By Jonas Ryan Nitura and James Emmanuel Santua
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics is near and there are 10 sports, where Filipinos have qualified. But one sport stands out because it rarely graces the sports pages — rowing.
The sport is not as well-known as basketball or football, but it was popular in America during the 19th century
Rowing was once just a means of transportation and trading goods for the ancient Egyptians. It was also the Egyptians, who invented it as seen in a funerary carving of Pharaoh Amenhotep II that he was a talented rower.
It was a competitive sport in the 1400 BCE. Virgil, a greek story teller, said that when the Greek hero Aeneas died, rowing was a part of the funerary games that took place back then.
In 1900, rowing officially became an Olympic sport for men only, but in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Quebec Canada, women were finally allowed to compete.
There are a total of 14 events in rowing, with the men’s and women’s divisions both having single sculls, double sculls, quad sculls, eight, and coxless pair. The only event that the women’s division doesn’t have is the coxless four.
The other two are for the men’s and women’s lightweight divisions, which have double sculls but again the women’s doesn’t have the coxless four event.
Even though rowing is not popular in the country, there are Filipinos who have excelled or are excelling in the sport.
The first-ever Filipino to qualify for the Olympics in the sport of rowing was Edgardo Maerina, who was part of the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea.
Maerina placed 5th in the event of Single Sculls. He is now the head coach of the Philippine Rowing Association.
The second Filipino to represent the country for rowing was Benjamin Tolentino, who participated in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. When he retired in 2017, he also became a coach for the Philippine Rowing Association.
Tolentino started competing for the country in 1995 and has won 5 gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games.
After two decades, a Filipino rower will again represent the Philippines in the Olympics.
Cris Nievarez, an Atimonan, Quezon native, qualified for the coming 2020 Summer Olympics, earning a spot in the Olympics after finishing ninth in the 2021 World Rowing Asia Oceania Continental Qualification Regatta in Tokyo.
The upcoming Olympian started his rowing career in 2015 at age of 15.
In an interview with the Manila Standard, Nievarez said that rowing is a great sport for young athletes.
“In my experience here with rowing, it is a good sport because every day you will find the calm of the water on the La Mesa dam, as well as the team and the fun,” said Nievarez.
Rowing was first introduced to natives in the Philippines in the late 1880s by would-be members of the Manila Boat Club.
The sport was a colonial tradition that was only for English expatriates working in the nation. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Filipinos started to take on the paddles.
Following World War II, the sport began to recover from a difficult time. University rowing teams were established, and local rowers competed in international regattas with considerable success.
In 1985, the Amateur Rowing Association of the Philippines was established (now Philippine Rowing Association), along with a national team.
“The Philippine rowing team was formed in the Philippines in 1985, the Manila Boat Club was the first club in the Philippines,” Nievarez said.
Nievarez accepts the fact that rowing is not that popular in the country, but added that it is an interesting and anticipated event in Europe.
“In the western part of Europe, rowing is like football, which is popular. Rowing is only in the middle of endurance and sprint sports. Our race only takes eight minutes of high intensity action, where you give it your all. So at the Olympics, it is anticipated because rowing is popular in other countries,” he added.
Nievarez’s advice to aspiring athletes whose goal is to reach the Olympics is to keep fighting.
“Fight. Make your own goal, step by step you will get that, aim high,” said Nievarez.