MANILA, Philippines -- The chief of the country's rowing federation has high hopes for Cris Nievarez, after he became the first Filipino rower in 21 years to qualify for the Olympic Games.
A ninth place finish in the World Rowing Asia & Oceania Olympic & Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Tokyo, Japan was enough for the 21-year-old Nievarez to seal his spot in the men's single sculls event in the Tokyo Games.
While Nievarez's stint in the Tokyo Olympics is already a source of pride for the Philippine Rowing Association, federation president Patrick "Pato" Gregorio believes the best is yet to come for their young star.
"Ako na rin po ang nagsabi, before you mature as an Olympian, you need at least 10 years," Gregorio noted. "Pag tiningnan po natin 'yung mga world champion na rowers, na galing sa New Zealand at sa ibang bansa, they are in their mid-30s, some even in their early 40s."
"Given this opportunity, this 21-year-old Olympian will go a long way," he said of Nievarez. "Pagtiyagaan po natin at bigyan lang natin ng talagang tamang suporta."
The last time the Philippines sent a rower to the Olympics was in Sydney in 2000, when Benjie Tolentino competed in the men's single sculls.
Gregorio is optimistic that there won't be that big of a gap this time around as he believes Nievarez can only get better.
But they are not looking too far ahead as the focus is on Nievarez's preparations for the Olympic Games.
"Meron po kaming na-identify na tatlong pwedeng salihan in the next two months," said Gregorio, although he admits that overseas training and competitions present a challenge as quarantine protocols can have an adverse effect on the athlete's training program.
What's certain is that Nievarez -- and other Philippine rowers -- will continue to train at the La Mesa Dam. They are waiting for the arrival of Uzbek coach Shukhrat Ganiev, upon which the team's training is expected to intensify.
"Focus tayo kay Cris for the next two months, for the technique, for the stamina. But at the same time, talagang alam nating lahat na ang pag-train niya ay para sa buong koponan ng Philippine rowing," Gregorio said.
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