Olympian Ian Lariba and veteran Richard Gonzales head a 10-man table tennis team that will compete in the Southeast Asian Games set in August in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Lariba, who carried the Philippine flag in the Rio de Janeiro Games last year, hopes to win the country’s first medal in the women’s event.
Gonzales, on the other hand, tries to improve on his silver medal finish in the men’s individual event two years ago in Singapore.
Rizumo Uno, a 13-year-old Filipino-Japanese, and 16-year-old John Mari Naire provide fresh blood to the Philippines’ bid to win its first-ever gold medal.
Uno is the daughter of former national junior player Sally Lozares who is married to a Japanese based in Saitama, Japan. She is ranked in the Top 10 of her age-group in Japan.
“She’s almost as strong as Lariba. Together, they will be a formidable team,” said Ting Ledesma, president of the Table Tennis Association of the Philippines (TATAP).
The other members of the squad are Japeth Adaza, Ryan Jacolo, Isaias Seronio, Sendrina Balatbat, Rose Jean Fadol and Jamaica Sy.
It marks the first time that the country is fielding a full complement of athletes.
Two years ago, the country sent only three athletes.
“One reason probably was the fact that we won silver in Singapore and qualified an athlete to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” said Ledesma.
While waiting for approval on their request for international exposure from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Ledesma said they were able to raise funds to send five athletes to the world championships set May 29-June 5 in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Ledesma said they have been forced to go on their own after their requests for support from the PSC were turned down the last two years.
He said they have to let go of Korean coach Kwon Misook last March because of difficulties in paying for her $1,500 a month salary.