The 2016 Summer Olympics – officially the Games of the XXXI Olympiad – are now well underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with over 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees participating in the quadrennial event that is a confrontation of nation against nation but also a gathering of peace and friendship.
At the opening ceremony at the Macarana Stadium in Rio last Friday, the Philippines joined the rest of the world in an exuberant display of national pride. We had only 13 qualifying athletes, in contrast with the sports powerhouses like the United States with 554, Germany with 425, China with 413, and, of course, host Brazil with 465 entries. But there were 63 other nations with no more than 13 entries each like the Philippines.
The first Filipino Olympian competed in table-tennis right on the first day of competition after the Friday night opening rites. Between now and the final day of competition on August 20, 12 other Filipinos will be competing in swimming, boxing, weightlifting, judo, swimming, golf, athletics, and taekwondo.
While we continue to nurse hopes of a medal or two, sports analysts around the world list no Filipino among the likely medal winners. However, one of our boxers, light-flyweight Rogen Ladon – because of the luck of the draw – could win a bronze if he wins two of his three bouts. The highest Olympic medals the Philippines ever won were silver by featherweight Anthony Villanueva in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and silver by light-flyweight Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in 1996 in Atlanta.
For a while there was talk of entering our multi-division champion Manny Paquiao as the Olympics accepted professional boxers for the first time this year, but it was deemed unsporting and nothing came of it. We also had hopes that our basketball team could make it to Rio but we were eliminated in the Asian semifinals right here at the MOA in Pasay City.
The Rio Olympics, therefore, will be largely followed by Filipino fans for the outstanding records set by athletes of other nations. Every new speed achieved in track or swimming, every new height reached in field events, every new weight in lifting, every record broken, and every team victory will be a celebration of the human spirit ever aspiring to go “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” We join in that universal celebration.
This should, not, however, keep us from seeking and finding ways to put the Philippines in the winners’ circle of medal winners. Surely in this nation of over 100 million people, we have athletes who can compete with the best of the world and win. We have yet to win a gold medal in the Olympics. This early, let us aim for one in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.