By Rey Anthony Chiu/PIA-Bohol | 11: 42 PM December 23, 2019
For a consummate duathlete who trained for the individual event: a 10 kilometer run, bike for 40 kilometers and five kms run to the finish line, would you believe he passed out on the mixed relay?
With his training on the harshest Bohol trails, the inhospitable tropical Malaysia and Singapore climates and the boiling tarmac roads of Luzon, Emmanuel Comendador was ready. But not for the heart breaker.
Three weeks before the big day, Comendador, or Doy to his bike and marathoner friends, the Boholano member of the national team for the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games couldn’t find his name in the list. Instead, he was inserted in the duathlon’s mixed relay.
It would have been a bad day for most.
But for Comendador whose childhood has been liberally splattered with ill fate, he could only fold and cry.
And then, like he used to do, get up, flexed his sore muscles and began a new training regimen for yet another discipline, one that could potentially tear his muscles for the sprints needed in this shorter race .
When others think getting on a duathlon mixed relay is no big deal for an athlete who trained in the longer individual category, a true athlete knows: a mixed relay is a downer, because you will have a shorter window to make a mark.
“In individual events, you control your pace and you will have a fair idea when you will be sprinting on the home stretch. It is much different with a relay because you do not control a team-mate’s speed over the other competitors. All you have to do is pray their best shot will give you a big advantage,” explains a sports coach.
“Duathlon is a two discipline game: 10 kilometer run, 40 kilometer bike segment and a final 5 kilometer run. A mixed relay duathlon will have each four members doing all un much shorter segments. The first and the anchor leg athlete generally determining the race’s outcome,” he added.
At the SEA Games, Team Philippines Mixed Relay was composed of Monica Torres, Efraim Iñigo, Mary Pauline Fornea, and Comendador on the anchor leg, Comendador said.
The event started well with SEA Games individual duathlon gold medalist Torres leading the way, until the transition when she had trouble slipping into her cycling shoes, reports said.
This cost the Team Philippines some 30 seconds, one which Torres candidly shared on television.
For the second leg, Iñigo came in some 30 seconds after the second runner.
Team Philippines leg participant has to recover the full minute.
It was tough as the next runner, Pauline Fornea has to contend with Singapore’s teen sensation.
When she finished the leg, the Philippines was behind Singapore which was poised for the silver at 2:30 seconds.
When it was his turn, Comendador saw only one option left: forget about the individual duathlon training and fire the afterburners to recover the 2:30 seconds Singapore has gained, to at least get the bronze or silver.
Comendador finished the fourth leg strong in 22 minutes and 11 seconds, beating Singapore’s Nicholas Rachmadi a full minute. But his finish was not enough to get past the 2:30, or just enough to cut the time advantage to a minute and 19 seconds.
For all the Philippine team athletes in the mixed relay, only the Boholano posted a better time in the leg, Comendador whose goal was to recover 2:30 seconds, beat Singaporean covering a full minute of the lead.
Comendador’s hard childhood which motivated him to train even harder worked to his advantage.
“I was a few meters from the finish line and I used up all the strength I had,” Comendador confessed in an interview.
“Run and finish or lose everything, all the pain and the sacrifices during training, so I forced myself, one wobbly step at a time, the time board just a blur of red and my vision turning black,” he narrated.
With a Philippine flag over his head, Comendador crossed the finish line to bag the bronze for the Philippines.
And a few steps later, he would drop to the rubber track blanketed in the national tricolors, medics and team mates rushing to his aid.
“I passed out, and I had to be carried by my team mates to the medic center, and had to be in a respirator,” he shared. But, it was worth it, I had a great team.
Nevertheless, he still thinks he could have earned the gold in the individual event.