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Arriba, Lariba!

SHE’S making history at age 21, a student of De La Salle University, the first Filipino table tennis player to represent her country in the Olympics and one of only 64 wielding their paddles in this year’s summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Ian Lariba was with a batch of young Filipino ping-pong champions who beat their counterparts in Beijing, capital of the world’s finest ping-pong players, with an unbelievable score of 23-7. There were six boys and six girls in the PH team, none of whom I knew up close or from a distance, but for some reason it was toward Ian that I gravitated for a getting-to-know-you chat. How was I to know that exactly one year later I would be reading about her in the sports pages as the girl who will carry the flag when the 2016 Olympics open?

In Hong Kong last April for the qualifying round, Ian scored 3 against Thailand’s 4 in a best-of-7, but when she clobbered Indonesia with a clean 4-0, she won the day, she was It. To make the trip, Ian was supported by the most active members of the Table Tennis Association for National Development who raised R100,000 for her plane ticket and allowance. Upon her victorious return and with Ian raring to go to Brazil, the same group led by Stephen Techico, Charles Lim, and Philip Uy happily awarded her another P100,000. And what did the two factions of the NSA for tennis do for her? (Pause.)

Last week, Ian was in Singapore for the ASEAN University Games, and there she shone again, with silver and bronze.

When she flies to Rio next month, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’ll strut her stuff and wow ‘em and show ‘em the power of ping-pong, Philippine style. When PH beat China at their “friendly” game last year, I asked Ian and her teammates how the losers could’ve lost, and the consensus was that the Chinese teens “felt pressured” and “they were too serious.” (Jullie Y. Daza)