A successful sports program at the national level is marked by having the best talents willing and available to train and, eventually, compete for flag and country. This typically comes from the grassroots level.
The Philippine Swimming Inc. recently found some success with this as some young local-based swimmers are showing potential in meets the national sports association has held in the past few months.
Perhaps the biggest name that came before this new generation, and that is purely homegrown is veteran international campaigner Nico Jacinto.
The swimming upstart was talented enough to get noticed by a powerhouse NCAA Division I-A swimming and diving program in Texas A&M, where he recently finished his sophomore year.
Jacinto, though, has always been grateful for the efforts PSI, led by its president Lani Velasco, has extended to him and his fellow athletes to ensure that team becomes successful. This includes the work he believes the embattled president did to secure the transfer of Kayla Sanchez from Canada to the Philippines.
Jacinto, who was genuinely surprised by the news, welcomed the newest addition to the team. “Actually, kahapon ko lang ata nalaman na nakuha na natin si Kayla,” the 20-year-old admitted.
“I actually met Kayla during Abu Dhabi Worlds. She is a really, really nice girl, so I don’t have any problems with her; and having her on the team is such a good addition because, at least now, we have a swimmer who’s been there on top at the biggest stage,” Jacinto said referring to Sanchez’ two medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and, of course, those three Short Course World titles in that Abu Dhabi tournament.
These very same achievements from the 21-year-old Ontario-raised swimmer will be a standard that the other swimmers in the Philippine national team hope to emulate, particularly Jacinto himself, he believes.
“So having her in the team gives new dynamics. Especially for me, it gives me the inspiration to push more, especially now that we have a swimmer who’s like no one on the world stage,” he said. “So, if I want to be part of the team with her, I want to be almost like her. But if not, then at least show support to her, you know. Never leave her side; especially now, with her being a national team member na in the Philippines, so she’s part of the family now.
“So I wanna welcome her, give her a lot of support, and you know, show her what the Philippines is.”
Jacinto — a national record holder himself in the 100-meter backstroke — added that having an elite swimmer of Sanchez’s caliber will also put the Philippines back on the map, starting with the Southeast Asian Games, as he expects her to bring home medals in the biennial meet.
“For sure, there’ll be a lot of medals ‘cause it’s Kayla Sanchez. Her times are all top ones. In 100-meter free, from what I’ve researched, her time is 53. The SEA Games record is 54. That’s a second away in a sprint event, so that’s a really big margin. So I’m hoping for a lot of medals with her,” the Caloocan-born standout shared.
He also knew that with Sanchez’s vast experience in competing in several high-level meets, the latter would be able to share some thoughts on what it feels like to compete in such top-level competitions with the other members of Team Philippines, and that will trickle down to the other swimmers to come.
Jacinto, who himself got to train with Sanchez on Friday at the Philsports Swimming Pool said, “I’m really blessed that Tita Lani finally managed to get Kayla because we do need Kayla because she’s a really fast swimmer. Having her on the national team is really nice and for us to get noticed. I really appreciate Tita Lani in getting her, especially for the team you know, so yeah.”
Sanchez further enriches a national team pool that also includes some Filipino-heritage swimmers such as 2020 Tokyo Olympians Luke Gebbie and Remedy Rule who made their mark on the international scene.