer Julian Camacho. Already here performing administrative duties are Liza Ner of the POC and Merly Ibay of the Philippine Sports Commission.
With nothing much to do Monday afternoon, officials took the athletes and coaches to a tour of the city’s favorite tourist destinations, including the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue which is just an hour away from the Athletes Village.
A quick visit to the famous Morro do Urca and Sugarloaf Mountain, which included a cable car ride that gave guests a magical view of Rio de Janeiro from nearly 400 meters up in the mountains capped the day for the Philippine delegation.
They were back at the Athletes Village in time for dinner.
“We just made the most out of the one-day break. And since everybody wanted to see the Christ the Redeemer statue, we took the chance. Everybody was happy with the visit. And it was nice to see our athletes loosen up,” said Romasanta.
“Now that they’ve seen the sites, it’s out of their minds. It’s time to get serious and focus on the Games. We still have eleven days to the opening ceremony,” he said.