Petite and pretty Meggie Ochoa may look harmless. With her superior jiu-jitsu skills, though, she can immobilize a man twice her size.
Ochoa and Annie Ramirez, a prodigy of many Southeast Asian judo champ and Olympian John Baylon, made the country proud by winning a gold medal each in the recent 5th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
When jiu-jitsu was still in its infancy in the Philippines, Ochoa and other practitioners would go to social media to raise funds to be able to compete in jiu-jitsu tournaments abroad.
With the full backing of the government through the Philippine Sports Commission, the sport delivered the highest honors in the fast-growing multi-nation sports meet that is the biggest in Central Asia.
The 5’1 Ochoa won the first gold for the Philippines following a convincing 5-0 victory over Vietnam’s Le Thu Trang Du in the women’s Ne-waza -45kg finals. Ramirez, for her part, won on points over Jenna Kaila Napolis, 9-0, in the all-Filipino finale of the women’s Ne-waza -55kg category.
Their golden performances contributed to the country’s total medal haul of 2 golds, 14 silvers and 14 bronze after two-weeks of competition.
Ochoa said she dedicates her winnings to God.
“Mula umpisa, ito ay para kay God. I want to glorify God throughout my preparations,” said Ochoa during a thanksgiving dinner which honored the athletes who went to Turkmenistan held at the V Corporation Bldg. in Makati.
Her experience in becoming a three-time world jiu-jitsu champion in the past boosted her confidence in the meet. Thankfully, she was able to scout her opponent, and knew how difficult it will be to face the Vietnamese.
Ramirez was a judoka first and foremost before Filipino judo icon John Baylon convinced her to also develop herself in the sport.
She said her participation in the 2017 Asian Championships gave her a chance to adjust her game.
It boosted her confidence after she won two gold medals, one in the 55 kg event and the other in the open category.
“We prepared for the whole year for this. And in one of the tune-ups, I became the Asian champion,” said Ramirez.
With their victories, Ramirez and Ochoa will be rewarded by the government with P2 million each.
Most Accomplished Chef De Mission
Playing a major part in Team Philippines’ success was chef de mission and Makati congressman Monsour del Rosario, who was credited by the athletes for his hands-on stance in taking care of them in Turkmenistan.
“Sana nga po siya lagi ang kasama namin. Na motivate po kami nang husto dahil sa kanya,” said Ochoa.
Kickboxing coach Rennie Ross said he saw how Del Rosario took care of the athletes.
“Wala siyang kinikilingan or tinitingnan, sikat ka man or maliit na atleta lang, pantay-pantay ang pag asikaso nya sa lahat. Kaya talagang lahat motivated.”
Del Rosario, for his part, said the successful campaign in Turkmenistan exceeded all expectations.
“What our team did was beyond our expectations. God gave more than what we asked for. When we are united, we can make the impossible happen,” said the former Asian taekwondo champion and Olympian.
With Del Rosario as chef de mission and ably assisted by his assistant Raymund Lee Reyes, the Filipinos took home two gold, 14 silver and 14 bronze medals to finish 19th out of 62 competing countries.
The performance was way better than their finish in the previous edition in Incheon, South Korea in 2013, when they copped only one gold and two bronze medals.
“We didn’t make any bold projections and just believed that our athletes can accomplish it,’’ said Del Rosario, who had 116 Filipino athletes who took part in 17 sports.
Silver medalists led by Olympian Hidilyn Diaz, trackster Eric Cray, muay fighter Phillip Delarmino, cue aces Chezka Centeno, Rubilen Amit, bowler Kenneth Chua and the dancesport tandem of German Enriquez and Danella Publico will earn P1 million each from the government.
The 62-nation Games, which included the Oceania region headed by Australia and New Zealand, ended with a lavish closing ceremony late Wednesday night at the 35,000-seater Ashgabat Olympic Stadium.
Completing the silver performers are poomsae specialists Rodolfo Reyes Jr. and Jocel Lyn Ninobla, the men’s rapid chess team under-23 of international masters Jan Emmanuel Garcia and Paulo Bersamina and jiu-jitsu’s Marc Alexander Lim, Jenna Kaila Napolis and Gian Taylor Dee.
Taekwondo jins Kirstie Elaine Alora, Francis Agojo, Kristopher Uy, wrestlers Alvin Lobreguito and Jefferson Manatad wound up with bronze medals as well as kurash grappler Al Rolan Llamas, lifter Kristel Macrohon and cue master Carlo Biado.
Joining them are the women’s rapid team under-23 starring woman grandmaster Janelle Frayna and woman Fide master Shania Mae Mendoza and the dancesport pair of Gerald Jamili and Cherry Parcon.
Due to his sterling leadership skills, Del Rosario was appointed by Philippine Olympic Committee president Peping Cojuangco as chef de mission of Team Philippines to the 30th Southeast Asian Games which the country is hosting in 2019.
“I got the job. I cannot refuse,” said Del Rosario, who formally accepted the appointment on Friday night.
Del Rosario said he will be up to the task and will leave no stone unturned in making sure that the Filipino athletes will be more prepared they take on the task of recapturing the country’s dominance in Southeast Asian sports.
“I will have four assistant chef de missions and we will make sure that Team Philippines will shine again basta magkaisa lang tayo lahat at tigilan na ang pagkaka watak-watak.”