NOT A QUITTER
Despite intense heat during race day, Cebuana champ Tabal completes first Olympic marathon race, wins hearts
Mary Joy Tabal is now a certified Olympian.
Although she failed to bag a medal for the Philippines in women’s marathon, the Cebuana champion Tabal managed to earn the respect of many after finishing her first Olympic race in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Tabal nearly surrendered in the scorching heat while some two-thirds into the race but was able to marshal her strength to finish the 42.195-kilometer race in three hours, two minutes and 27 seconds for 124th place.
In an Inquirer report, Tabal admitted she would have stopped with still 15 kilometers to go as the sun bore down fiercely on the scenic seaside course that ended at the traditional venue of Rio’s world-famous annual carnival.
But she isn’t a quitter.
“I have never quit a race in my whole career and I didn’t want to quit in this Olympics,” she said in the Inquirer report.
The petite runner from Barangay Guba, Cebu City originally targeted a time faster than her personal record of 2:43.31, which she logged in the Olympic qualifying Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon last May. But the abrupt change in temperatures from start to the halfway mark seemed to have sapped Tabal’s strength.
“I don’t want to make excuses but it was the severe heat that slowed me down,” said Tabal, who had to be placed in a wheelchair upon reaching the finish line. “I got scared because my mind was willing but my body wasn’t. It became a mental game for me. But I am happy that I did not quit.”
Tabal was at pace early on as she passed the halfway mark just a minute behind her target time of 1:21. But then she slowed down as the temperature peaked at 30 degrees Celsius. The race was flagged off in the morning with the temperature at 18 degrees.
Kenyan Jemima Sumgong won the gold with a time of 2:24.04 with Bahrain’s Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa bagging silver in 2:24.13. The bronze went to Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia who timed 2:24.30.
Won’t disappoint supporters
Another factor that kept Tabal going was her trainer John Philip Dueñas, who was in the sidelines cheering her up all the way to the finish line.
At kilometer 32, Tabal yelled to Dueñas saying her body was aching so much that she wanted to quit. Dueñas yelled back at her saying, “This is the Olympics, Joy! Everyone is hurt.”
“My mind immediately went to the things I had to go through to get here in the Olympics. I also thought about the kids, who might not get inspired if I did not finish. And I kept on thinking about the overwhelming support of the Filipinos in social media alone. I thought I can’t disappoint them.”
Tabal shared that she started to pray in the last three kilometers when her body started to shut down on her. She got more worried when a runner in front of her collapsed.
Tabal’s social media account was flooded with congratulatory and inspirational messages. She apologized for not putting up a better showing in a post in her Facebook account but a lot of netizens showed some love and support with their messages.
One of them was MotorAce Philippines president Jonel Borromeo.
“You only apologize when you go to battle and did not train for it. In this case, you did everything humanely possible. We are proud of you. Keep your head up and keep on dreaming. It is this attitude that got you to the Olympics. 2020 is our target,” Borromeo’s comment read. MotorAce is Tabal’s corporate backer.
Tabal said she learned a lot in her experience in Rio that she can hopefully use as she eyes another stint in 2020.
“Should I be given another chance to compete in the Olympics, I will make sure I will be better,” she said.
Borromeo had earlier promised to support Tabal for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
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