For Philippine Rowing Association federation president Patrick "Pato" Gregorio, it would take at least 10 years for a rower to be developed as an Olympian. But in the case of Cris Nievarez.
Nievarez defied such a forecast after earning a ticket in Tokyo in just 5 years into the sport and at the age of 21.
The Atimonan town, Quezon native placed 9th in the World Rowing Asia & Oceania Olympic & Paralympic Qualification Regatta in Tokyo, to seal his spot in the men's single sculls event in the quadrennial meet.
"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."
While admittedly being surprised, too, with his feat, Nievarez and his coach are already aware of his advantage in the sport.
According to Nievarez, his coaches have praised him for his unabated discipline in training: he never complains and he is willing to make huge sacrifices.
“Sabi nga ni coach, hindi ako ’yung atleta na mahinaing. ’Pag training, training talaga. Handa akong i-sacrifice ’yung mga hindi naman importante sa training ng rowing kaya siguro mas maaga ko naabot dahil du’n,” the Filipino olympian said.
The Southeast Asian Games gold medalist started his venture into sports in his hometown in Atimonan where he competed for athletic events.
But destined for a different sport, a former national team member of rowing, who was looking for tall and athletic youngsters from the province, met then teenager Nievarez and brought him to Quezon City for a 3-month tryout.
The rower made the national team cut but as soon as he qualified, Nievarez made his first of many sacrifices to pursue the sport.
“Mahirap siya sa una kasi malayo ka sa pamilya mo at bata pa lang ako talagang habol na ko sa magulang ko. Ta’s di pa’ko sanay na mahiwalay. ’Yun ’yung mga adjustment na kailangan ko talagang harapin para mag excel sa rowing,” he revealed.
His hard work evidently paid off as he became the first Filipino rower in 21 years to qualify at the Olympics, since Benjamin Tolentino in Sydney 2000.
Nievarez, as humble as he is, gave credit to the entire Philippine national team for achieving such a huge feat.
“After ng paghihirap namin sa buong team, hindi lang ako, buong team kami naghirap sa training. Nu’ng nag-umpisa kami, ’yun na ’yung goal namin na may makapag-Olympics. kahit sino. Kaya nu’ng qualifying, kahit sino ’yung ma-qualify talaga masaya na kami. Kahit sino ’yung mapadala sa Olympics,” he explained.
The team began its Olympic bid way back in 2019 SEA Games but due to the pandemic a lot of tournaments abroad were cancelled. Luckily, he was in the training camp in Quezon City when the country imposed a lockdown in 2020, keeping his body fit for the qualifying tournament.
But it was only in January when they started to intensify their preparations where they followed the program set by Uzbek coach Shukhrat Ganiev.
Nievarez will be leaning on to his endurance and, of course, the trademark “puso” heading into the Olympics, especially that his event is an open weight category unlike in SEA Games.
“Mga nakakalaban ko malalaki, matatangkad sa akin ng sobra. May 6-4, 6-5, ta’s ako 5-11 lang. Ta’s ’yung timbang pa nila. Pero sa rowing naman, kung may endurance ka at puso dun sa laro, kaya mo siyang tapatan,” he said.
For the Philippine Rowing Association, Gregorio assured two months ago that they would be focusing on the Olympian’s technique and stamina.
"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 previously.
But certainly, after the Tokyo Games, Nievarez is still expected to give more pride to the country as the best is yet to come for their young star.
"Given this opportunity, this 21-year-old Olympian will go a long way," Gregorio said of Nievarez. "Pagtiyagaan po natin at bigyan lang natin ng talagang tamang suporta." — With reports from Migs Bustos
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