SOUTHEAST Asian Games gold medalist Cris Nievarez and coach Edgardo Maerina see a very bright future for the sport of rowing in the country in the coming years.
Both Nievarez and Maerina believe the Filipinos have a very good chance in the Olympic qualifying tournament to be held in Chung-Ju, South Korea early next year.
The national rowing team’s regular training in La Mesa Dam in Quezon City despite the coronavirus pandemic gives them an advantage.
“We have a very good chance in the Olympic qualifying, especially now that we can still train regularly here in La Mesa Dam in Quezon City kahit ngayong may pandemic,” said Nievarez during the 17th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom last Oct. 22.
“Sa SEA Games naman sa Vietnam next year, gusto ko din ma-defend yun title ko,” added Nievarez, who captured the gold medal in the men’s rowing lightweight single sculls event in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in Subic last December.
“Sa tingin ko , kaya naman basta tuloy-tuloy lang ang training,” added Nievarez, the 19-year-old pride of Atimonan, Quezon and now one of the country’s Tokyo Olympics aspirants.
Maerina, head coach of the Philippine rowing team, said China, Korea and Japan remain as the country’s biggest rivals in both the singles and doubles sculls events in the Olympic qualifier.
“I think China, Korea and Japan are the best sa darating na Olympic qualifier. Pati na ang Iran and Iraq. Sa single sculls medyo mahirap dahil up to first six ang makukuha,” said Maerina during the weekly public service program sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB).
“Pero sa women’s double sculls, we expect to deliver dahil naka fourth-place finish naman tayo last year. Ang mga atleta kasi continuous ang training with our local coaches. Pagbalik ng aming foreign coach next year, mahaba-haba na ang time na makapag-prepare,” added Maerina, who is best remembered for competing in the men’s singles sculls in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Maerina said Melcah Jen Caballero and Joanie Delgaco remain as the country’s biggest hopes.
Caballero bagged the gold in the lightweight single sculls in the last SEA Games.
Caballero and Delgaco then teamed up to win the country’s third rowing gold in the lightweigth double sculls.
“Medyo natigil lang po ang training nila dahil sa military duties.Pero kasama pa rin naman sila sa national team. Sa women’s division, may chance sila na makapag-medal gaya nga ng sabi ng foreign coach natin, said Maerina.
Asked about the country’s chances to improve its three-gold and one-bronze medal haul in 2019 SEA Games, Maerina said the PRA under president Patrick “Pato” Gregorio remains confident the Filipinos will do well in the next edition in Vietnam next year.
“Tuloy-tuloy lang naman ang paghahanda namin dito sa La Mesa Dam kahit ngayong may pandemic. We’re vey lucky dahil ang rowing nandito po kami inside La Mesa Dam, which is a restricted area. Wala masyadong napupunta na mga tao dito maliban sa rowing team at sa mga employees,” explained Maerina.
“At that time na medyo mahigpit pa ang sitwasyon natin, nakakapag-training po kami everyday. So napakaswerte talaga ang team natin na makapag-train sa La Mesa Dam na headquarters namin. Walang gaanong problema, except sa mga team events kasi bawal ang medyo crowded. For individuals ang isinasagawang training.”
For next year’s SEA Games, Maerina said the Philippine Rowing Association plans to use the same line-up with only one or two additions.
Maerina admitted that a big concern in rowing in Vietnam is the addition of more events — from six in Manila to 16 in Hanoi.
“Last week, they (Vietnam organizers) announced that there will be 16 events in rowing next year. Sa atin, anim lang sa Subic last year and we won in three of them,” recalled Maerina.
“Our disadvantage is yun number ng mga athletes na pwede nating ilaban kumpara sa mga Vietnamese.”
He also lamented the exclusion of the female lightweight single sculls event where Caballero won a gold medal in Subic.
“Another problem is the event of Melcah Jen, where she won a gold medal. Hindi nila sinama ng mga Vietnamese organizers next year. Right now, we’re still working to lobby na maisama ito para mai-depensa niya ang kanyang gold medal.
Added Maerina: “Kung maipasok natin yung female single sculls, siguro ma-reach din uli yung three golds na nakuha natin sa Subic.”
“Sa rowing kasi, mahirap yun pagbuo ng bagong national team Hindi kakayanin ng isa or dalawang taon. Tapos ngayon walang gaano tayong makuhang mga bagong atleta dahil sa pandemic.”
Maerina claimed the country’s strategic location in Asia is perfect for rowing.
“Ang Pilipinas ay napapaligiran ng madaming dagat. Kapag rainy season, nagkakaroon pa ng mga artificial lakes sa mga lugar na mahangin. Kaya karamihan nga ng mga atleta natin galing sa mga probinsya, kagaya ni Cris na galing Quezon na recommended din ng dating rower. Pati rin si Melcah, na galing naman ng Bicol.”
“Actually, we’re already planning to hold a learn-to-row for 12 to 13 years old every summer. The venues will be La Mesa Dam and Ternate, Cavite, which is near Metro Manila. We want to train kids, who can qualify for 2026 Youth Olympic Games.”
“Mas maganda kasi magstart ang atleta below 15 years old at tama ang height. Kasi kung pag competitive talaga siya, kailangan maisip natin ang future ng mga atleta so umpisahan namin yung 12-15 years old.”
Maerina said the PRA is also reaching out to school leagues.
“Kasama din sa programa namin ang itaguyod pa ang rowing sa mga sa universities. Dati Ateneo lang ang may rowing club, Ngayon meron na din ang UP na malapit po sa dam at nag-try na bago pa ang pandemic. Hopefully next year, ma-implement yun plano na mas maraming atleta na mapasok sa team.”
“May plano din katulad ng training hubs sa Ternate, Cavite at sa Davao para mas madagdagan ang aming crew. Sa ngayon, limitado pa ang operation pero nakapag-program na at once na maging okay ang situation natin, madagdagan po ang training venues sa mga provinces para maka-discover pa ng mas maraming talents. with reports from Gab Ferreras