Retirement beckoned, but he persevered and won

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    RECORD BREAKER: James Deiparine churns the waters en route to a new mark in the men’s 100-m breaststroke event. REUTERS PHOTO
    RECORD BREAKER: James Deiparine churns the waters en route to a new mark in the men’s 100-m breaststroke event. REUTERS PHOTO

    CAPAS, Tarlac. — Who says good guys finish last?

    Tell that to Fil-Am swimmer James Deiparine who, after having second thoughts in returning to the pool last year, came splashing back with a historic golden win on Wednesday night, ending the country’ decade-old medal drought in the 30th Southeast Asian Games swimming championships at the New Clark City Aquatics Center here.

    While not favored to win the event, Deiparine, egged on by a roaring hometown crowd, surged in the last 20 meters to rule the men’s 100-meter breaststroke in a record-breaking time of one minute and 1.46 seconds.

    The former California State Polytechnic University varsity ace surpassed his own national mark of 1:02 and also sunk the 10-year-old SEA Games standard of 1:01.60 set by Vietnam’s Huu Viet Nguyen in the 2009 Laos SEA Games.

    The low-key Fil-Am also earned the distinction of being the first Pinoy tanker to set a SEA Games mark in 10 years since Fil-Hawaiian Daniel Coakley clocked a record time of 22.60 seconds in clinching the men’s 50-meter freestyle in Laos.

    As an icing on the cake, Deiparine’s clocking was within the Olympic “B” qualifying time of 1:01.73, meaning he was a heartbeat away from making the 2020 Tokyo Games since the actual cut-off is 59.93 seconds.

    “I’m speechless but this gold erases the bad memories of two years ago,” said the swimmer, whose lawyer-father has Cebuano blood. His mom hails from neighboring Pampanga.

    Deiparine, 26, had thought of retiring last year after being sidelined by a knee injury, according to his mother Patricia.

    “Jimmy (Deiparine’s nickname) was really down after that injury and seemed bent on not swimming anymore,” the elder Deiparine recalled.

    But Philippine Swimming Inc. president Lani Velasco used her persuasive powers to convince the swimmer to reconsider, somehow persuaded him back into the pool and begin the hard grind in getting back into fighting shape again.

    Deiparine showed he was rounding back to form in going under 28 seconds for the first time, clocking 27.91 seconds in the men’s 50-meter breaststroke at the world

    championships in Gwangju, South Korea last July, surpassing his previous national mark of 28.13 in the Hungary edition of the worlds in 2017.

    Last Wednesday, he wasn’t even the top swimmer in his forte in the heats, yielding the honor to teammate and fellow Fil-am Jonathan, Cook, who topped the qualifiers in 1:02.79. Deiparine was content to check in second (1:02.70).

    There was no doubt, however, what his intentions were once they got into the finals.
    Racing in lane No. 5, Deiparine swam like sharks were nipping at his heels in the last 20 meters.

    For an encore, he will gun for his second gold in the men’s 50-meter breaststroke on Sunday.

    But the event definitely won’t be Deiparine’s swan song, Momma Patricia assured Velasco in a message to Velasco hours after his son’s epic triumph.

    “Jimmy won’t retire yet. He has more to do for the Philippines and for everyone who has supported him. You (Velasco) are a part of that,” Deiparine’s mother said.