As a veteran of six Paralympics, Philippine Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo knows the unique challenges and problems that come with each participation of Filipino para athletes in the sports fest.
Yet the trials that the Filipino campaigners faced in the lead-up to the Tokyo Paralympic Games have been the toughest of them all, according to Barredo.
Though unwilling to make excuses, Barredo won’t deny that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on their campaign. From the training, the qualifying process, and even when they were already in Tokyo to compete, the para athletes were hounded by the virus at virtually every point.
“While our able-bodied national athletes had problems of their own in finding facilities to train for the Tokyo Olympics, it came doubly hard for our national para athletes,” Barredo rued.
“We needed not only accessible training venues but also accessible accommodations for them,” he pointed out.
“We practically had no training in 2020 due to the pandemic because our national para athletes were forced to leave the Philsports Complex in Pasig City where they trained and had their quarters because it was converted into a quarantine facility. We understand this reality. It is what it is.”
Barredo is grateful that the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) was able to support and sustain the para athletes, who trained in separate “bubbles” for a month or two before leaving for Tokyo.
“In fairness, we have nothing to say but thank the PSC chairman Butch Ramirez for the all-out support they have given our athletes,” he said.
Barredo had hoped they left their troubles behind in Manila, where key members of the Paralympic contingent — including chef de mission Francisco Diaz — were grounded after testing positive for COVID-19. Also staying behind were powerlifter Achele Guion and her coach, Antonio Taguibao.
But misfortune dogged the Paralympic team in Tokyo as well, where discus thrower Jeanette Aceveda and athletic coach Bernard Buen tested positive for the virus as well. Aceveda had to withdraw from her event, depriving her of the chance of becoming the first visually-impaired Filipino athlete to compete in the meet for the world’s top para athletes.
“I really felt sorry for her because this is a disability we share,” said Barredo. “It would have been an inspiration to visually-impaired Filipinos, that despite all of the challenges it could be done to compete in the Paralympics.”
“It would have been bragging rights for her for being the first,” he added.
According to Barredo, Aceveda was initially upset but has since turned the matter into motivation, as she is now determined to make it to the 2024 Paris Paralympics.
“Her plight, in a nutshell, is what the entire team suffered,” said Barredo. “Naging problema sa atin ‘yong participation because of COVID-19. It’s a very frustrating and upsetting situation that is out of our control.”
Despite all the troubles they have faced, Barredo is proud of what their athletes — swimmers Ernie Gawilan, Gary Bejino, and wheelchair racer Jerrold Mangliwan — have achieved so far in Tokyo.
“Ernie was able to improve his personal bests in his events despite the limited training ,while Jerrold, except for his disqualification in the men’s 400-meter finals, has also been able to improve a lot, particularly in the 1,500-meter race,” said Barredo.
“Gary is a bit raw, this being his first Paralympics. But given more rigorous training and exposure, we expect him to do better in international competition and, hopefully, qualify for the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024,” he added. (abs-cbn news)