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Para athletes aiming for road map to Paris 2024 podium

Para athletes aiming for road map to Paris 2024 podium

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The country’s three athletes who managed to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics will get together with their coaches for a thorough evaluation of their performances that will allow them to plot a path to Paris in 2024.

Swimmers Gary Bejino and Ernie Gawilan and wheelchair racer Jerrold Mangliwan are all aiming to tab a medal when the quadrennial event gets going at the French capital three years from now, after failing to land a podium spot this year.

“They already made it to the finals of their events. Just a little more and a medal will be within their reach,’’ coach Tony Ong said during the Philippine Sportswriters Association forum on Tuesday, referring to Gawilan and Mangliwan.

Gawilan finished sixth out of eight swimmers in the medal race of the men’s 400-meter freestyle S7 in Tokyo, becoming the first Filipino para swimmer to qualify in the finals of the showpiece event.

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“The Paralympics is the highest level of competition (for athletes with disabilities). I gave my all in the qualifying heats, so I was surprised when my co-finalists still had reserved strength and endurance during the finals [and came up] with faster times,’’ said Gawilan in Filipino.

Mangliwan, who got into the medal races of the 400m, 1500m and 100m T52, had already beaten Japanese Hirokazu Ueyonabaru, the double-bronze medalist in the 400m and 1500m, in the 2018 Asian Para Games in the Indonesia.

So he pretty much has an idea of what it will take to medal in the Paralympics.

“I will never stop dreaming and in fact I’ve become more motivated. He (Hirokazu) is already 50 years old and I’m only 41, so I believe I have a chance,’’ said Mangliwan during the weekly forum backed by Smart, Pagcor, Go For Gold, San Miguel Corporation, Milo, Braska and Amelie Hotel.

Mangliwan, seeking to finally claim a medal in the Asian Para Games in China next year, understands that he needs an explosive start in the sprints (100m and 400m) and build up his endurance in the 1500m.

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“Coach (Joel Deriada) told me it takes time to build the foundation of one’s endurance, meaning it needs a longer training period to achieve a faster time,’’ said Mangliwan.

Winding up sixth in the 400m freestyle S6 and the 200m individual medley (IM) during his qualifying heats and seventh in the 100m backstroke S6, Bejino was overwhelmed by the speed of the field and pointed to the lack of training back home as the culprit.

“I felt taken advantage of by the other swimmers,” joked Bejino, a silver medalist in the 200m IM of the 2018 Asian Para Games, where he also won bronzes in the 100m back and 100m free. “This was my first time in the Paralympics and my goal now is to qualify in Paris and redeem myself.’’

Ong, who handles both Bejino and Gawilan, said his wards trained for only six weeks prior to their trip to Japan after staying in a bubble setup supported by the Philippine Sports Commission at Philippine Science High School in Quezon City.

“It was clear that our opponents prepared in a bubble for a long period of time in their respective training facilities. It clearly showed in their clockings,’’ said Ong.

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“If we could get a venue where we can consistently train for a long time, our para athletes can compete for a podium finish in the next Paralympics,’’ added Ong. INQ

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