Wrestlers make waves in Russia
The Wrestling Association of the Philippines (WAP) failed to send four athletes to the World Olympic Qualifiers in Sofia, Bulgaria, last May by default. Visa issues prevented their departure and WAP president Alvin Aguilar vowed to make up for it in the next competition. So even without substantial financial support, Aguilar assembled a group of 16 athletes to battle in the United World Wrestling (UWW) Grappling World Championship for Juniors and Cadets, all 17-and-under, in Ufa, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Bashkortostan in Russia, last month. Ufa is about 22 hours away from Moscow by land.
Aguilar said this was a major tournament involving 700 competitors from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Romania, Armenia, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Ukraine, Lithuania, Argentina, Germany, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkmenistan and Pakistan. For the Philippines to break into the high-caliber league of nations was a tribute to Aguilar’s efforts to ensure representation from East Asia.
But it wasn’t easy leaving for Russia in this pandemic. Aguilar feared a repeat of the Bulgaria fiasco. “We were in possession of a humanitarian sports visa issued by the Embassy of Russia in Manila with approval from the foreign ministry of Russia and an invitation from the Russian Sports Federation,” he recounted. “We had everything we needed. Yet, despite complying with all the requirements, we were refused to board our flight because Qatar Airways claimed that we were not on the list for clearance. They didn’t bother to cross-check or verify the list so our athletes had to wait 28 hours in the airport until our friends in Russia made calls and coordinated everything. They totally ignored the paperwork that we submitted. Our poor athletes were so tired once they arrived in Russia from lack of sleep and remember, they were all minors.”
Including layovers, the entire trip took 30 hours to reach Ufa. For some athletes like Lord Gabriel del Rosario and David Zaldarriaga, it was their first overseas trip so the experience was traumatic. Aguilar’s two sons Lucho and Lukie were on the team. Lucho has won gold in Taiwan and Singapore while Lukie took silver in Singapore so they earned their spots on the squad.
“The only edge the other countries have over us is they have so many sparring partners and of course, more financial support,” said Aguilar. “We’re always lacking in this regard. We sent 16 athletes to Ufa and all of the kids worked really hard, balancing their studies and training. The schools didn’t excuse them for extra training time so we had to adjust. We were all self-funded. This was a very costly exercise but totally worth it for their development. Hopefully, the PSC will support our youth team in the future as this is where it all really starts. And yes, our team will compete in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Bangkok in March next year.”
Aguilar said the Philippine team came home with nine medals – four silvers and five bronzes. One silver should’ve been a gold because the opponent tapped out but the officials ignored the submission. Overall, the Philippines took third place behind Kazakhstan and Russia, not a bad showing considering the medals all came from cadets. Zaldarriaga battled in the 42 kilogram division and bagged a silver in gi and a bronze in no gi. Del Rosario swept silvers in gi and no gi in the 46 kilogram class. Lukie finished with a silver in gi and a bronze in no gi in the 50 kilogram category while Joaquin Antonio Carteciano Marte picked up bronzes in gi and no gi in the 58 kilogram division. Fierre Proudhon Ong Afan rounded up the cast of medalists with a bronze in gi in the 85 kilogram class.
Aguilar said he was determined to send a contingent, no matter what. “We spent a little over P1.6 million, money I don’t really have but it’s for the kids’ development so it will pay off later on,” he said. “POC president Cong. Bambol Tolentino helped us out. We trained in our own bubble and included the parents of our athletes. It’s been very hard considering everything was against us but we made it nevertheless. This was for our country.”
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