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Olympic spots at stake as PH surfers see action in world tournament


John Mark Tokong has tamed waves almost thrice his size off the coast of Australia’s surfing haven.

The adventure can work wonders for the two-time national champion when the six-man Philippine surfing team sees action in the 2021 International Surfing Association World Surfing Games (WSG) in El Salvador from May 29 to June 6.

At stake? More berths to the Tokyo Olympics.

“What an experience it was. I’ve had so much fun and what I learned on this journey is unforgettable,’’ said Tokong, who trained on the beaches of New South Wales for over a year, as he stayed in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 25-year-old from Siargao island finally returned to the country last month and will join Roger Esquivel Jr., Edito Alcala and women surfers Nilbie Blancada, Daisy Valdez and Vea Estrellado in the trip to the WSG, the final qualifier for the coming Olympics.

The event will be held in two different locations in the Central American country: La Bocana and El Sunzal.

Siargao champ

“The epic level of surfing there (Australia) was really inspiring. Now, it’s time for me to train harder and dream bigger,’’ said Tokong, the 2019 Siargao Surfing International Cup champion and 2019 Southeast Asian Games bronze medalist in the men’s short board event.

With the support of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), the United Philippine Surfing Association (UPSA) and their friends, Tokong made great use of his time honing his skills in Australia by joining some World Surfing League (WSL) competitions.

UPSA president Jose Raul Canlas said the team is well prepared going into the qualifier after training in Siargao and La Union province for the past several months.

“The highest ranked surfer in Asia for both men and women will qualify. We have an outside chance of getting that slot,’’ said Canlas, the country’s premier sports orthopedic surgeon.

“They have been training all throughout with minor stoppages due to local lockdowns. Aside from actual work on the waves, they have strength and conditioning,’’ added Canlas.

Stayed with family

Tokong stayed Down Under with his Australian wife and their child at the start of the global health crisis early last year.

“He (Tokong) was there for the whole duration of the pandemic. He was brought back to join the team for the WSG. He was able to join some WSL events, all of which were sponsored by the PSC,’’ said Canlas.

The team will leave on May 17 and could undergo quarantine in El Salvador prior to the Olympic qualifier.

The surfers are hoping to add to the Philippine delegation count for the Tokyo Games. Already qualified are pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and rower Cris Nievarez. They will be joined in Tokyo by Olympian boxers Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial, Carlo Paalam and Irish Magno.

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