Cris Nievarez found his way to the Philippine rowing training facility six years ago with little knowledge on how to make a pair of oars steer a boat.
But as soon as he grasped the fundamentals, this lanky native of Atimonan, Quezon province, finally got the hang of it and recognized the opportunities that lay ahead.
“Back then, I had no idea what rowing was all about. After three months of trying to learn, I began to enjoy and soon realized the potential of me being good at it,” Nievarez told the Inquirer in Filipino.
The choice proved to be worth all the effort after Nievarez won a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games in 2019 and on Monday secured a spot in the men’s single sculls event of the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.
“Now that I have reached our goal of qualifying to the Olympics, it has inspired me to train harder,” said Nievarez, whose journey began when former national rower Justin Kyle Vinas discovered him and brought the former 400-m sprinter to the Philippine Rowing Association (PRA).
Nievarez got his confirmation from the World Rowing Federation after performing well enough and making it to the semifinals of the World Rowing Asia Oceania Continental Qualification Regatta held at Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo last week.
“The coaches taught me everything that helped me improve physically and mentally. Yes, I can say that going to the Olympics is a dream come true,” said Nievarez, the youngest and breadwinner of three siblings along with their mother after the family patriarch died years ago.
Nievarez became the eighth Filipino athlete who will represent Team Philippines in the July 23-Aug. 8 global quadrennial Games, joining the ranks of pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.
Boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, Irish Magno and Eumir Marcial will likewise be going as they will unite in one common goal of ending the Philippines’ century-old chase for a first Games gold.
“I know that Cris and the entire rowing team worked hard for this. In my book, any athlete who through his actions inspires, is already a champion,” said Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chair William Ramirez.Nievarez is only the third Filipino rower in history to clinch a spot in the Olympics after Benjie Tolentino in Sydney in 2000 and head coach Ed Maerina in 1988 Seoul.
PRA president Patrick Gregorio said the entry of the 21-year-old Nievarez not only ended the long wait of the team to have an Olympian, it likewise serves as the rise of PH rowing.
Besides the PSC, the MVP Sports Foundation (MVPSF), Smart and Maynilad were also instrumental in financially supporting the quest of Nievarez and the rowing squad.
“We congratulate the Philippine Rowing Association for this great achievement,” said POC first vice president and MVPSF president Al Panlilio. INQ
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