MANILA -- There’s only one gold medal at stake in open water swimming in the coming 30th Southeast Asian Games.
But for national team coach Betsy Medalla and swimmer Ron Jairus Villamor, winning the gold will surely go a long way in helping promote the sport among Filipinos.
“I really believe the Filipinos can excel in open water swimming. We have the endurance and the skills to be really good long-distance swimmers. Nandun yung puso (The heart is there)," said Medalla in a talk to sportswriters during the 49th "Usapang Sports" by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) at the National Press Club in Intramuros, Manila last November 21.
Medalla, an open water swimmer herself who made history as the first Asian to cross-swim in South Africa in 2014, believes the country's two entries in the open water swimming event in the SEAG -- Villamor and Joboy Gonzales of Davao -- have what it takes to become really good open water swimmers.
"It will really be a big boost to our sport if either Ron or Joboy can win the SEAG gold medal. If we're lucky enough, we can even finish 1-2 in the competition," said Medalla, adding each country is allowed to field only two entries each.
Asked about the difference between open water swimming and regular swimming competitions, Medalla said: “Open water swimming is very different from swimming pool competitions. In terms of preparations, mas matagal, mas mahirap ang open water swimming (is long and difficult). We have to swim in the open water at least once a week para hindi mawala yun (so as not to fade) feel for the water. They have to be naturally long-distance swimmers."
“We should really have an open water swimming community because our race courses in the country are so much better. So we created open water challenges for our swimmer to develop their talents,” Medalla said.
Medalla said she is very happy that the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), headed by Chairman William "Butch" Ramirez, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), led by Cong. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino and the Philippine Swimming Inc. (PSI), headed by Lani Velasco, have agreed to include open water swimming in the SEAG calendar.
“Napansin ko nun una wala tayong (I noticed that we don’t have) representative to SEA Games. Ron is the most experienced open water swimmer right now, so I recommended him to the PSI. He is regularly training and a consistent podium finisher in our open water competitions," Medalla added.
Also present during the weekly forum weekly sports program sponsored by the PSC, National Press Club, Pagcor, Community Basketball Association, and HG Guyabano Tea Leaf Drinks are the Philippine national arnis team, led by PEKAF executive vice president Gerald Cañete, PEKAF Executive Director Dominic Lacbayo, coach Steven Achita and players Jeric Arce and Jeanette Agapit. (PR)