MANILA, Philippines -- It has been nearly two years since local swimming star Sacho Ilustre represented the country and won a silver medal with the relay team in the 30th Southeast Asian Games at the New Clark City Aquatics Center.
Philippine Swimming Inc.'s hosting of the 2021 PSI Swimming National Selection bubble last weekend was thus a welcome development for the 22-year-old, especially as the event was held at the same venue.
"It was very important kasi the last competition was two years ago. So for us, for other swimmers like me, this was a very important competition to gauge myself," said Ilustre.
"Nag-sink in na kailangan ko pang mag-training," he added.
Ilustre, the Most Valuable Player of the UAAP Season 82 swimming competitions, noted that virtually all swimmers who competed in the selection meet have not been able to train fully due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The competition was thus crucial for them to gauge themselves and their level, especially with a busy 2022 on the horizon.
"If you think about it, it was not just me who was not able to train fully, completely. This competition was important to know where we are as a community for swimming, for training din po," he said.
Ilustre was aware that it would not be easy to regain his old form after a long break from competition.
"Personally, even though parang ang layo ng times ko from my peak season nung last two years, for me, personal best pa rin 'to eh, considering the training that we did," he said.
"Sobrang important to see the competition again, to be in race mode again, even if kulang 'yung training, even if we're doing the bare minimum with the restrictions due to the pandemic," he added.
Ilustre participated in four events in the selection meet, taking his lone win in the 100-meter butterfly (57.13 seconds) while coming in second in the 50-meter butterfly (25.70) and 100-meter freestyle (53.59), and third in the 200-meter freestyle (2:02.85).
The mixed results were still satisfactory for Ilustre and his coaches at the De La Salle Zobel Swim Club.
"I've done good, considering the training that I've done. According to my coaches din, na good results naman siya, 'yung times ko, yung splits ko, 'yung pace work ko," he said.
"For me, it was the best I could do with the training that I did."
More important for Ilustre is that he now knows what he needs to work on as he and the other Filipino swimmers gear up for the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam next year.
"This competition was important to show us to be realistic. Being in tip-top shape needs or requires a lot of time, a lot of effort," the De La Salle University student-athlete explained.
"While swimming, I realized na, okay, I need a few more months. I need to step it up. I need to go beyond pa, para I will be able to get to my peak, top condition by the time the qualifying for the SEA Games comes."