GIVEN her athletic pedigree, it seemed natural for Filipino-Canadian sprinter Zion Corrales Nelson to dream of competing in the Olympics.
Nelson bared last Saturday in an online interview with pinoyathletics.info that competing in the quadrennial global sports showcase was her childhood aspiration.
“I wrote down in my journal when I was six years old that I would go to the Olympics. Yes, it’s been a childhood goal of mind,” said the 30th Southeast Asian Games silver medalist in the 4×100-meter women’s relay.
She is the granddaughter on her mother side of Pinoy speedster Rogelio Onofre, who competed in the 1960 Mexico, 1964 Tokyo and 1968 Olympiads, on top of bagging a gold medal in the men’s 4×100-meter relay in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games.
“My lola and mom said that I got my running ability from their side of the family,” said Nelson, 22, who is bidding to qualify for the Tokyo Games in July in the women’s 200-meter run.
The Vancouver-born athlete clocked a personal best of 23.16 seconds, .36 of a second short of the Olympic qualifying mark of 22.80 seconds, in the NCAA West Regionals in her senior year as a varsity ace with the University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears in May last year. She also set a personal best of 11.41 in the 100-meter run in the same event.
Shortly after graduating from UC-Berkeley with honors, Nelson said her Olympic qualifying bid was boosted after she was recruited as a varsity track scholar by the University of Southern California, noted for its track and field sports program, taking up a Masters degree in legal studies.
She is handled by noted sprint coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, who is also USC’s director for track and field and cross country running and once mentored Canadian runner Andre De Grasse, a silver medalist in the women’s 200-meter dash of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“This is why I was super excited to transfer to USC because I can run with athletes who have been running 22.1 seconds (in the 200 meters) and get to train with them every day,” Nelson noted. “Coach Caryl is the best there is and she is also my personal coach in the short sprints. Definitely, this is the best situation for a short sprinter.
“It (competing in the Olympics) may have been a farfetched goal but with what has happened over years I can actually see it in sight. I am confident I can make it.”
The athlete, whose mother Editha hails from Tarlac, Tarlac, said she will open her Olympic qualifying campaign on Feb. 6 in an invitational meet at the University of Las Vegas, returning to UNLV a week later for another competition there.
Nelson said that she is scheduled to see action for the USC Trojans in around 10 to 12 events before the Olympic cut-off on June 29.
“Hopefully I can hit the standard very early on into my season. By April, maybe, and I am confident I can do it so I can relax and breathe properly,” she said.
More than just qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, Nelson said she also aims to stamp her mark once she gets to race in the 200 meters against elite female sprinters from all over the world.
“I want to at least make it out of the first round and reach the semifinals. It would mean the world to me, especially representing the Philippines to show that it’s possible for a small country like ours to get to that stage,” she said.
Nelson said she hasn’t kept in touch with fellow Florida-based and fellow Philippine Olympic sprint hopeful Kristina Knott, a 30th SEA Games double gold medalist, except what she sees on the latter’s social media.
Nelson said they might be able to see each other during the Pepsi Florida Relays hosted by the University of Florida at its track stadium in Gainesville in April.
Both Nelson and Knott, who is also gunning for a slot in the women’s century dash in Tokyo, are seeking to become the first Pinay sprinters to see action in the Games since Lerma Bulauitan ran in the women’s 100-meter run in the 2000 edition in Sydney, Australia.