Editor's note: As part of our coverage of the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia from August 18 to September 2, we will be previewing the different national teams that will see action for the Philippines.
2014 Asian Games performance
After sending two athletes in 2010, the Philippines was absent from the squash competition of the 2014 Asian Games. Unfortunately for Filipino squash athletes, the 2014 Asian Games ran right smack in the period where funding went dry for the sport. However, they have since recovered their footing and are out to make up for lost time in Jakarta.
2018 Asian Games representatives
Robert Andrew Garcia
David William Pelino
Yvonne Alyssa Dalida
Regina Cristina Borromeo
The past editions of Asian Games squash competitions were dominated by Malaysia which took home two golds, two silvers, and a bronze medal in 2014.
The Philippines, on the other hand, is still trying to get back on track. Robert Andrew Garcia and Jamyca Aribado, the top-ranked male and female squash athletes in the country, will be leading the charge but they will be up against stiff competition.
They hired the services of South African coach Carl Koenig and their training went into overdrive upon his arrival.
"Right now, training is so difficult after our coach arrived from the Netherlands. We've been focusing on our fitness. We train for two to three hours, twice or thrice a week," shared Garcia. "When I get home, I just eat and sleep at around 7 p.m. because I'm so tired. I just wake up for a midnight snack because I need the calories."
Garcia is aware that squash is a sport that is still unfamiliar to Filipinos. Because of its specialized court, it's also not the kind of sport that anyone could just pick up out of the blue. This is why he's hoping that they get some kind of success in the Asian Games so that the sport will be given more attention in the country.
"I've been playing for more than 15 years. My life revolves around squash and it has also allowed me to help my family financially," he said. "There was a time when we did not receive enough funding but now thankfully we're getting support. We've received equipment and now we're able to join more competitions. Back then we only played once or twice but now we play up to 10 competitions per year."
"After I finished high school, the support for our sport suddenly stopped so I was not able to play for a year," Aribado added. "I also had a baby so I started working as a saleslady in Alabang and Makati to make ends meet but my father convinced me to start training again and that's what I did."
Prognosis for Jakarta
In the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, the Philippines bagged two silvers and six bronze medals from the squash competitions.
Garcia had a silver (Men's Team) and three bronzes (Men's Singles, Mixed Doubles with Aribado, Men's Jumbo Doubles).
Aribado had a silver (Women's Jumbo Doubles) and four bronze medals (Women's Singles, Women's Doubles, Mixed Doubles with Garcia, Women's Team).
The two are the brightest prospects for a medal in the 2018 Asian Games but they're fully aware that they will be up against tougher competition.
"In the Asian Games, I'll be competing with two or three players who are in the top 20 in the world. My ranking is 216. This is why the preparations we've had were so tough," Garcia said. "If I face them, I'll make it a point to give it everything I have. I'll give them a good fight."
"Although it's not as famous as other sports, I fell in love with squash because I found it to be the most challenging. I still want to accomplish a lot in this sport," said Aribado. "Some of my opponents are top 10 in the world but I believe we have a chance."
The Philippine team's coach was pleased with the effort that the athletes have shown in their past few weeks of training.
"The athletes have responded particularly well. They'e given me 110% of everything I asked. We have great relationships in and out of the court. We've been trying to improved, technically and tactically," said Koenig.
In terms of medals, the South African coach was very blunt with his assessment.
"For the men's, it's unlikely. There are top 20 players in the field and we are not quite in that level yet. For the women's, our best bet is Myca."
Still, Koenig believes that the country has barely scratched the surface in terms of what it can accomplish in the sport of squash.
"For what I've seen, the Philippines has a small number of players but I'm amazed of the level of talent," he closed. "If we can start from the grassroots and discover more talent, I think the Philippines can have more world-class athletes."