Nineteenth Best

Astonishing, spectacular, astounding — those three words would best describe the closing ceremony of the 2010 Asian Games. The first edition of the said formality to be done outdoors, along the Pearl River in Haixinsha Island to be exact. Illuminated by the glare of fireworks, thousands of participating athletes embraced and said goodbye to each other as the continent’s premier sporting competition concludes another glorious chapter of its’ history.

The host nation China bagged the most gold medals, 199 of them, and ultimately won the entire competition. The socialist state has won the games consecutively since 1982. It came without any surprise as well that the most valuable players of both men and women’s categories came from China. The nation dominated the overall medal tally with 416 medals, nearly double than that of second-placed Korea Republic with 232 medals.

China has long been a superpower in the continent in terms of sports, it is also militarily superior than most of its’ Asian neighbors. Let’s not forget, the nation is now the world’s second largest economy. Their success as a nation may be attributed to the values embedded in Chinese tradition: hard-work, perseverance and determination. If these traits make a nation successful, then what does that make of the failure of the Philippine delegation and the flailing Philippine economy?

The spectacular closing ceremony of the 2010 Asian Games.

Team Philippines finished 19th overall in the competition, with only three golds, four silvers and nine bronzes. Their feat is worse than that of the 2006 delegation where the nation bagged four golds, six silvers and nine bronzes and finished 18th place. Sure, we could say that there isn’t much difference since it’s only a single-rank drop; but the slip indicates that our athletes’ ability to compete is getting worse.

Critics point their fingers at the country’s dilapidated facilities. The country’s representative in women’s long jump, Marestella Torres, was quoted as saying in Tagalog: “I went through a lot of sacrifices, I feel like I should now retire. Sure, I trained abroad, but when I came back, I could not continue my training because the facililties here were unplayable”. Torres jumped highest amongst all entires in the women’s long jump but the jumps she made were foul jumps and she had to settle for fourth place. She blamed the lack of training facilities in the Philippines, citing she had to train on a warped tartan surface at the Phil Sports Complex in Pasig. Two of Team Philippines’ divers, Jaime Asok and Rexel Ryan, also did not get proper training. They had planned to train in China but found their pool infested with dead frogs.

Are these facilities the best our athletes can train on? I’m certain funding isn’t an issue, with the likes of Manuel Pangilinan of Philippine Long Distance Telephone and the prominent Cojuangco Family passing the hat. In fact, any athlete who brings home gold receives a guaranteed Php 3M from Pangilinan alone. Surely that’s enough financial motivation.

Marestella Torres was the best among all candidates but lost because of a technicality.

Our best-ever stint in the Asiad was in 1954, when we bagged 14 gold and finished second. However, that was primarily due to the fact that the country played as hosts. Our best performance overseas came the following Asian games, Tokyo in 1958, the Philippines won 8 gold medals and finished second again.

The sad truth is the fact that while most Asian countries became better in these games, for example China (People’s Republic) who never made it to the top ten of the first four editions of the games and have now been champions for eight editions straight, the Philippines is getting worse. From seven gold medals in 1962, we could only bag 2 four years later in 1966. The countries of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan both did not participate in the tournament until 1994, now they both feature on the top ten ranked 5th and 8th respectively.

Lagging behind is a very common occurrence in Philippine society, we have lagged behind our Asian neighbors in the economy, in airline modernization, in agricultural modernization and now in sports. This can only be blamed at the inferiority complex that is present in many Filipinos, that mentality we all call the ‘pwede na’ attitude.

We say ‘pwede na’ when our work is only-half done. We say ‘pwede na’ when we know our leaders are being incompetent or corrupt. We say ‘pwede na’ to our dilapidated sports facilities, and in turn we feel the effects of this attitude. We say ‘pwede na’ and then cast a blind eye. When we allow all this to happen, we let ourselves become inferior.

It is a pity that our athletes, who possess the potential to become world-class competitors, are not given the chance to even get a shot at the gold. It’s difficult to compete when your training regime is done in such a short time and disorganized. It doesn’t help as well if you train in shabby facilities. On the other hand, your opponents get top-notch training schedules from the best mentors in the world. Not to mention first-class facilities that hone their skills even better. This just makes the task much more difficult, if not impossible. Lagging behind would just give foreigners the wrong impression about us. They may not understand this mentality and would instead brand us as lazy or poor, even if it is untrue.

We have been second best, third, fourth best so many times. Is this the best we can achieve as Filipinos? Is mediocrity a lifestyle we must all accept? No, I don’t think so. Manny Pacquiao has refuted this in boxing, Efren Reyes and Django Bustamante in billiards; can’t we disprove this in our society entirely? As a coach in the Philippine Delegation once said: “Filipinos are tired of silver and bronze, they want the gold”, and his words couldn’t have been more precise.

At the moment we are forced to accept the title of nineteenth best in the Asian games, a rank much lower than our South-East Asian neighbors: Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. However, in four years time there will be another edition of the Asian games and we should strive to do better, if not the best. In fact, we shouldn’t wait for four years to make an improvement, we should start as early as this moment. Not only in sports, not only in our economy but in all aspects of our lives. Just as the saying goes, “Be the best in everything that you do”. This should be the virtue all of us Filipinos would strive for.

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