Caluag left to carry PH's medal hopes

Posted at 08/06/2012 7:41 PM | Updated as of 08/08/2012 1:49 PM

MANILA, Philippines – BMX rider Daniel Caluag is left to carry the load for the embattled Team Philippines in the 2012 London Games after boxer Mark Barriga was eliminated in the round-of-16 of the light flyweight tournament of the Olympics.

But Caluag remains unfazed and said he is ready to embrace the challenge as he gears up for his event, which gets underway on August 8.

“It’s an honor and I’m very aware of that challenge,” Caluag said in a statement released by Team Philippines in London.

“All my teammates, including the two in track-and-field who are still competing, are very supportive of me. I appreciate it,” he added.

Long-jumper Marestella Torres and 5000-meter bet Rene Herrera have yet to see action as well in the Olympics, but both athletes only have a slim chance of making it to the medal rounds of their events.

Caluag, for his part, is expected to do well in the BMX competition even as he goes against some of the big names in his sport, including world No. 1 Sam Willoughby of Australia, second-ranked Connor Fieldes of the United States and defending champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia.

“They’re practically the same people I know, whom I competed with. They’re nothing new to me. It’s not like something that I need to be scared of,” said Caluag.

Caluag walked through the BMX venue inside the Olympic Park last Sunday evening, taking in the 450-meter track featuring a ride down an 8-meter high ramp, then a dirt circuit that has a banked corner, s-bend transfer and jumps mark.

“Oh, it’s fantastic,” Caluag said of the track.

Caluag, the son of Filipino parents from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija who migrated to the United States before he was born, is the only remaining athlete capable of ending Team Philippines’ run of disappointments since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“That’s a duty I have to perform,” Caluag said, welcoming the challenge. “I know it’s tough, but my team has worked it out and we are expecting for the best.”

Caluag is ranked only 84th in the latest UCI rankings “because I competed in much lesser race than those ahead of me.”

But he said he will take the challenge race-by-race and not look at it as the over-all outcome to ease himself of the pressure.

“I’ll take it one step at a time. That’s what it is all about, enjoying the moment,” Caluag said,.

Caluag is the only Asian in a field of 32 cyclists. His baptism of fire will begin on Wednesday afternoon when he competes in the seeding run, designed to ensure that the fastest cyclists won’t meet in the finals early.