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Represent: Meet The Philippine Contingent At The Rio 2016 Olympics
Meet the Pinoy 'baker's dozen,' the latest group looking to satiate the country's 20-year medal drought
by Raul Maningat | Aug 3, 2016
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From August 5 to 21, we'll sort of feel what it's like to be on the grandest stage in all of sports, as we cheer on 12 of our countrymen who are set to participate in the XXXI Olympiad. Admittedly, however, each member of the Philippine contingent is an underdog. Aside from our country's zero-Olympic gold track record and the stiff competition in Rio, also factor in the dreaded Zika mosquitoes that our delegates need to be wary of, the odds stacked against us are immense.

Nevertheless, we are standing behind our national bets whatever the outcome might be. They'll be giving their all to make our country proud, therefore we should do the same in supporting them. Before becoming the ultimate morale boosters of our quadrennial meet representatives, though, we must first get to know them better. That being said, meet the Filipino "dirty dozen" for the Rio 2016 Olympics:


JASMINE ALKHALDI
Swimming

Age: 23
Height: 5'8"
Olympic résumé: London, 2012
Career highlights: 8-time Southeast Asian (SEA) Games bronze medalist; finished 34th out of 50 in the 2012 Olympics' 100m freestyle

Filipina mom Susan Paler and Saudi Arabian dad Mohammed Alkhaldi raised Jasmine in Parañaque. Having discovered her aquatic passion at an early age, she began to compete internationally at the age of 11. Seven years later, Jasmine earned a scholarship at the University of Hawaii, suiting up for one of its athletic teams, the Rainbow Wahine. At the 2015 SEA Games, she donned the flag's colors and broke the Philippine 200m freestyle record. Hopefully, this August 10 in the 100m freestyle heats, she can re-enter "the zone" and make a splash in the competition. One thing she has going for her this time is that she's coming into the Games with Olympic experience.


JESSIE KHING LACUNA
Swimming

Age: 22
Height: 5'7"
Olympic résumé: London, 2012
Career highlights: Won 51 gold medals (35 national, 16 international), mostly from the Philippine National Games, the Philippine Olympic Festival, the SEA Age Group Swimming Championships, and the Singapore National Age Group (SNAG) Championships; finished 36th overall in the 2012 Olympics' 200m freestyle

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Following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, Jay and Billy, young Jessie of Pulilan, Bulacan realized that he wanted to be a swimmer at the tender age of six. And it didn't take long for him to have his first taste of gold. As an eight-year-old, the would-be two-time Olympian took home the title for the 100m butterfly category in his first countrywide competition, the second Batang Pinoy National Championships. Fast forward to suiting up for the Ateneo de Manila University, Jessie has become a two-time University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Most Valuable Player, Season 78 co-Athlete of the Year, and a national team stalwart. Considering his trophy haul and national records, calling Jessie as the fastest Filipino swimmer alive sounds just about right.


IAN LARIBA
Table Tennis

Age: 21
Height: 5'4"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: UAAP Season 74 Rookie of the Year, three-time UAAP champion, two-time UAAP Athlete of the Year, 2014 World Table Tennis Championships 4th Division 1st placer; finished 11th out of 70 in the International Table Tennis Federation Asian Qualification Tournament for the 2016 Olympics

After learning the sport in her hometown of Cagayan de Oro, the sound of bounce emanating from Yanyan's remarkable skill with the paddle was soon heard across Manila. The soft-spoken girl then chose the De La Salle University out of the numerous major universities courting her. Along with the individual honors and team championships, Lariba made a name for herself after finishing her five years in college without dropping a singles match. Lariba is so good that she's known to dominate even her more physically imposing male counterparts in the national pool. Nothing is more fitting than the sight of Yanyan as our flagbearer in Rio, being the first-ever local table tennis player to qualify in the Games.


MIGUEL TABUENA
Golf

Age: 21
Height: 5'6"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: (Asian Tour) 2015 Philippine Open; (Philippine Golf Tour) 2012 ICTSI Splendido Classic, ICTSI Eastridge Classic, 2013 ICTSI Sherwood Classic, 2014 ICTSI Manila Masters, 2015 ICTSI Splendido Classic, ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic, ICTSI Open Championship, Central Azucarera de Tarlac Open

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The Philippine Sportswriter Association's 2015 Sportsman of the Year remembers first swinging a club when he was still in diapers. It seems that he never lost focus since then. Motivated to play at the highest level, he turned pro at age 16. On top of his many accolades, Tabuena also has a Majors appearance—the US Open, in particular—under his belt. Aside from natural talent, hard work, and dedication for honing their craft, one thing that gives competitors a crucial edge over their rivals is an unshakable self-belief. Miguel seems to have all of the right ingredients in his golf bag.


MARESTELLA TORRES-SUNANG
Track And Field: Long Jump

Age: 35
Height: 5'2"
Olympic résumé: Beijing, 2008; London, 2012
Career highlights: 2009 Asian Championship Long Jump gold medalist, four-time SEA Games Long Jump gold medalist

From 2005 until she got pregnant in 2013, Marestella was tearing apart the Asian Long Jump scene. Forced away from the sport due to maternity, Negros Oriental's Iron Lady treaded an exasperating road to work her way back to the top. After three failed bids to punch a ticket to Rio, her herculean comeback effort paid off last month when she won the Kazakhstan Open, where she jumped a personal best of 6.72m, and consequently set a new national record. The monumental leap finally earned Marestella her third straight trip to the Olympics. Nevertheless, she knows that the mission is far from being accomplished.


ERIC SHAUWN CRAY
Track And Field: 400 hurdles

Age: 27
Height: 5'9"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: Three-time SEA Games gold medalist, International Association of Athletics Federations World Challenge Cup (IAAF-WCC) 2nd placer, 2016 Asian Indoor Championships bronze medalist

The Filipino-American track star was born in Olongapo but spent much of his growing up years in the United States. Upon his mom's wish, he started competing for the Philippine national team. Since joining three years ago, the Education degree and Human Relations master's degree holder has steadily improved. His latest success is a confidence-boosting 48.98-second finish at the recent IAAF-WCC in Madrid. The under-49 effort is touted as a sign of good things to come in Rio.

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MARY JOY TABAL
Track And field: Marathon

Age: 26
Height: 4'11"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: 2015 Southeast Asian Games silver medalist; three-time MILO Marathon Finals winner

A natural, Mary Joy discovered her need for speed when she was a diminutive sixth grader in Guba, Cebu City. She immediately excelled at sprinting, and in a blink of an eye, became a regular at national meets like Palarong Pambansa and Batang Pinoy. Mary Joy wasn't obsessed with running, though; studies always came first. It wasn't until her college coach convinced Tabal that her true calling was in long-distance running. Since then, Mary Joy has made a killing in both local and international marathon events. Her biggest win to date, however, is her 2:43:29 Olympic-qualifying finish at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in Canada.


CHARLY SUAREZ
Boxing: Lightweight 60kg

Age: 27
Height: 5'7"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: Two-time SEA Games gold medalist, 2014 Asian Games silver medalist

Although this will be his Olympic debut, Charly is definitely no rookie. He is an accomplished 10-year veteran of the Philippine boxing team. The hard-hitting pugilist from Sawata, Davao Del Norte has also gained valuable experience from his stints in the 2012 and 2013 AIBA (International Boxing Association) World Series of Boxing—the latter of which, he went five competitive rounds with amateur boxing god Vasyl Lomachenko. His mind brimming with boxing knowledge and his hands packing an ample amount of pop, Charly TKO'd his way to Rio after breaking the nose of his Chinese opponent Shan Jun at the 2016 Asian-Oceanian Olympic Qualifiers. Don't be surprised if Suarez advances to the podium rounds of the upcoming Olympic meet.


ROGEN LADON
Boxing: Light Flyweight 49kg

Age: 22
Height: 5'3"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: 2015 Asian Championships silver medalist, 2015 SEA Games silver medalist, World Boxing Championships bronze medalist, Taipei City Cup gold medalist, Hongkong International Tournament gold medalist

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Rogen hadn't stepped into the global stage until he replaced 2012 Olympian Mark Barriga in the 2015 World Boxing Championships, where he was able to salvage a bronze medal. But even before his impressive showing in the worlds, the fighter from Negros Occidental hadn't been bad at all, only coming up short of winning it all at the 2015 Asian Championships and the SEA Games in the same year. Still, Rogen is relatively unknown in the fight scene, let alone to the casual sports fan. That probably won't matter at all, as Ladon is highly regarded within the boxing circle. If the sports' most respected personalities like world-class trainer Nonito Donaire, Sr., Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines Director Ed Picson and Barriga himself are fans of the man, then it's a no-brainer to put our complete trust in him, too.


HIDILYN DIAZ
Weightlifting: Women's 53kg

Age: 25
Height: 5'1/2"
Olympic résumé: Beijing, 2008; London, 2012
Career highlights: Three-time bronze medalist at the 2015 World Championships in Houston (Clean, Jerk, Snatch), 2015 Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championship gold medalist, 2015 Asian Championships gold medalist

Diaz was just 17 years old when she was thrusted as a wildcard entry into her first Olympiad in Beijing. While a gold medal was a long shot, the main thing she got from the trip was invaluable learning experience. Despite her talent and burning passion for the discipline, the pride of Zamboanga still went home empty-handed from the 2012 Olympics. This time, though, she seemed to have found her perfect niche when she decided to drop weight from under 58 kg to under 53 kg. Armed with a more developed body, years of elite training, and exposure to top-level tourneys, the strongwoman is looking to break through to the next level this August.


NESTOR COLONIA
Weightlifting: Men's 56kg

Age: 24
Height: 5'2"
Olympic résumé: Beijing, 2008; London, 2012
Career highlights: 2015 World Weightlifting Championships bronze medalist, 2015 Asian Weightlifting Championships gold medalist, 2016 Asian Weightlifting Championships bronze medalist

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Nestor's uncle and current coach, 1988 Olympian Gregorio Colonio, introduced him to what turned out to be his gateway out of poverty in Zamboanga City. Nowadays, the 24-year-old is living a lot more comfortably, enjoying the spoils of victory. But Nestor is still hungry for something, and that is the laurels. Adding to his desire for more trophies is the fire burning inside him fueled by his humiliation at the 2014 Asian Games, wherein a 120kg barbell got the best of him. When you ask Nestor about his plans for Rio, he isn't one to give you a safe answer like "I'll try my best," but tell you straight up, "I'm going for the gold." Hey man, we're loving the attitude.


KRISTIE ALORA
Taekwondo: Women's 67kg

Age: 26
Height: 5'8"
Olympic résumé: Debut
Career highlights: Two-time Asian Games bronze medalist, two-time SEA Games gold medalist, 2016 Asian Olympic Qualifier silver medalist

Alora is a lone she-wolf kicking for the country in the martial arts event. She may have saved the local taekwondo scene, though, reaching the finals of the Asian Olympic qualifier. With the feat, Alora prevented her discipline from missing two straight appearances in the Games. She has come a long way from being an oppressed grade school student in Biñan, Laguna. Alora is now among those who have a shot at satiating the country's 20-year medal drought at the Olympics.


KODO NAKANO
Judo: Men’s 81kg

Age: 26
Career highlights: 2015 SEA Games fifth placer

Nakano is the last Filipino Olympian to arrive in Brazil. Getting his invitation just three days before the commencement of the Summer Games, the Fil-Japanese Judoka is dubbed as the national team's Lucky 13th. It would certainly be an astonishing story if Kodo, who subbed in late for a withdrawing Iranian entrant, could nail huge upsets and make it to the latter stages. He may have a trick up his Judogi's sleeves. He's already been in Rio, battling for country at the 2013 World Judo Championship, so his familiarity with the competitive atmosphere awaiting him could spell the difference.

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