Torres gets American CEO as Patafa 'godfather,' coach

By Olmin Leyba, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 03 2014 02:08 PM | Updated as of Apr 03 2014 10:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Long-jump ace Marestella Torres takes the first crack at the “godfather” program the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa) and corporate sponsors have arranged for potential Olympic medalists.

Torres, back after suffering from a hamstring injury and later giving birth, has received support from American Jim Lafferty, CEO of British American Tobacco and professional athletics coach.

Philippine-based Lafferty is pouring in P1.1 million a year for a long-term, “holistic training program” aimed at whipping Torres into top form for the Rio Olympics.

Lafferty is also talking with other prospective sponsors to encourage them to join this “Adopt an Olympian” program, which seeks to finance 20 athletes with realistic shots at winning in the quadrennial games.

“I love this country, I want it to succeed on a global stage like the Olympics and it breaks my heart to see athletes like Marestella not reach their full potential and the only issue is they haven’t been given enough support,” he said during yesterday’s press conference with Patafa president Go Teng Kok, Patafa chairman Philip Ella Juico, and Torres.

Lafferty is also adopting Torres’ husband, shot putter Eliezer Sunang, in partnership with Diamond Leasing.

He said at least 10 more CEOs have “basically agreed to put money up” for the “adoption” of 18 other bets.

Aside from lending hand financially, Lafferty also helps in the training aspect of Torres’ program. The American has had experiences coaching national athletes in the US and France and served as the Olympic coach for the Nigerian marathoners in the London Games.

Under the scheme, Torres and future beneficiaries will undergo “holistic training” that includes yoga/flexibility, biometrics, sports psychology, strength and conditioning and diet/nutrition with an overall director, a technical coach, a masseuse, and a team doctor dedicated to them.

Lafferty said he also is arranging for Chioma Ajunwa-Opara, the 1996 Olympic champion from Nigeria, to come over to spend a few weeks with the Pinay ace.

“When the Filipino athlete is fully supported, they don’t just win, they dominate,” he said, citing the success of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao and bowling legend Paeng Nepomuceno.

Lafferty said he considers the 33-year-old Torres as “the No. 1 long jumper in world,” marveling how she can jump 6.71 meters despite her old non-holistic approach.

Torres has actually started the program last month.

“Sobrang tuwa ko. Masasabi kong hulog siya ng langit. Siya ang nagtyagang tulungan ako, with my age, tapos kakagaling ko pa sa panganganak. Lahat ng suporta binigay niya sa akin. Goal ko talaga ang mag-gold sa Olympics at nagpapasalamat ako at ako ang napili niya (He’s heaven-sent. Despite my age and the fact that I just gave birth, he chose me as his adopted athlete and provides everything to help achieve my goal of an Olympic gold),” said Torres.

Lafferty had even rented an apartment for Torres and her two-month old son. Torres’ mother in law cares for the baby while she trains.

“A happy athlete wins. Separating her from her baby would be foolish. She is allowed to be a mom and an athlete so I’ve set it up in such a way she can live with her baby and family. In the morning I can bust her ass but at night she goes home to her family,” he said.

Torres expects to see action by June yet, possibly in the Hong Kong Open where she will also seek to meet the standard set by the Philippine Olympic Committee for the delegation to the Asian Games.