Sea Forest Waterway, Tokyo—Cris Nievarez righted a Philippine ship that nearly went off course with a strong debut performance in the Summer Olympic Games on Friday as he advanced to the quarterfinals of the Men’s Single Sculls Rowing Competition.
Hounded by a COVID-19 scare that was contained before it could blow up on its face on the eve of the games, the Philippines restored order to its campaign following Nievarez’s impressive third-place time of 7:22.97 in the 2000-meter course—just enough for the young rower to clinch a berth to the quarterfinals on Sunday.
“Masarap sa pakiramdam, unang race, unang sabak, masaya, para ito sa Pilipinas,” said the 21-year-old Nievarez, who had two world-class rowers in front of him – Croatia’s Damir Martin (7:09.17), the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist and Russian Alexander Vyazovkin (7:14.95), the world indoor champion.
The first-time Olympian was unfazed of the weight of the competition as he went side by side with Vyazovkin and Nicaragua’s Felix Potoy in the first 500 meters.
“Nauna na talaga ‘yung Croatian, pero kami ng Russian and ‘yung Nicaraguan, halos sabay lang sa first 500 meters. Noong 750 meters, nauna na ako sa Nicaragua,” said Nievarez
A veteran of the Latin American Games, Potoy slowly but surely inched closer and narrowed their gap, but Nievarez was quick to his oar.
"Binabantayan ko siya, hindi ko pinabayaan na lumapit. Noong nakikita ko na lumalapit, nagtatatas ako ng racing, para dumistansiya. Mi-naintain ko na lang hanggang dulo na makatapos ako sa Top 3,” said Nievarez, who built a huge 10-second lead over Potoy all the way to the finish.
The top three in all of the six heats in the men’s singles scull advanced to the quarterfinals.
Those who missed the top three will battle it out in Saturday’s repechage where the top two performers move on to the quarterfinals.
“Mamaya, pag-aaralan namin ang oras ng lahat ng pumasok, kung sino ‘yung makakaharap ko sa quarterfinals at kung anong oras ang kailangan habulin,” said Nievarez, who after his media interview, called up his mother back in the Philippines to deliver the good news.
The quarterfinal berth was also a fitting gift to Philippine Rowing Association president Pato Gregorio, who celebrated his birthday a day before.
A native of Sariaya in Quezon, Nievarez is the only Southeast Asian qualifier in men’s singles sculls and one of only two Asians left after the preliminaries—the other one being Ryuta Arakawa, who placed second in the final heat.
“One race at a time, on to Sunday,” rowing association treasurer Magnum Membrere said.
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