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Pinoys ready for Paralympics

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will be represented by its biggest delegation ever at the Paralympic Games in London on Aug. 29-Sept. 9 as nine athletes are set to participate in four sports, hoping to bring home at least a medal in the quadrennial event gathering 4,200 competitors from 166 countries.

Philippine Sports Association of the Differently Abled (Philspada) chairman and International Blind Sports Association president Mike Barredo will lead the delegation with chef de mission Ral Rosario, a two-time Olympic swimmer. The athletes are Marites Burce, Isidro Vildosola, Andy Avellana, Roger Tapia, Josephine Medina, Bea Roble, Jinkee Guion, Adeline Ancheta and Agustin Kitan. Others in the traveling group are Philspada secretary-general Butch Weber, Dr. Raul Cembrano, table tennis coach Joseph Cruz, swimming coach Antonio Ong, powerlifting coach Ramon Debuque, athletics coaches Joel Deriada and Vernon Perea and Barredo’s wife Barbara.

“We’ve participated in four Paralympic Games so far, this is our fifth and fourth since the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) took over the organization of the event,” said Barredo, a former La Salle four-sport varsity star who lost his eyesight in a car accident at the age of 24 in 1979. “We were represented by three athletes in 1988, two in 2000, two in 2004 and two in 2008. We’ve brought back only one medal so far, a bronze in the over 82.5 kilogram division of powerlifting through Adeline in 2000.”

Rosario, 55, competed in the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke at the 1972 Munich Olympics and repeated in the same events plus 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Games. He was invited by Barredo to coach the Paralympic swimmers 10 years ago and took it as a blessing to be involved with differently-abled athletes. “It’s a real challenge and my involvement has changed my entire outlook in relating with those who are disabled,” said Rosario who also served as chef de mission at the 2008 Paralympics. “Differently-abled Paralympians are go-getters and just as determined as, maybe even more than any other national athlete. As a swimming coach, I’ve learned how important balance is for the differently- abled as the stroke mechanics are different. I’m proud to say that our swimmers are among the top five in Asia. Swimming in the Paralympics is just like swimming in the Olympics only the standards are different. The swimmers compete as enthusiastically.”

Rosario said of the nine Filipino Paralympians, five were outright qualifiers and the others filled in unused slots as wildcard invitees. “I think the qualifying standards for the Paralympics are higher than the Olympics,” he continued. “For outright qualification, an athlete must be among the top 24 in the world. We went through qualifiers before finalizing our team. For instance, in track, we had 15 trying out and in swimming, there were two who missed the cut. We’re hoping that we bring home medals in table tennis, swimming and powerlifting.”

Burce, 37, will compete in javelin, discus and shot-put out of a wheelchair. The Norzagaray, Bulacan, Paralympian is unable to function from the waist down because of polio. Vildosola, 36, has an arm missing and will compete in the 1,500-meter run. Avellana, 36, has a leg missing and is a high jumper. 

“Andy will compete without a prosthetic unlike others in the event,” said Rosario. “Using prosthetics is allowed by the IPC. We could fit Andy with a prosthetic but it takes a lot of money. This is a classic case of the rich gaining an advantage over the poor.”

Tapia, 21, has an arm missing and will run in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. Medina, 42, will be the delegation’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremony parade. The polio-stricken Paralympian is a three-time Asean Para Games gold medalist in table tennis. Roble, 20, is entered in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle events in swimming. She is afflicted with dwarfism and is less than three feet tall. Guion, 40, is a powerlifter in the under-44 kilogram class while Ancheta, 38, is in the over-82.5 kilogram division and Kitan, 36, in the under-52 kilogram category. The powerlifters are all wheelchair-bound. Bench press is the only event in Paralympic powerlifting.

The Paralympics will showcase 20 sports and 21 disciplines with 503 medal events in 11 competition days in 20 venues. Expected to cover the Games are 6,500 media and broadcasters. Over 1,200 technical officials and classifiers will be mobilized to conduct the Paralympics. Anti-doping tests will be administered to 1,250 athletes.

It will be full-circle for the Paralympics in London as in 1948, the first International Wheelchair Games were staged involving British World War II veterans with spinal cord injuries to coincide with the opening of the Olympics in the city. 

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