RP  BEGINS  OLYMPIC  QUEST

Athens (Via Globe Telecom),  August 13, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Set in majestic setting steeped in lore and history, the Games of the modern era returned to its birthplace more than 100 years ago when the 28th Olympiad unfolds today at the state-of-art Olympic Stadium.

And for a brave band of 16 Filipino athletes, the question is whether the end is on hand after 80 years of excruciating wait for a precious gold medal or will the heartbreak linger on for yet another four?

The nation has nine medals to show, ranking it second among nations with a curious reputation of earning the most medals without a gold and for the next three weeks, the Filipino athletes who made it here by hurdling cut-throat qualifiers or by gaining wild card berths, will try to chase that elusive Olympic dream again.

The Filipinos will be among more than 10,000 athletes from 202 nations who will see action in a high-powered competition in what the host Greeks, despite the construction delay and threat of terrorism, have envisioned the best ever Games.

"For 80 years, we have not won an Olympic gold. With the Lord’s grace, we might finally have the opportunity to end our quest here," said Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit.

The nation has won two silver and seven bronze medals since trackster David Nepomuceno left on a slow boat from Manila to compete in the 1924 Games in Paris.

For a stretch of 12 years from 1986 in Seoul until the centennial games of Atlanta in 1996, the Filipinos have medalled consistently through three tough boxers but the nation, in its most serious bid for a gold, was shut out in the Sydney Games four years ago.

That defeat still wrankled. It prompted RP sports officials to go low-key on their assessment on the strength of this contingent but hoped this would be the year.

"Eighty-four million Filipinos are praying for you, don’t fail them. You may yet see the performance of your lives in these competitions," Dayrit told the athletes on the eve of the greatest show on earth.

Boxer Chris Camat will do the honor as flag-bearer for the Philippines in the four-hour opening night extravaganza but Dayrit reminded the athletes that "everyone is the country’s flag-bearer. All of you will carry the country’s flag in your mind, in your hearts and in your uniforms."

Despite the formidable task at hand, sports officials are looking beyond the Athens Games to put into perspective RP’s bid against its regional rivals in next year’s Southeast Asian Games which the country is hosting.

"Prospects are bright for our campaign next year since we have discovered talented Fil-Ams who will be good assets to our bid for the overall honors. The kind of competition and the experience they will gain here will give them the exposure and the confidence for the SEA Games," said Dayrit.

The Filipino athletes in the fold are boxers Harry Tañamor, Violito Payla, Romeo Brin, Camat, swimmers Miguel Molina, Miguel Mendoza, Timmy Chua, and Fil-Ams J.B. Walsh and Jacklyn Pangilinan; tracksters Eduardo Buenavista and Lerma Gabito, archer Jazmin Figueroa, shooter Jethro Dionisio and taekwondo jins Donald Geisler, Tshomlee Go and Marie Antoinette Rivero.

Hopes are high that the boxers, particularly Tañamor, will hold his own against a world-class field in the light-flyweight. He has won two silver medals in the World tournaments in Ireland and Thailand the past two years and seeded to win a bronze in his class.

The 23-year Go and the veteran Geisler have the character and discipline to last in the ancient Korean martial art of taekwondo while the pretty Rivero holds so much promise for a young 17-year old jin.

"Para sa bayan", said the boxers and the swimmers in that meeting with Dayrit at the RP quarters in the busy athletes village. The Filipino jins have yet to arrive here.

High in spirit and structure, the host Greeks showed so much enthusiasm and nationalism on the eve of the Games they put up to a cost of close to $10 billion, more than $6 billion spent on a ribbon of new roads, stadium, airport and security.

The Athens Games is the first Olympics to be staged after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington and Greek organizers put up a massive security blanket on all the venues and the metropolis that included street surveillance cameras, patrol boats, fighter jets to monitor no-fly zones over Athens and NATO troops to deal with potential chemical and biological attack.

The Games were born on the plains of the Ancient Olympia in 776 B and held every four years until they were abolished in 393. They were revived in Athens by French Baron Pierre de Coubartin in 1896.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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