PH rower Cris Nievarez clinches Tokyo Olympics spot

Published May 10, 2021, 10:40 AM

by Kristel Satumbaga-Villar

Cris Nievarez became the eighth Filipino to qualify to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after organizers confirmed his qualification in the men’s singles sculls.

The Philippine Rowing Association announced this on social media Monday, where the 21-year-old Atimonan, Quezon native will join 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 only joined the national team in 2016 at 15 years old, finished ninth in his event at the Asia Oceania Continental Qualification over the weekend in Tokyo, Japan, where only the top five rowers will earn tickets.

But since other countries in his event have already earned berths particularly Japan and Iran, he was able to earn a slot.

Nievarez’s qualification ended Philippine rowing’s two-decade-old Olympic drought where the last rower to qualify to the Games 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, Nievarez hopes to put the country in the Olympic map in his debut appearance.

PH team coach Ed Maerina, who was the country’s first rower to qualify to the Olympics at the 1988 Seoul, said they will continue to train Nievarez at the Lamesa Dam in Quezon City after serving their quarantine. For the meantime, they have asked to bring a rowing machine for Nievarez so that he can still train while in quarantine.

They are also waiting for the arrival of their Uzbek coach Shukrat Ganiev within two weeks to help them with their preparations.

Rowing chief Patrick Gregorio lauded Nievarez’s qualification and hopes that this achievement will “be the start of the growth of rowing in the Philippines.”

The team, who has been silently training locally, also humbles Gregorio.

“When you observe them train everyday, you will realize their passion and desire to excel. Kapag hindi buo ang puso, aayaw ka sa hirap ng training nila,” Gregorio said in a statement.

The Manny V. Pangilinan Sports Foundation (MVPSF), which has been the team’s constant supporter, is also excited for Nievarez’s latest endeavor.

“The next step now is to help our Olympian and his coaches prepare the best way they can and, under the guidance and leadership of the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee, the MVPSF will be there every step of the way,” said MVPSF President Al Panlilio also in a statement.

PSC chairman Butch Ramirez and POC President Bambol Tolentino also extended support to Nievarez.

“I know that Cris and the entire rowing team worked hard for this. It is well deserved. The PSC will keep supporting him as much as we can on this quest,” Ramirez said.

“In my book, any athlete who inspires through his actions — whether one small child or a whole generation to become better — is already a champion. And this is what our athletes are to our people. They stand as beacons of hope. An inspiration to keep fighting and to never give up.”