Two years ago, Filipino swimmers Jessie Khing Lacuna and Jasmine Alkhaldi headed to Singapore to compete in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG). Though neither of them came home with a medal, both made good accounts of themselves, qualifying from their early heats but dropping out before making the finals.
In a couple of days time, the young pair of Lacuna and Alkhaldi will take a major step up in competition when they jump into the pool with the world’s best at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Ito, iba na talaga kasi ito yung pinaka-big sports event, yung real Olympics,” said Lacuna. “Mas mature and mas experienced yung mga makakalaban mo unlike sa Youth Olympics na pareho kayong may age limit.”
Lacuna, 18, and Alkhaldi, 19, are the two youngest athletes in the Filipino contingent to the 2012 London Olympics. The two swimmers both attended Trace College in Laguna during their high school years, and were both part of the Philippine team to the inaugural YOG in 2010. Both qualified for the Summer Games through their best times in the 2011 World Championships.
Lacuna is set to compete in the men’s 200m freestyle, an event where he owns the national record. He clocked in a 1:50.90 time in the Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships in 2010 to break Miguel Molina’s record set in the 2007 Thailand Southeast Asian Games.
Competing in the same event is US swimmer Ryan Lochte, who is being touted as having surpassed countryman Michael Phelps as the world’s best swimmer since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. World record-holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and French swimmer Yannick Agnel are also contenders in the 200m.
Phelps, who set a then-world record of 1:42.96 in a gold medal-winning effort as part of an eight-gold haul in Beijing, dropped the 200m event to focus on the 400m.
“Ma-sho-shock ka, yung mga swimmer na makikita mo doon, mga veterans talaga,” said Lacuna.
Alkhaldi, a three-time gold medallist in 2011 Southeast Asian Age Group Championships who now studies at the University of Hawaii, will take the water in the women’s 100m freestyle, an event that also features American swimmer Missy Franklin, who is trying to become the first female swimmer to win seven medals at a single Olympics.
Alkhaldi owns the Philippine records in the 100m butterfly and 50m butterfly.
Both Lacuna and Alkhaldi feel honoured to have accomplished the very difficult feat of qualifying for the Olympics.
“Talgang very accomplished,” said Alkhaldi about her feelings on qualifying for the Games. “Very excited and honoured and happy.”
Lacuna called swimming in the Olympics his “dream goal” and admitted to feeling pressure for when he dives into action. “Syempre kailangan mo makipagsabayan.”
But both swimmers admit that, considering the competition they’ll face in London, they have modest goals in their first crack at the Olympics.
“Honestly, di ko alam kasi first time ko,” said Alkahaldi about her chances. “Pero maka-place lang na maganda is okay na for me.”
“As a swimmer, ma-break lang namin yung best time namin, okay na,” Lacuna added.
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