REMEMBER the days when Philippine swimming relied on recruits over homegrowns to win medals at least in the Southeast Asian Games level? And that day when a diver was ridiculously maligned online for an awkward dive?
A new swimming association brings hope that gone are those days and that homegrowns would sooner or later plunge and swim their way to victories overseas.
“The expectations are always there so we have to be inspired to achieve our goals by working hard,” said Rep. Eric Buhain, a many-time SEA Games gold medalist, two-time Olympian and one-time chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission and Games and Amusements Board.
Buhain has since plunged into politics but together with Michael “Miko” Vargas, is back to his love and passion, swimming, or these days, aquatics—diving, water polo, artistic swimming and open water included.
Vargas and Buhain are the president and secretary-general of Philippine Aquatics Inc. or PAI, which earned the recognition as the national federation for swimming in the country from the world-governing body World Aquatics and automatically, from the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC).
The POC Executive Board headed by president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, recommended for PAI’s regular membership in the organization and was unanimously approved by its General Assembly last Friday during its meeting last Friday in a Paranaque City restaurant.
Buhain thanked World Aquatics Bureau president Husain AL Musallam and executive director for recognizing PAI, which replaced the Philippine Swimming Inc. as the national association for the sport.
But Buhain admitted that he, Vargas and the PAI board of trustees have to work more than double or triple to achieve their targets.
“We have to use this recognition as an inspiration. Aquatics is not only swimming—you have diving, water polo and others—so we have to work hard in every corner of the country, north to south, east to west,” said Buhain, a Philippine Sports Hall of Famer now the First District Representative of Batangas Province.
Vargas may be relatively new in terms of actively leading a sports organization, but sports runs in his blood—he’s the son of Philippine Basketball Association chairman and former POC president Ricky Vargas and is a great grandson of Jorge Vargas, a founding member of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation (now the POC) and the first Filipino member of the International Olympic Committee.
“With this recognition, we can now honorably represent the Philippines in international competitions,” said Buhain, referring to the SEA Games, Asian Games, world championships and ultimately the Olympics.
AKIKO, JASMINE LOOK FORWARD
MICHAEL VARGAS and Eric Buhain have the support of each and every relevant personality in the sport foremost of them Olympian Akiko Thomson.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am for this news. And trying to be as objective as I possibly can, the association is in the right hands,” Thomson told BusinessMirror. “Eric Buhain [and the team] has the wherewithal, the passion, heart, wisdom and capacity to steer swimming back on track.”
Like Buhain, Thompson was a multiple SEA Games gold medalist and extended her love for sports by becoming a former commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission.
Jasmine Alkhaldi, the most bemedaled Filipino swimmer in the Asian Games, also welcomed the PAI, expressing hope that the new federation would live up to its purpose of serving the athletes and the entire swimming community.
“Our job as athletes is to win medals and bring glory and pride to our country,” said the 30-year-old Alkhaldi, a London 2012 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympian and owner of seven silver and 21 bronze medals in the SEA Games. “We’re hoping they will not forget us and our needs as well.”
PREMIUM ON GRASSROOTS
ERIC BUHAIN and fellow former national swimmer and coach Chito Rivera were the leading founders of the Congress of Philippine Aquatics Inc. or COPA, an organization that conducted all-encompassing competitions nationwide.
With the COPA system, the PAI would be bringing to the NSA level a grassroots program aimed at identifiying and developing national swimmers not overnight, but into near and deep future.
The PAI leadership urged for the cooperation and understanding of the aquatics community on a new system for national tryouts for unbridled selection of national team members.
One of those lined up by the PAI is the selection process for team members to the 46th SEA Age Group Championships in Thailand in August next year with the organization stressing that swimmers based locally or abroad must go through the tryout.
Swimmers under PAI’s care from recent tryouts were supposed to see action in the Asian Age Group Championships originally scheduled this December but was moved to February 26 to March 9 at the New Clark City Aquatics Center.
“They will be retained for the championships,” Buhain said of those of who passed the tryouts for the 44-member national team to the continental championships.