CEBU CITY: After failing in her first Olympic stint, Cebuana Mary Joy Tabal hopes for another shot in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
Tabal, 27, was aiming for a 2:40 finish in the Rio Olympics but the heat and humidity took a toll on the country’s first female Olympian marathoner.
She finished the event in 3 hours, 2 minutes and 27 seconds, good for 124th place. Twenty-four other marathoners failed to finish.
She finished 38:23 behind gold medalist Jelagat Sumgong of Kenya.
“Anything can happen in a marathon and you should be able to cope with it and find a way to solve it right there and then. Should I be given another chance to compete in the Olympics, I will make sure I will be better,” Tabal said.
Tabal’s personal best in the marathon is 2:43:31, which she set when she qualified for Rio in the Ottawa marathon last May.
The Cebuana said she was on pace in the first 21K but began suffering from cramps in the 32-kilometer mark.
“I felt that it was too painful already and I said I should just stop now. But my coach, who was pacing outside the course, screamed at me “This is the Olympics, everybody is in pain!” Tabal said.
Tabal decided to continue even if she was already way off her target time. Tabal’s coach, John Philip Duenas flew in to Rio thanks to their sponsor Motor Ace as he is not part of the PH team official list.
“My legs and body were heavy as I had cramps all over. When I was in the last three kilometers, fighting with everything left in me, another runner collapsed. I just prayed that I won’t collapse because I was so near the finish line,” said Tabal.
Tabal said she had enough preparation for the marathon but was surprised that water stations were spread thinly throughout the course.
“I have prepared well. I have done everything from training to diet, to condition. I followed the plan. I did everything but I just wasn’t prepared for the heat. We only had our special bottles in designated stations every five kilometers. It only contained water. Had I known, I would have brought electrolytes. I was already dehydrated going to the next water station,” said Tabal, who is the first Olympian from Cebu.
“It hurts to disappoint my countrymen. I don’t want to make excuses but it was the severe heat that slowed me down,” she said.
“I am saddened by this that she finished 124th out of 133 but finishing in itself is a peak—that itself means she really fought,” Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) President Philip Ella Juico told The Manila Times.
”I understand that there are times in the race she wanted to give up because of the pain. But she said she would not do it because there are Filipinos counting on her.”
Juico said that it will be back to the drawing board after the Rio games.
“That is our arrangement. After the Rio Olympics we will have to sit down and assess the situation. It is just probably [we need]to go back with the rules. I think they have to be more open with doing it with the PATAFA way,” added Juico.
“All I can say is congratulation for the job well done, in spite of the conflict that she went through with PATAFA. She survived the hardship. It’s only fitting to thank her and congratulate her for finishing the race for us,” said PSC Commissioner Ramon Fernandez, who is based in Cebu.
Fernandez said Tabal will be a part of the Philippine Sports Institute, which will have regional training centers in Cebu.
Tabal qualified for the Rio Olympics on her own after resigning from PATAFA, the governing body for athletics.
Tabal’s chief backer Jonel Borromeo of Motor Ace praised her showing.
“You only apologize when you go to battle and did not train for it. In this case, you did everything humanely possible. We are proud of you. Keep your head up and keep on dreaming. It is this attitude that got you to the Olympics. Tokyo 2020 is our next target,” Borromeo said.
Elite triathlete Kristiane Lim said Tabal being able to race with the world’s elite is an achievement in itself.
“For me, as a fellow Cebuano athlete, I am very proud of her. It marks the first time that a Filipina competed in the Olympic marathon and her making it there paves the way for the next generation. It’s a proud moment for every Cebuano athlete, especially for those who shared the same training grounds with her,” he said.
Milo marathon Cebu champion Noel Tillor said Tabal showed her courage by finishing the race.
“As a veteran of long distance running I know that running 42K is not easy, especially for Tabal who ran a very tough course in Rio. Mary Joy Tabal gave a good fight to finish the race, she endured and overcame the pain to achieve her dream and became a certified Olympian,” he said.
WITH REPORT FROM JEAN RUSSEL DAVID