FOR Rene Herrera of Team Philippines, just making it to the 16-man finals of the 5,000-meter event in the 30th Olympic Games is as hard as getting a photo-op or breaking bread with the Queen at the Buckingham Palace.
So what Herrera will do is settle for the next best things — meet his target, gain Olympic experience and have fun in London.
“Alam naman natin sir na napakabigat ng field. Kaya takbo lang tayo at puntiryahin yung target time ko,” said Herrera, surfing the internet inside his unit like coach Joseph Sy on Monday noon.
On Wednesday morning at the Olympic Stadium, the 33-year-old Herrera competes in the 5,000-meter race as he makes his first Olympic outing, mindful of the depth of the opposition, ready to accept the fate in store for him and aware of the lessons to be gained from the race.
His target is 14 minutes and 10 seconds for the 12-1/2-lap event, which is faster than his career best of 14:51 seconds he set while winning in the National Games in Bacolod last year.
Even if he runs that fast, his time will bring him nowhere since the Olympic record is a mind-boggling 12.57.84 established by Kenya’s Kenenisa Bekele in a triumphant run four years ago in Beijing.
Bekele is back to defend his title, but he’ll not be taking off as the solid favorite like he used to be following his loss in the 10,000-meter race which Great Britain’s Mohamed Farah ruled in runaway fashion on Saturday.
Bekele, who scored double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m in Beijing, missed making a podium finish as he placed only fourth in the 12-man final race in a letdown that put serious doubts on his ability to salvage the other half of his golden double in Beijing.
“Mga favorite ko ang mga iyan (Beyeche and Farah), kaya masaya ako at baka makasama ko sila sa heat,’’ said Herrera, a five-time Southeast Asian Games steeplechase champion from San Jose, Guimaras.
The plan is for Herrera to follow the leaders, which could prove to be a daunting task for the Filipino runners since keeping pace with the likes of Beyeche and Farah is like taking a slow, painful death.
“Sunod sunod lang. Hindi puwedeng mauna baka maubos agad. Alam naman natin ang mga kalaban, lumalakas habang tumatagal. Sa gitna lang muna at bahala na sa mga huling laps,” said Herrera.
There are about 50 runners competing, who will run in two separate heats of 25 competitors each, with the top six in each race making it to the finals. The next four with the best times complete the 16-man final cast.
For Sy, the lessons Herrera will learn from the experience could be put to good use when the Philippine navy Seaman 2nd Class takes another crack at the steeplechase or 5,000-m in next year’s SEA Games in Myanmar or even in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea.
“Rene should make the most out of this Olympic stint. He may not become successful, but there are positive things you can get just by competing,” Sy said.
In his last international tournament that formed part of his long buildup for this Games, Herrera came in second to Korean Mun Jeong Ki in the HK invitational in May, clocking 15.01.73 seconds.