MULTI-TITLED disabled swimmer Ernie Gawilan has secured a return trip to the World Paralympic Games after being selected yesterday by the World Paralympic Swimming Federation as an outright – and the country’s first – qualifier for the 2020 Games set to open in Tokyo in late August.
On top of that, the International Paralympic Committee named Gawilan, 28, who was born with undeveloped extremities, as one of the torch-bearers during the opening ceremonies of the Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 meet, according to Philippine National Paralympic Committee president Mike Barredo.
“Being the country’s first qualifier to the World Paralympics is already an honor but being selected as the one of the torch-bearers for the opening ceremonies makes us even prouder. This is a huge distinction for Ernie,” Barredo said.
It will be the second time Gawilan, who bagged three gold and two silver medals in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, will compete in the quadrennial global sports showcase for disabled athletes after competing in the Rio Para Games in 2016.
This will also be the third straight time that Pinoy swimmers are vying in the event since Bea Roble saw action in the S6 women’s 50-meter and 100-metedr freestyle events, respectively, of the 2012 London World Para Games.
National paralympic swimming coach Tony Ong confirmed the Davao City native’s outright qualification for the 2020 Tokyo World Para Games, adding the swimmer will compete in the S7 men’s 400-meter freestyle, 200-meter individual medley and 100-meter backstroke events.
“These are the same events Ernie had in Rio. He made the minimum qualifying standard time in the 400-meter freestyle in the Asian Para Games, which was perhaps also a major reason why he was chosen to compete in the Tokyo World Para Games,” Ong bared.
Although Gawilan need not go through the qualifying process, Ong said the swimmer will have to compete overseas “for re-classification since his being included in the S7 class was provisional during the Asian Para Games. We are hoping that it becomes a permanent one.”
Ong disclosed that he is hoping another one of his athletes, Gary Bejino, an S6 swimmer and Asian Para Games silver medalist, would also be given a ticket to Tokyo through the “bipartite process,” as well as Arnel Aba and Roland Sabido.
“Gawilan, Bejino, Aba and Sabido are all members of the 4×100-meter freestyle relay squad,” Ong pointed out. “And they have a good chance of making the minimum qualifying standard for the event.”
He said all four swimmers were supposed to compete in a Paralympic Games qualifier in Singapore in April but this was cancelled due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.