Ricky Santiago may not be an Olympian in the strictest sense, but the former taekwondo jin will be at the Tokyo Olympics nonetheless.
Santiago will be at the Games as one of the "super elite level" referees to officiate the taekwondo competitions.
Like athletes, Santiago had to go through rigorous training and tests before becoming eligible as an Olympic referee.
"It's similar to being Olympic athletes," he said in ABS-CBN's podcast Post-Game. "To be able to qualify, just like an athlete, it was rigorous."
As a referee, he has officiated matches in the World Championships, Grand Prix, and World Youth Olympic Games.
But overseeing the matches in the Olympics is different, he said.
"The Olympic Games is special. It is broadcast, watched by 60 million people live so they are cautioning us referees not to waste the value of time. The referees at this pinnacle are such high level," said Santiago.
It will be his third time to call the shots in the Olympics. The first was in 2004 in Athens, and the second was in 2016 Rio de Janeiro. Now he will be refereeing in Tokyo.
Before becoming a taekwondo ref, Santiago himself was a taekwondo athlete and was part of the national team until he retired in 1998.
"As a fighter I did not make it (to the Olympics). I used to be in the national team and I dreamed of Olympic glory in my younger years but destiny has given me Olympic Games this third time," said Santiago.
Calling the shots in Tokyo is special for Philippine taekwondo because he will be joining Kurt Barbosa and Alain Ganapin.
"We have a taekwondo player in Alain Ganapin who made it to the Tokyo Paralympic Games," said Santiago. "So we have Alain, Kurt and myself as a referee, we have these bases covered."
Santiago admitted that being a match official is not as glamorous as being a competitor, but as referees, he said they have the power to bring out the best in the sport and the athletes.
"Our rule is to officiate fairly and squarely transparently and bring out the best in the athletes," he said.
"Technically we have no country. We have to be fair and have to bring out the best in the craft of the athlete, make them shine."
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