MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has challenged the 11 Filipino athletes set to do battle in the eight sports in next month's Olympics in London to finally end a long 16-year medal drought in the quadrennial games.
"I know the world may not be expecting us to take home multiple gold medals. But I believe in the capacity of the Filipino to surprise. I believe in the capacity of the Filipino to be excellent in anything they do – to be world class," Mr. Aquino said in a message read by Energy Sec. Jose Rene Almendras during Monday night’s grand send-off for the Phl Olympic team.
"As much as the Olympics is about international cooperation, we still want to win recognition for our country, and we want the athletes we are sending off today (Monday night) to do precisely that. We want them to stand atop the podium with medal around their necks, bringing glory to our nation and filling the hearts of each Filipino with pride," the Chief Executive said.
Seven of the London-bound bets – boxer Mark Anthony Barriga, tracksters Marestella Torres and Rene Herrera, swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, shooter Brian Rosario – were on hand for the celebrations.
Absent were Fil-Japanese judoka Tomohiko Hoshina and Fil-Am BMX rider Daniel Caluag, who are training in Japan and the US, respectively, and archers Mark Javier and Rachelle Anne Cabral-dela Cruz, who have yet to return from their qualifying tourney in Utah.
The delegation is the leanest since the country sent 12 in the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where boxer Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco snared a silver medal, PH's best ever and the last won in the quadrennial meet.
"It's not really a question of number but a question of skills and heart. I remember the other day when San Beda won over Arellano in the NCAA with only six players," said TV5 honcho Manuel V. Pangilinan, who also gave a reassurance of his support to the athletes.
The Olympians, some of whom will leave Thursday to participate in pre-Games training camps in UK, expressed excitement and readiness to plunge into action on July 27-Aug. 12.
"All set and ready," declared Diaz, a two-time Olympian expecting to do better than her previous performance as a 17-year-old wildcard in 2008.
"This is a dream come true for me. I remember the days when I used to skip class so I could box," said Barriga, 19, competing in the light flyweight class, where Onyok and Roel Velasco won silver and bronze, respectively, in the 1990s.
"Training's good. There's no pressure because I'm not thinking about it (pressure to deliver) and remain focused on the job," added the young boxer.
Rosario carries the same mindset. "I'm competing against my self; I don't want to think about my rivals so as not to pressure myself."
First-time Olympians Lacuna and Alkhaldi have set modest targets. "My goal is to improve my best time, place well, and experience high class competition among the best of the best," said Alkhaldi.
Already, sports execs led by Philippine Olympic Committee president Peping Cojuangco and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia and sponsors headed by P&G GM Sumeet Bohra considered these Olympians "winners."
"They are ready to go and compete but in my mind, they're already winners. It has taken a lot of effort, grim determination just to qualify," said Cojuangco.
"I can assure you all these athletes will represent the country with pride and carry this pride all the way back here. Whether they win or lose, they always earn the respect of our countrymen," he added.