Fil-American Eric Cray advanced to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles on a hot Monday morning, giving Team Philippines something to smile about after more than a week of disappointments in the 31st Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Acknowledged as the fastest man in Southeast Asia, the 27-year-old Cray fell short of surpassing his personal best, but his time of 49.05 seconds in the fourth heat of the preliminaries was more than enough to send him to the next round where the going will be damned tough.
So Cray will join 23 others in the semifinals and hopes to do better to sustain his bid to make it all to the way to the finals, a giant task given the depth of the opposition led by Jamaica’s Annsert Whyte who submitted the best time of 48.37 seconds in the prelims.
“I qualified to the next round and I’m really excited. I just want to get to the semis tomorrow and run as fast as I can and hopefully make it to the finals,” said the son of an American father and a Filipino mother.
“I had no doubt. I knew I just had to go out there and run to the best of my ability,” said Cray, born in Olongapo City but grew up in Texas.
The Filipino runner finished third in the heat topped by Japanese Keisuke Nozawa (48.62), missing to better his personal best of 48.96 seconds in scorching heat before a huge crowd that loved every moment of action at the Nilson Santos stadium.
It was hot out there, with the temperature hitting 37 degrees by the time the heats in the men’s 400-m hurdles started.
But Cray didn’t mind.
“It’s the perfect weather to run on,” said Cray, before excusing himself to Manila-based sportswriters to go back to the Athletes Village which is a few miles away.
The reigning SEA Games champion will be in the second of three semifinal heats in the company of Sergio Fernandez of Spain (49.31), Jameel Hyde of Jamaica (49.24), Nozawa. Jack Green of Great Britain (48.96(), Abdelmalik Lahoulou of Algeria (48.62), Boniface Mucheru of Kenya (48.91) and Kerron Clement of the United States (49.17).
In the semifinals, the top two finishers in the three heats made up of eight runners each advance to the finals while the two other slots will be a tossup among the remaining runners. Based on their semifinal clockings.
White is the top runner in the semis with a time of 48.37, followed by Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, the bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics at 48.53, and Karsten Warholm of Norway at 48.49, whose times are better than Cray’s personal best.
White and Culson will be in Heat 2 while Warholm will be in Heat 3. Cray’s coach, Davian Clarke of Jamaica, said the Filipino’s clocking Monday was his second best time ever.
“But at this competition you have to run that fast and even faster if he (Cray) wants to make it to the finals and win a medal,” said the bronze medalist in the 4x400 relay of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“Yes, we have big plans, and it starts by making it to the semis and then to the finals. Once you get to the finals, everybody has a chance. Once we get to the finals then we leave it all on the track,” he said.
From the stadium that was named after the football player who was part of the Brazilian team that won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, Cray headed straight to the Athletes Village.
He said wanted to recover as fast as he could.
“I want to get rested and get ready for the semis. I hope I can break 49 in the semis. I feel good and I feel relaxed. I just want to take the whole day and rest,” said Cray.
(With a report from the PH media bureau)