Filipino rowers to vie for Olympic berth in Tokyo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 23) – Five Filipino rowers will compete in three events for a possible Olympic berth in the 2021 World Rowing Asian and Oceanian Olympic Qualification Regatta at Tokyo, Japan.

The races for the Asia and Oceania Olympic qualifers are set on May 5-7 at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay, the venue of the Tokyo Olympics rowing competitions.

The pair of Melcah Caballero and Joanie Delgaco, who won the gold in the women's lightweight double sculls event of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, will try to clinch one of the three Olympic slots at stake in their division.

The duo of Roque Abala Jr. and Zuriel Sumintac is also in the running for the three Olympic tickets in the men's lightweight double sculls.

2019 SEA Games gold medalist Cris Nievarez is the lone Filipino competitor in the men's lightweight singles sculls event, where five Olympic slots are up for grabs.

National team coach Ed Maerina told CNN Philippines the rowers have been continuously training six times a week since February last year amid the strict movement restrictions in the country and postponement of the Tokyo Olympiad all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philippine national rowing team is housed and training at La Mesa Dam, which Maerina said is a safe place because outsiders are restricted to enter the water reservoir and its park.

"We're lucky that we have a training venue that is secluded, so there is less exposure to the virus. It helped in our rowers' focus in training," said Maerina, who coaches the Filipino rowers along with Uzbek mentor Shukhrat Ganiev.

In compliance with health and safety protocols set by the government, Maerina said their practices during the earlier months of the pandemic were limited to one rower per boat. As quarantine restrictions get relaxed, they started to train their doubles' teams which comprise most of the delegation for the Olympic qualifiers.

Maerina assured that Caballero and Abala, who did not train with the team for six months to fulfill their duty as military frontliners, are physically and mentally ready for the Olympic qualifiers.

Last February, Caballero and Delgaco competed in the virtual 2021 World Indoor Rowing Championships. The 25-year-old Caballero almost got a podium finish as she placed fourth in the women's 500m race while Delgaco ranked 10th in the women's U-23 500m race.

"I saw the dedication and determination of our rowers during practices to compete well in the qualifiers because they really aspire to play in the Olympics. They are also hungry to compete again since it's been a while when they last competed," Maerina said.

The five rowers are looking to follow the footsteps of Maerina and Benjamin Tolentino, who are the only Filipinos who competed in the Summer Olympics rowing competitions.