NEWSFLASH! Pinoy rower Cris Nievarez fails in medal bid in Tokyo Olympics quarterfinals

TOKYO OLYMPICS campaigner rower Cris Nieveraz

TOKYO/MANILA – Cris Nievarez made the quarterfinal cut in the Tokyo Olympics men’s rowing single sculls event after finishing third in his heat on Friday at the Sea Forest Waterway in the Japanese capital.

The Sariaya, Quezon native Nievarez clocked in at seven minutes and 22.97 seconds, making the quarterfinal cut as the top three rowers per heat will qualify to the next round.

In the succeeding heat on Sunday, July 25, ABS-CBN reported Nievarez was fifth in the quarter finals heat and thus failed to reach the finals in his first ever Olympics stint, but the young Filipino rower has already exceeded expectations.

The Philippine Rowing Association (PRA) said it is impressed with Nievarez performance.

“This will be a major learning experience for Cris,” said PRA treasurer Magnum Membrere. “He’s young and determined.”

Nievarez was the lone Southeast Asian rower to qualify in the men’s single sculls. He opened the Philippines’ campaign in the Games last Friday, finishing third in his heat to advance to the quarterfinals.

Nievarez clocked in at seven minutes and 50.74 seconds in Heat 4, some 34 seconds behind Mindaugas Griskonis of Lithuania, who got the last semifinal spot for Heat 4.

Oliver Zeidler of Germany won the heat at the time of 7:12.75, while Brazil’s Lucas Verthein placed second at 7:14.26.

Zeidler gradually zoomed ahead of the pack as the race went on en route to smooth sailing.

Griskonis, however, had a chance at moving higher in the rankings after overtaking Verthein for second with 500 meters left in the two-kilometer course before the latter got his bearing back to secure the second spot.

New Zealand’s Jordan Parry was actually toe-to-toe with Griskonis and even Verthein for the last semifinal spot, but Parry slowed down halfway through the race and eventually fell short despite the strong finish.

Nievarez, Parry, and Iraq’s Mohammed Al-Khafaji will still play in a repechage round on Tuesday as they look to end their Olympic stints on a higher note.

Against bigger and stronger rowers in the quarters, however, Nievarez could only come in fifth with a time of seven minutes and 50.74 seconds.

“His performance is beyond expectations. Commendable,” PRA president Patrick Gregorio said.

“(With) focused training here and abroad, Cris will really improve,” he added.

Nievarez, a gold medalist in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, said he relished his experience in Tokyo and is already looking forward to the next edition of the Games in Paris 2024.

“Malaking bagay ang experience na nakuha ko dito sa Tokyo Olympics. Sabi nga ni Sir Magnum, learning experience,” he said. “Malaking dahilan ito para pagbubutihin ko pa at aasamin na makarating ako sa Paris [2024 Olympics].”

“Nakita ko na rin and mga strength ng mga kalaban at alam ko na kung anong aspects ang kailangan i-improve,” Nievarez added.

He will join Croatian Damir Martin, who topped Heat 5 at 7:09.17, and Russian Alexander Vyazovkin, who came in second at 7.14.95, in the quarterfinals on Monday.

Meanwhile, Filipina boxer Nesthy Petecio declared her readiness to take on the Olympic stage as she faces Marcelat Sakobi Matshu of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the very first boxing match of the Tokyo Games at noon on Saturday.

“I am more than ready,” Petecio, the women’s featherweight gold medalist at the Ulan-Ude world championships in Russia in 2019, said on Friday.

Four years younger at 25 and less experienced than the Davao pride, Matshu is considered not much of a threat to the first of four Filipino boxers vying in this Olympics.

But Petecio is not taking her opponent lightly.

“Our coaches have reviewed videos of my opponent and they have prepared a strategy for me,” Petecio said. “I’ll only need to follow instructions when I climb the ring.”

Matshu could only rank 17th in the same Ulan-Ude world championships.

The Petecio-Matshu duel—set at 11 a.m. (noon in Manila)—is the very first bout of these Olympic Games where boxing is supervised by a special body created by the International Olympic Committee following the suspension of the International Boxing Association, which is under investigation for dubious decisions in past major tournaments.

Nievarez was way ahead of fourth placer Felix Potoy of Nicaragua, who finished at 7:32.54.

Potoy and Benin’s Privel Hinkati will be playing in the repechage race.

“Masarap sa pakiramdam, unang race, unang sabak, masaya, para ito sa Pilipinas (Good feeling, first race, first competition, I’m happy, this is for the Philippines),” Nievarez said.

The top three in all of the six heats in the men’s singles scull advanced to the quarterfinals.

“Magandang simula ito sa Tokyo Olympics para sa Team Philippines(This is a good start here in Tokyo Olympics for Team Philippines). Nievarez qualifying in the quarterfinals on the first day is a good testament that our athletes have prepared well, despite the pandemic. It definitely boosts the morale of all our competing athletes in the next competition days!,” Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino said.

Tolentino urged the Filipinos to keep on praying “our athletes and coaches.”

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 (Later, we’ll study the time everyone enters, who I’ll face in the quarterfinals and what time needs to be pursued,” Nievarez said.

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.