The odds of Mary Joy Tabal winning the country’s first gold medal in Kuala Lumpur were unlikely.
It’s not like she has gotten slower. No. Her performance has improved. When she debuted at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, her 42K time was 3:04:39. Joy placed second. Since then, she has become quicker. In last December’s Milo Marathon in Manila, she clocked 2:47:57. That’s 16 minutes faster than SEAG two years ago. And even better, at the 2016 Ottawa Marathon, she ran a personal best of 2:43:31.
It’s not like Joy doesn’t have financial backing. This is often a huge problem for athletes. With Joy, thanks to the generosity of this gang of brothers named Marco, Andre, Paolo, Chip and Jonel, the 4-foot-11 runner from Brgy. Guba has full support. She has a top coach in Philip Dueñas. She’s able to travel: at the Rio Olympics and for trainings and events in Japan, the U.S., Italy, Canada and Switzerland.
So if it’s not her speed and sponsors, why was the Philippines nearly denied a gold medal yesterday?
Because of the Malaysian organizers. There wasn’t supposed to be a marathon race! Unbelievable to think but of the 38 sports and 404 events listed in the August 19 to 30 games, the 42K run wasn’t originally included. Why? Because of the few participants and massive logistics involved in organizing them. Well, there is some truth to that. In yesterday’s 42K race, there were only 15 male participants (won by Singapore’s Soh Rui Yong) and six women. (As to why very few join, I don’t know.)
Still, the marathon is a must-race race. It’s been part of the SEAG for the last 16 years and it’s an iconic Olympic sport. Thankfully, bombarded with complaints from other national sports associations and from the running community, the marathon was reinstated. In fact, kudos to Malaysia, they invited the general public yesterday by including a 5K and a 15K open-for-all run.
Second reason why Joy almost did not win gold? You know why. It’s spelled PATAFA. Some now call it “pataka” or “ataya!” If it wasn’t for the pressure applied by the Cebuanos through Facebook and the media; if it wasn’t for PSC Commissioner Ramon Fernandez who fought in behalf of the 28-year-old Joy; if it wasn’t for Motor Ace and Jonel Borromeo convincing the PATAFA president Philip Juico (like Jonel did for Joy for the Olympics), there would be no joyous headline news.
The reason why PATAFA wouldn’t include Joy in their roster of athletes? Because she wouldn’t train in Manila and with their team. Juico said last June: “Ayaw namin sa kanya, ayaw niya sumunod sa amin. (We don’t want her. She won’t follow us).” Crazy. Imagine if you forced every sportsman to forgo of what’s successful just because you prefer Manila? It’s about the results. And athletics is a numbers game. The scoring is not subjective like gymnastics or figure-skating, it’s time-based. And it’s easy to spot the fastest. Just compare their times! Worse, the Borromeo brothers were spending for all of Joy’s travels at no cost to the Philippine government. How lucky can we get with that arrangement?
Anyway, thank you, Lord, those hurdles were overcome. With Joy, what’s amazing is her humility. She is so buotan, smiling, respectful, and, yes, kugihan. Joy’s win is a victory for running and for Cebu. May this first gold inspire the 497-strong Team Pilipinas.