Swimmer Gary Bejino hasn’t been to a highly-charged environment in the magnitude of the Tokyo Paralympics.
So it’s not out of the ordinary that Bejino has developed a case of the jitters as he opens the Philippine medal drive in the Games.
“I’m a bit nervous because I’m the first to compete for us,’’ said Bejino, a back-to-back gold medalist in the 2015 Singapore and 2017 Malaysia Asean Para Games.
Coach Tony Ong is confident though that once his ward hits the water in the qualifying heats of the men’s SM6 200-meter individual medley (8:32 a.m. Manila time) at Tokyo Aquatic Center, all the doubts and nervousness will melt away.
“This is his first Paralympics, the highest level of competition. I just told him not to worry and enjoy. In enjoying the process, you make it to the finals and then let’s take it from there,’’ said Ong.
Bejino, who lost his right arm and left leg due to electrocution at the age of seven that prompted doctors to amputate both limbs, will race on lane No. 7 in the second of three heats. The top eight performers advance to the finals late in the afternoon.
Gawilan races next
Ernie Gawilan, whose triple gold-medal feat in the 2018 Asian Para Games (APG) shot him to prominence, is scheduled to race on Friday in the men’s SM7 200m individual medley, one of the events he ruled in the APG.
After swimming 3,000 meters or 60 laps each in an Olympic-size pool, both Bejino and Gawilan have begun tapering off by doing buildup swims and practicing their dives on Wednesday, according to Ong.
“Both possess strong determination to excel. They can block out pain and you can push them as hard as you can without [hearing] complaints [from them],’’ said coach Ral Rosario, who handled both swimmers and praised the two for their excellent work ethic.
“They are very trainable, and they accept what coaches tell them to do. It’s very hard to find athletes with that same kind of mentality,’’ added Rosario, a two-time Olympian and an Asian Games gold medalist.
Powerlifter Achele Guion was also supposed to compete on Thursday, but had to stay at home in the Philippines after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to the team’s flight to the Japanese capital last Sunday.
Meanwhile, Philippine Paralympic Committee president and chef de mission Michael Barredo met with the Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose Laurel V, who encouraged the five Philippine Paralympians to sustain the nation’s recent Olympic triumph in the ongoing Games.
Inspired by Diaz
“On behalf of the men and women of the Philippine Embassy and the consulates general in Nagoya and Osaka, I wish our Philippine Paralympic athletes success,’’ said Laurel during his visit to the Philippine delegation at Tokyo Prince Hotel.
“We are grateful and encouraged by your enthusiastic support of our para athletes and pray that this will motivate them even more to excel in their respective events,’’ Barredo replied.
The Paralympians will see action on the coattails of the country’s most successful Olympic participation, where weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz brought home the first gold medal for the Philippines in the quadrennial event. The national boxing team also collected two silvers courtesy of featherweight Nesthy Petecio and flyweight Carlo Paalam and a bronze from middleweight Eumir Marcial.
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