DESPITE the hindrances and problems arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, Philippine Olympic team chief of mission Mariano Araneta Jr. remains optimistic the country would be able to send at least 16 representatives to the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
“We are looking at least 16 athletes going to Tokyo,” Araneta said in an interview with Radyo Pilipinas 2, formerly DZSR Sports Radio, over the weekend.
He noted that six athletes have already qualified for the Summer Games – boxers Eumir Felix Marcial, Irish Magno, Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, gymnast Carlos Edriel Yulo and pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena – with around 10 more who could also make it to Tokyo.
He mentioned Rio Olympic Games weightlifting silver medalist Hidylin Diaz, currently training in Malaysia, who only needs to compete in the Asian championships set April 16 to 26 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan so she could book her fourth straight ticket to the quadrennial meet.
Araneta, the Philippine Football Federation president, also noted that 30th Southeast Asian street skateboarding double gold medalist Margielyn Arda Didal is currently No. 14 in the Olympic skateboarding qualifying rankings. In all, 16 slots are available in the discipline making its debut in Tokyo.
Araneta also mentioned golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan are Nos. 22 and 43, respectively, in the International Golf Federation Olympic qualifying rankings, with the top 60 at the end of June eligible to make it to the Tokyo games.
“Judo chief Dave Carter also said that Kiyomi Watanabe has a strong chance of making it to Tokyo through the Asian continental quota,” Araneta said of the four-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, who is currently training in the Japanese capital.
He also did not rule out track and field campaigners and 30th SEA Games double gold medalists Kristina Knott and Eric Shawn Cray, who are both in the United States, campaigning to qualify for the Olympics as well.
Araneta said the other national team standard-bearers could come from the swimming, taekwondo, karate and taekwondo, among others.
“We just might exceed the 13 athletes who competed in the Rio Olympics,” he said of the Rio contingent that featured 13 campaigners in eight sports.
Araneta said the Philippine Olympic Committee has not yet decided who will be the country’s flag-bearer during the Tokyo Olympic opening rites, leaving it to the POC leadership, led by POC President and Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino to decide who would get the distinct honor.
“Wala pa. Who the flag-bearer will be has not yet been decided. That is up to president Bambol and the rest of the POC leadership,” he said.