Bigger delegation to Tokyo Olympics eyed

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Reigning Asian Games women's golf champion Yuka Saso. (DT)

Chief of mission Joey Romasanta wants to have a big delegation when the country troops to the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Romasanta, also the first vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, on Thursday said he is looking to send around 20 to 24 athletes when the quadrennial Summer Games go back to Asia for the first time since 2008.

The biggest delegation the Philippines ever sent was a 16-man contingent in the Athens Olympics in 2004. Then, it sent 15 athletes in Beijing in 2008 before the number was reduced to 11 in London in 2012 and 13 in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The Rio de Janeiro edition, however, was the most successful in recent memory as Hidilyn Diaz emerged with a silver medal in weightlifting to match the feat achieved by Mansueto Velasco in Atlanta in 1996.

This time, Romasanta is looking to send a bigger delegation to match or surpass that memorable achievement.

“We’re looking at sending around 24 athletes,” said Romasanta, who buckled down to work when he sat down with national sports association leaders last Tuesday.

“I told them that before thinking of winning an Olympic medal, we have to think of a way how to qualify as many athletes as possible. We have to identify the athletes with potential and throw our full support as they shoot for Olympic slots.”

There would be four automatic Filipino competitors in centerpiece sports athletics and swimming via universality invitation, or special slots allotted by both the International Amateur Athletics Association and International Swimming Federation to countries that failed to have their players meet Olympic qualifying marks.

Then, Romasanta is hoping that there would be four golfers, including Filipino-Japanese ace Yuka Saso, who emerged with a gold medal in the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta last year.

“The organizers want Yuka to qualify. They are rooting for her,” said Romasanta, adding that Saso and another half-Japanese star in Kiyomi Watanabe of judo would surely raise the profile of the national delegates.

“Remember that the Olympics would be held in Tokyo. If we will have Yuka and Kiyomi there, it’s going to be a welcome development not only to us, but also to the host country and its fans.”

Romasanta is also optimistic that teen sensation Caloy Yulo of gymnastics, Diaz of weightlifting, Margielyn Didal of skateboarding, Henry Macaranas of canoe-kayak and Amparo Acuna and Hagen Topacio of shooting would all qualify.

Some athletes could spring a surprise like those from taekwondo, 3×3 basketball and archery.

“There would also be some surprises,” said Romasanta, raising the idea that the late Ian Lariba of table tennis copped an Olympic slot out of nowhere in the previous staging.

“Nobody expected Ian to earn an Olympic slot. But she made it and she made us proud. That’s what I’m thinking of. There could be some athletes who will surprise us with an impressive performance in the Olympic qualifying (tournament).”

Romasanta said boxing could also deliver a couple or more qualifiers, but the fate of the sport is still in limbo as the International Olympic Committee has yet to decide if it will be scratched from the Olympic calendar.

“Traditionally, we’re sending two to four boxers to the Olympics,” he said. “But we can’t count them yet. We have to wait for word from the IOC.”

“But an Olympic team that has more than 16 (competitors) is already good for us. We want to have as many athletes as possible so we will work in close coordination with the POC and the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) to make it happen.”

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