On a day to forget, two more Filipino athletes went down in terrible defeat on Tuesday, leaving a taekwondo star to carry the fight for Team Philippines in the 31st Olympic Games that’s coming to an end in Rio de Janeiro.
Veteran long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang got injured even before her event officially started, partly blamed officials for her loss and left the old Nilton Santos stadium a loser again in her third and final Olympic appearance.
Also singing the blues on this sorry day was hurdler Eric Cray, who found the opposition too tough, too fast as he crashed out in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles that left a handful of Filipino officials making their way out of the athletics venue without a trace of a smile on their faces.
The losses of Torres and Cray left Kirstie Elaine Alora to do the fighting for the Philippines on Saturday, or a day before the first ever Olympiad to be staged in this corner of the world ends with a joyful closing party at the iconic Macarena stadium.
Too bad, Alora finds herself exchanging kicks against a much-respected Mexican in Maria Espinoza, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist and still considered the jin to watch in the women’s +67-kilogram division.
From among the 12 athletes who saw action earlier, only weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz succeeded, winning the silver medal in the 53-kg class as she ended a 20-year medal drought and gave her long-suffering nation what was only its third silver in the history of the Games.
And now, the country’s hopes for another medal in Rio lie in the fist and feet of 26-year-old Alora.
Filipino officials remained confident the team will have another medalist other than Hidilyn.
“Anything is possible in taekwondo,” said chef-de-mission Joey Romasanta.
Cray, a Filipino-American born in Olongapo City but grew up in El Paso, Texas, ran a slow race in the first of three semifinal heats to finish seventh among eight runners in a letdown for one who had grimly longed to go all the way to the finals.
But the way he ran on Monday, Cray would not make it even if he faces them again tomorrow, or in the next few days. Simply put, Cray really had no chance.
Cray clocked 49.37 seconds, a little slower than the 49.05 he made in the preliminaries the other day. He finished 17th among the 24 semifinalists that included American Kerron Clement (48.26), Jamaican Annsert Whyte (48.32) and Ireland’s Thomas Barr (48.39).
Cray, who ran on lane 7, was doing well until the seventh or eighth hurdle but did not clear the 10th. It cost him time and the race. And the chance to advance to the finals in his first Olympic appearance.
‘”It was a crazy race, way fast, pretty fast. I think my first 250 was faster than yesterday. I tried to go some more but since the pace was faster than yesterday it kind of messed me up,” said Cray.
‘”I think I was in second until the eighth (hurdle). But the pace was so fast my legs started to give out early. I couldn’t get it together. And then I hit the 10th hurdle really hard and that’s when the Kenyan (Boniface Turniti) took off on me,” he added.
Torres left the stadium cursing herself for being careless during the warm-up, when she ran a full approach without having the sand cleared by race officials.
Because a fellow runner made a jump before her, there was a break in the sand. She said officials left the uneven portion unattended.
“Na-shoot ’yung paa ko sa butas sa sand. Malalim ’yung butas at na-eksakto dun ang talon ko,” said Torres, adding that during her fall she felt a sharp pain on her hip.
“Naramdaman ko agad. Kaya sa first jump ko pa lang, alam kong masakit. Gumuguhit hanggang sa lower back ko ’yung sakit,” she said.
Because she’s injured, Torres could only jump 6.22 on her first attempt, a far cry from the 6.46 to 6.50 she did in practice ahead of her event. In her second third jumps, she did 6.10 and 6.15 to finish 28th in a field of 38.
Since she’s already 35 and a mother, the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is no longer in her mind. But competing in the 2017 SEA Games and 2018 Asian Games remain a possibility.
“Naiinis ako sa nangyari. Naging careless ako. Parang nakita ko na yung butas sa sand, tinuloy ko pa din ang jump. Hindi ko inisip na baka ma-shoot ako sa butas. Hindi na nga nag-qualify, na-injure pa,” she said.
So Marestella ended her Olympic campaign the way she started it—disappointing.
The Fil-Am runner is looking forward to the future, with competing in the Tokyo Games foremost among his wishes.
“I want to get ready for 2020. I still got it in my heart and mind that I’m going to go 2020. The past two years was like beginning for me. I’ll be ready for 2020 and I’m going to do great,” said Cray.
“Being in the Olympics is the biggest thing for a track and field athlete. It’s still the number one sporting event in the world and it’s just every four years so when it comes around you got to go,” he added.