A CEBUANO athlete saw action on the Olympic stage after 20 years of waiting as Mary Joy Tabal represented the country in the women’s marathon event of 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro last Sunday night (Philippine time).
The 27-year-old Tabal of Barangay Guba, Cebu City clocked 3 hours 2 minutes and 27 seconds in the 42-kilometer race and was the 124th marathoner to finish. Her Olympic time was a far cry from her personal best of 2:43:31, which she set during the ScotiaBank Ottawa Marathon that gave her a ticket to the Rio Olympics.
Tabal was 38:23 off the pace of gold medalist Jemima Jelagat Sumgong of Kenya (2:24:04). Bahrain’s Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa got the silver medal in 2:24:13 and Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba settled for bronze after clocking 2:24:30.
In spite of her ranking, Tabal officially made history as the first Filipina to compete in the Olympics women’s marathon. She’s also the first athlete from Cebu to suit up in the Olympics after 20 years.
It was the scorching heat, which rose to 36 degrees, that slowed most of the marathoners, including Tabal. There were 24 marathoners who did not finish (DNF), while 133 runners managed to complete the course, with Nary Ly from Cambodia finishing last.
“It hurts to disappoint my countrymen. I don’t want to make excuses but it was the severe heat that slowed me down,” said Tabal, who was aiming to get a time of around 2:40.
Had she hit her target time, it would have been good enough for No. 59. Iulia Andreeva of Kyrgyzstan finished at 2:40:34 for No. 59 in the standing.
Tabal struggled with the heat halfway through the race, and it was her countrymen and the Cebuanos who were rooting for her that kept her pushing.
“My body hurt so badly. I started to get cramps in my legs then went up to my back and inside my ribcage. It came to a point that I wanted to quit. But I thought about everyone rooting for me and I told myself I will finish this even if I have to crawl to the finish line,” said Tabal.
Tabal is used to the early morning runs in the country. Sunday’s race started at 8:30 a.m. and lasted until almost noon, proved to be taxing to her.
She admitted that there’s a feeling of disappointment as she failed to achieve her goal, which was to improve her personal best.
“I have prepared well, I have done everything from training to diet, to condition. I followed the plan. I could say that I did everything. But I just wasn’t prepared for the heat,” said Tabal. “We only had our special bottles in designated water stations every 5K. It only has water in them. Had I known, I would have brought electrolytes. Going into the next water station, I was already dehydrated.”
Tabal reached the 35K-mark in 2:26:25 after clearing the most daunting phase for her which was at the 32K-mark, where she almost quit.
“At the 32K, I felt that it was too painful already and I said I will stop now. But my coach John Philip Dueñas, who was pacing outside the course, screamed at me saying that all of us participants are in pain. This is the Olympics,” said Tabal.
“My legs and body were heavy as I had cramps all over. When I was in the last 3K, fighting with everything left in me, another runner collapsed. I just prayed that I won’t collapse because I am almost there. Just a little bit more and I will make it to the finish line,” said Tabal.
Tabal of Motor-Ace Kawasaki Racing Team admitted that she learned a lot from her first Olympic stint and will definitely apply it on the coming races, and probably, in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.
She said that unlike in the other commercial races she had joined, Olympic marathon was way different. There were no long tables with power drinks, bananas, chocolates, gels, and participants are not allowed to get water from the crowd.
“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,” she said. “Should I be given another chance to compete in the Olympics, I will make sure I will be better.”
Meanwhile, Motor Ace Philippines’ president Jonel Borromeo said that they are willing to help Tabal for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Motor Ace Philippines is the company who backed Tabal on her qualifying races and the training in Japan.
“All that matters is that she completed this mission that she sought out. She did it!! She got to the Olympics and crossed the finish line,” said Borromeo.
Tabal is part of the 13-man PHL Team delegation for the Rio Olympics. The country’s bid in the quadrennial Summer Games was highlighted with a silver medal win from weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, which ended the country’s 20-year medal drought.