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Olympic hopefuls gear up for ‘bubble’ training

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

IF plans push through as expected, Filipino athletes vying for a spot in the rescheduled Olympic Games could begin returning to face-to-face training beginning this weekend.

After months of settling for virtual training, and individual workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic, national teams for boxing, taekwondo and karate are set to up their training and preparation once again in a “bubble” setting at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Calamba, Laguna.

The INSPIRE facility will be the home of the national athletes for the next couple of months as they try to make up for lost time they were limited in their training and make a dash for spots in the Tokyo Games.

Local sports officials said they have submitted the needed requirements for the return to training and were just awaiting final approval from pertinent government agencies for the national athletes to trek to the bubble site.

“The athletes and the NSAs (national sports associations) are just awaiting the go signal from the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission) to proceed,” shared Philippine Olympic Committee President Abraham Tolentino during his session with the media at the online Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum on Tuesday.

The PSC, for its part, views the scheduled bubble, set to begin on Jan. 9, as very important — considering how training of athletes has been set back considerably and is hoping that athletes would make the most of the opportunity.

It, however, underscored that as the athletes return to training, they must not disregard the need to protect themselves against the coronavirus, which remains a major concern.

In line with this, the sports agency has come up with a set of health and safety protocols to follow as the athletes are holed up in INSPIRE for the training resumption to succeed.

“We have to be extra careful in that. If we don’t have the proper protocols, it will be useless because, eventually, we will have to put a stop to it,” said PSC Chairman William Ramirez of the protocols they have crafted.

The PSC chief went on to say that their protocols are guided by measures already established by the World Health Organization, Department of Health, and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

On top of the protocols is the formation of an expert group among stakeholders to aid in the interpretation and give advice on any unusual and expected results of coronavirus tests.

Set to lead the group of athletes returning to training are top boxing bets Irish Magno and Nesthy Petecio.

Ms. Magno has already qualified for the Olympics, booking a spot at the Asian qualifiers in Jordan last year.

Ms. Petecio, for her part, has yet to qualify and is looking forward to the final qualifiers later this year in Paris. She expressed excitement over the chance to train face-to-face again.

“I’m excited to get back to training in the bubble. Immediate concern is to shed the pounds I gained in the past months and be back in game shape,” said the featherweight fighter, who won gold medals at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships and Southeast Asian Games in 2019.

“I don’t see any problem going back to training. I’m ready to put in the work and my coaches know that. I really want to get a slot in the Olympics. So if I have to triple work to achieve it, I will do that,” she added.

Set to join the two in the bubble are Carlo Paalam, Ian Clark Bautista, Riza Pasuit, Charly Suavez, James Palicte, and Rogen Ladon.

Another boxer, Eumir Felix Marcial, who has also qualified for the Olympics, is currently in the United States training at the Wild Card Gym as he is also a professional fighter under Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions.

But the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines is hoping he could join the team in the bubble training at some point to fortify their push.

The taekwondo team, meanwhile, is to bring in 2016 Rio Olympian Elaine Alora, Kurt Barbosa, Arven Alcantara, Butch Morrison, and Pauline Lopez. It is eyeing to be ready come the Asian qualifiers in April in Jordan.

Karate, for its part, will have Jamie Lim, Sharief Afif, Alwyn Batican, and Ivan Agustin, to be joined later by Junna Tsukii and Joan Orbon, who are both coming from abroad.

The team is looking to train as well in Turkey to complement its bubble training.

The rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo is to happen from July 23 to Aug. 8.

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