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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will come to a close today, August 8, 2021.
The summer games, originally scheduled last year, had to be postponed due to a pandemic that gripped the world, and continues to do so.
Organizers batted to push through with it a year later. No sense in postponing it further. They had prepared feverishly pre-pandemic and would take all the precautions necessary to keep delegations and everyone involved safe.
As scaled back as it was (gone were the crowds to cheer on athletes), the Japanese Olympic Committee still managed to pull off a memorable presentation and conduct all the events as efficiently as is expected of this nation.
It was historic for the Philippines for many reasons. This is the most successful campaign since the country started participating in the global sports competition.
While our contingent was lean, several athletes made the cut to the finals, although only four managed podium finishes.
Kudos to gymnast Carlos Yulo, who narrowly missed out on a bronze medal, pole vaulter EJ Obiena, boxer Irish Magno, and skateboarder Margielyn Didal as they displayed why they are the future of Philippine sports and medal hopefuls in coming Olympic games.
Our boxing campaign was most successful, with three qualifiers out of four bringing home medals - two silver courtesy of Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam, and a bronze from Eumir Marcial.
But it is weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz who has unarguably brought immense pride to Filipinos for bagging the elusive gold medal for the Philippines.
Our first gold medal in nearly eight decades was literally snatched by a female athlete. It was lifting 127 kilograms in the clean and jerk category that propelled her to victory, stunning the team of the more favored Chinese opponent.
And I think there was a bit of controversy there because Hidilyn's coach was Chinese, and his compatriots were displeased with him for not disclosing his ward's true strength. But hey, isn't that called strategy? And since his services were being paid for by HD's team, he should be loyal to her and not his fellow Chinese!
Which brings me to talk about monetary incentives...
There is no monetary prize in the Olympics. You win a medal, especially the gold, then you distinguish yourself in the sports discipline you played in. It's bragging rights, both for the athlete and the country they represent.
However, winning a medal, especially gold, will open opportunities for the athlete back home. At least in the Philippines it will.
First, there is a law - Republic Act 10699 - enacted during the Aquino administration in 2015 that awards Olympic medalists with monetary incentives. (I wonder if Hidilyn, who bagged the silver medal in the Rio Games in 2016, received what was due her that time).
Under RA 10699, the pride of Zamboanga stands to receive 10 million pesos. Wow, that's a lot of moolah. The question is: when will she receive such bounty?
Before the start of the Tokyo games, business tycoons Manuel V. Pangilinan and Ramon S. Ang pledged 10 million pesos each for any athlete who will bring home the gold. Another 5 million pesos will supposedly be given by businessman Dennis Uy, and 3 million pesos will come from Deputy House Speaker Mikee Romero, a staunch supporter of sports.
An additional 5 million pesos will be added to her bounty from government because her feat also set two new Olympic records.
Several other private corporations have likewise pledged to give her a condominium unit, a house and lot, free flights, a car, even a lifetime supply of food products.
The windfall is mind-boggling. But... until the Olympic gold medalist actually receives all these, they remain promises or just talk.
I did see a post that she already received her car so at least that's for real.
There are questions as to whether the Filipina athlete deserves such huge sums of money and gifts.
What people don't realize is what Hidilyn and her team had to go through - all the blood, sweat and tears - to train and prepare herself for that fight of a lifetime.
It is not easy to train for a competition as huge as the Olympics. Millions are required to put up a decent showing. It's not only a matter of training to develop skills and be at par with the competition.
Most important is exposure. You can keep training by your lonesome, harnessing the necessary techniques and strategy. But unless you go toe-to-toe with the best in the world in your sports discipline, then it will be all for naught.
To participate in regional and world championships requires resources. Airfare, accommodations, nutritional requirements, equipment... and it is not just for the athlete but her team.
How can you become the best if you don't eat right, don't sleep comfortably, and have to worry where the funding will come from for the next competition?
Training, too, means foregoing any regular paying job. It's just not possible to work if an athlete is to focus on readying themselves to compete and climb up the ranks.
It is government's responsibility to support athletes, financially and with whatever they need, to excel. But how far will 43,000 pesos (USD 850) a month go? And that's one of the concerns that Filipino athletes have been bemoaning for years.
Yes, there are private sports foundations that provide assistance. But that is not for every athlete, just those where they see potential.
Still, because athletes play for country, a large part of financial support must come from government. At least, that's what I think so.
Many athletes have opted to hire foreign coaches, and they are paid a pittance. Others train abroad because of better facilities and opportunities to compete. All that costs money. Money, which most athletes do not have, and which force them to beg from whoever cares to listen to their pleas.
Watching Hidilyn lift that barbell weighing 127 kilograms, I still could not imagine what she had to go through to prepare herself for such feat, and the sacrifices she had to make to accomplish that historic moment.
Yes, a lot of it was her faith in God. That I believe, was key to making everything possible.
But still, government support was just as crucial, and she could have used more of that.
So, does she deserve all the pledges that she has received after winning that 127-kg gold medal? Most definitely! And our country owes her more for bringing pride to our people at such a dark time.