Developing Home-Grown Athletes: Keon’s Vision for the Philippines

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There was a time when the Philippines stood proudly as an Asian powerhouse in track and field. This achievement was not a stroke of luck; it was the result of dedicated efforts and strategic planning. Today, Philippine athletics is experiencing a renaissance of sorts on the international stage, with pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena emerging as the new face of Philippine sports.

However, the recent resurgence in track and field pales in comparison to the glory days of the Gintong Alay era. Launched in 1979, Project Gintong Alay was the country’s flagship sports program under President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr., the father of the current Chief Executive. The success of this program was largely attributed to Michael Keon, the project’s executive director, and his team of coaches.

Under the guidance of Keon, sports icons such as Lydia de Vega, Isidro del Prado, Elma Muros, Hector Begeo, and Renato Unso emerged. These athletes were exceptional, but Keon believes that they are not a rare breed. According to him, there are countless talents waiting to be discovered, but the key lies in having talent scouts who know what to look for.

Although Keon stepped away from the limelight of sports to pursue a career in politics, his passion for athletics remains. As the mayor of Laoag City, he continues to train local athletes in Ilocos. Keon possesses a unique gift for spotting not only raw talents but also athletes who possess the focus and determination to achieve their goals. He firmly believes that if he can find such athletes in Ilocos, there must be many more undiscovered talents across the country.

However, Keon laments the fact that not all athletes with potential receive the recognition they deserve from track and field officials and sports leaders. He criticizes the prevailing favoritism system that still exists in the industry, which hinders the growth and development of promising athletes. Keon’s good friend Renato Unso, the national training director of Patafa, regularly visits him in Ilocos, and they both share their disappointment with the state of track and field in the country.

One concerning trend that Keon observes is the increasing reliance on Fil-foreign athletes. While he has nothing against Fil-foreigners, he questions the practice of overlooking local talents in favor of athletes who do not reside in the Philippines. Keon points out that many countries around the world have embraced athletes of various backgrounds, including naturalized citizens. In contrast, the Fil-foreign athletes who represent the Philippines often return to their mother countries after competing. This reliance on overseas talents raises the question of whether the country is fully utilizing the abundant talent within its own borders.

During the heyday of Gintong Alay, the Philippine team achieved remarkable success without the inclusion of Fil-foreign athletes. Keon emphasizes that most athletes come from lower-income backgrounds, and by nurturing local talents, sports programs can provide opportunities for individuals who may otherwise be overlooked.

In conclusion, the current rise of Philippine athletics in the international scene, led by athletes like Ernest John Obiena, is undoubtedly a cause for celebration. However, it is essential to reflect on the past achievements of the Gintong Alay era and the lessons it offers. Michael Keon’s insights shed light on the potential of local talents and the importance of nurturing them. By investing in talent scouting and development programs, the Philippines can once again reclaim its position as an Asian powerhouse in track and field, relying on the skills and dedication of its own athletes.

Source: The Manila Times

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