By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
With a stroke of luck, rower Cris Nievarez became the eighth Filipino to qualify to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics this July.
The Philippine Rowing Association (PRA) announced the pleasant news on social media Monday that will see the 21-year-old Atimonan, Quezon native join early Filipino qualifiers – pole vaulter EJ Obiena, world champion gymnast Carlos Yulo, 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting, and boxers Eumir Marcial, Carlo Paalam, Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno.
Nievarez, who made it to the national team at the young age of 15 in 2016, failed to make it to the final round and eventually finished ninth in the men’s singles sculls at the Asia Oceania Continental Qualification last week in Tokyo, Japan.
But since other countries in his event have already earned berths particularly Japan and Iran, he was able to earn a slot.
Nievarez also became the first PH rower in 20 years to make it to the world’s biggest sporting show – the last was Benjie Tolentino at the 2000 Sydney edition.
“Sobrang saya ko po, hindi ko maipaliwanag. Nagulat din po ako,” said Nievarez, who only learned of his qualification while in a 14-day quarantine after arriving from Japan the other day.
A Grade 12 student at Commonwealth High School and a 2019 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, Nievarez hopes to put the country on the Olympic map in his debut appearance.
PH team coach Ed Maerina said they will continue to train Nievarez at the Lamesa Dam in Quezon City after completing their quarantine. For the meantime, they have asked to bring a rowing machine for Nievarez so that he can still continue his training while in quarantine.
They are also waiting for the arrival of their Uzbek coach Shukrat Ganiev to help them with their preparations.
Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez and Philippine Olympic Committee President Bambol Tolentino congratulated Nievarez’s efforts, saying they are happy for his feat.