Fil-Am Eric Cray set for prelim round of 400’s 400m hurdles on Monday

MANILA — Fil-American Eric Cray will bring out his best on Monday when he competes in the preliminary round of the men’s 400m hurdles at the historic Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The two-time SEA Games gold medalist and record holder in the 400m hurdles said Saturday he’s all set to show his wares and represent the Philippines in athletics’ biggest stage.

“I’m feeling good and I’m ready to race,” said the 27-year-old, who was born in Olongapo City to a Filipina mother and an American father but raised in Texas.

Cray, who holds a best time of 48.98 seconds in the 400m hurdles, arrived here on the eve of the opening ceremony last Aug. 5, and has spent days trying to stay in top shape.

On Monday, he will try to get past the preliminary round, and get to the semis the following day. Should he make it, the final will take place Thursday.

Cray’s best time of 48.98 seconds, whether he matches it or surpasses it, should carry him to the finals. He set his best time in Madrid last June.

In the 2012 London Olympics, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic won the gold in 47.63, followed by Michael Tinsley of the United States (47.91) and Javier Culson of Puerto Rico (48.10).

The fourth to sixth places in London four years ago all clocked just under 49 seconds, meaning Cray has a shot at it as long as he stays very close to his personal best.

“That’s the goal – make it through the rounds and make it to the finals. The goal is to get out of the preliminaries and make it to the semis,” said Cray, also the gold medalist in the 100m of the SEA Games.

“I’ve been working at a new personal best hopefully here and run faster than my personal best,” he said as he headed to the main dining hall of the Athletes Village Saturday evening.

Cray has trained hard under a Jamaican coach, Davian Clarke, a bronze medalist in the 4x400m relay in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, the year Filipino boxer Mansueto Velasco won the silver medal.

“Today was my last day of training,” said Cray, adding that last Thursday he took a break and joined some members of the small Philippine delegation in a visit to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

“We went around to see Jesus and Sugar Hills. I really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun that day. The next day I got straight back to business,” he said. The day before the race will be spent resting.

“Tomorrow is all rest. Just walk around, do the normal stuff, and eat, and make sure I don’t do anything to get hurt. Just try to stay relaxed tomorrow and get ready for Monday,” he said.

The main dining hall here in at the Athletes Village has everything on the trays. It never runs out of steak the whole day and all other types of cuisine.Yes, Cray said he sticks to what his body needs.

“Just the simple stuff – trying to eat potatoes and greens and chicken. Nothing else. Nothing too heavy to digest. I just make sure I eat enough to have enough energy throughout the day,” he said.

Mary Joy Tabal is entered in the women’s marathon Sunday morning here (Sunday evening in Manila). On the eve of the race, she tried to shake off the anxiety.

“Ibibitay na ako bukas (I will be hanged tomorrow),” she said in jest.

In Filipino, the reigning Milo Marathon champion and veteran of the Boston Marathon said people keep telling her to just enjoy the moment of being in the Olympics.

“I never enjoy when I race. I only get to enjoy after the race,” said the Filipina who trained for five weeks at the Nippon Sports Science Institute in Japan.

Tabal has a best time of two hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds in the 42.195 km race, which is 20 minutes off the winning time set by Ethiopian Erbo Tika Gelena in the 2012 London Olympics.

“I will just run my own race,” said Tabal.

The other Filipina entry in athletics, three-time Olympian Marestella Torres, will compete in the qualifying rounds of the women’s long jump on Tuesday, hoping to make her first Olympic finals.

Other than the three bets in athletics, only one of the 13 Filipino entries here in Rio has yet to see action. She is taekwondo jun Kirstie Elaine Alora who will vie in the women’s +67 kg.

Alora has been in Rio since July 23, together with the bulk of the Philippine delegation, and has been training day and night under former SEA Games finweight king Kitoy Cruz.

“We’re okay. Elaine is doing okay,” said Cruz, adding that the 26-year-old Filipina is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her parents from Alaska, and her sister from Manila on Aug. 18, two days before she competes.

“I’m really excited to see them,” said Alora. PNA/northboundasia.com