LONDON - Left to carry the load for embattled Team Philippines following the ouster of boxer Mark Barriga, BMX rider Danny Caluag remains unfazed and ready to embrace the enormous challenge that lies ahead in the 30th Olympic Games.
"It's an honor and I'm very aware of that challenge. All my teammates including the two in track and field who are still competing are very supportive of me. I appreciate it," said Caluag, who plunges into his first Olympic foray three days from now.
Actually, two other Filipino athletes in long jumper Marestella Torres and 5000-meter bet Rene Herrera have yet to see action, but both are given a very slim chance of figuring in the medal fight given the depth of the field in their respective events.
But that can't be said of the 25-year-old Caluag, who is expected to do well despite competing against a field teeming with big names in his sport, led by 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 who I know, whom I competed with," said Caluag as mechanic and girlfriend Stephanie listened. "They're nothing new to me. It's not like something that I need to be scared of."
On Sunday evening, Danny, accompanied by Stephanie and coach James Richardson, walked through the BMX venue inside the Olympic Park, a 450-meter tack 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, taking a few moments before he could say the words.
The son of Filipino parents from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija who migrated to the US before he was born, Caluag found himself the only remaining athlete capable of ending Team Philippines' shameful run of disappointments since the Sydney Olympics after Barriga lost to Kazakthan's Birzhan Shakypov in a controversial bout on Saturday.
But Caluag is welcoming the big challenge like a man.
"That's a duty I have to perform. I know it's tough, but my team has worked it out and we are expecting for the best," said Caluag.
Ranked only 84th in the lastest UCI rankings 'because I competed in much lesser races than those ahead of me," Caluag said he'll take the challenge race by race and not look at it as the overall outcome to ease himself of the pressure.
"I've trained for this one for so long. I know I will do good this time," said Torres in Filipino, on the eve of her second Olympic stint. "Honestly, the field is too strong. But you'll find me in the field on Tuesday doing my best."
The 31-year-old Torres will try to slay the ghost of a horrendous showing four years ago in Beijing while going for a new personal best when she competes in the long jump at 7 p.m. Tuesday (2 a.m Wednesday in Manila) against a field which she knows is too formidable to beat.
The former Asian champion has trained long and hard for this one, working out here and competing there as she aims to come up a respectable showing in the 30th London Games and finally bury the memory of her Beijing debacle.
In the last Olympics, Marestella finished 34th in a starting cast of 38 with a poor jump of 6.17 meters in a campaign which she said was marked by a lot of disruptions.