20 Pinoy bets eyed for Rio Olympics (Philippine Star)

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Sports Commission chairman Richie Garcia is hoping to see as many as 20 Filipino athletes qualifying to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I will be very happy with 20 athletes,” said Garcia yesterday.

“That will be an accomplishment. If we go back to the past few Olympics, we haven’t been sending many athletes,” he said during the PSA Forum at Shakey’s Malate.

In the 2012 London Olympics, the Philippines sent only 11 athletes in eight sports archery, athletics, boxing, cycling, judo, shooting, swimming and weightlifting.

Except for one, boxer Mark Anthony Barriga who made it to the round-of-16, the rest did not advance in their respective events.

In 2008 in Beijing, the Philippines had 15 in eight sports, in 2004 in Athens 16 in six sports, in 2000 in Sydney 20 in nine sports and in 1996 in Atlanta 12 in six sports.

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It was in 1996 when the Philippines last won an Olympic medal, a silver courtesy of boxer Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco.

“If we can get 15 to 20 athletes to Rio that will be good,” said Garcia, stressing that the PSC is fully behind the country’s Olympic drive.

“We are willing to spend. Funding will not be a problem as long as we qualify,” said Garcia, adding that it’s too early to think of how much will be needed or how much will be spent.

He said qualifying athletes to Rio will be costly because the PSC will have to spend for each athlete hoping to qualify in any of the 28 Olympic sports.

Once they qualify, the PSC will have to spend for their training, but once they get to Rio, everything will be shouldered by the International Olympic Committee.

“Pinakamura ang Olympics when it comes to participation (It’s the cheapest). Sa qualifying and training ang magastos (It’s the qualifying and training that are costly),” said Garcia.

Garcia issued an appeal before the different NSAs (national sports associations) to make sure the athletes they send to the qualifiers are indeed qualified.

“As long as they are qualified we have no problem. Let us not spend our money on athletes with no chances of qualifying,” said Garcia.

So far, only Eric Cray of track and field, a double gold winner in the last SEA Games, is the only Filipino athlete assured of a slot to the Rio Olympics.

Garcia is also counting BMX rider and 2014 Asian Games gold medalist Daniel Caluag, pole vaulter EJ Obiena of pole vault and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, already a two-time Olympian, to lead the Rio hopefuls.

“It’s a hard process,” said Garcia.