Ranked #1 in the country, everyone had high hopes for triathlete star Jonard Saim, who finished 6th in the triathlon men’s individual of the 2015 South East Asian Games. Jonard knew the race was his to lose. He was the strongest and fittest athlete and HE WANTED TO WIN. You wouldn’t get #1 as your race number in an international race if you’re a M.O.P. (middle of the pack) athlete. For comparison, Nikko Huelgas was ranked #2.
Image courtesy of Peth S. Salvador Sport Photography.
Even before we saw him at the airport, we were already contemplating as to whether or not we’ll ask him the tough questions. Being the only athlete (among the four) not to bring home a medal, we could only imagine what was going on inside his head. We know Jonard is tough, but this must have been soul crushing. For some, it could even scar you for life.
So what happened?
Based on reports, Jonard dropped some of his gels on the bike. Which caused him to run out of fuel on the run. On this stage (SEA Games), in a sport where everything could come down to a final sprint, you need to be at your 100%. There’s absolutely no room for error.
It broke our hearts when we saw Jonard, the strongest olympic distance triathlete in the country, tear up when we got to the holding area. With all the media frenzy surrounding the other three, Jonard was just in the corner fidgeting away on his cellphone. Not one of the interviewers (except those in the tri community), knew who he was. That was when he broke down. What he lost and what could’ve been his, must have finally sunk in. Immediately, we saw Kim Mangrobang console him, as well as the rest of the team. We consoled and said some nice words as well but we know words could only do so much.
But the story doesn’t end there.
The unsung hero.
When we were talking to Nikko, the first words that came out of his mouth was “my win wouldn’t have been possible without Jonard”.
What we found out was that, it was Nikko who made all the mistakes. He had a bad swim, which in most cases, is enough to boot you out of podium contention. “You can’t win a triathlon in the swim, but you definitely lose it” as the saying goes. To make things worse, he slipped while getting on his bike coming out of T1. For Nikko, he thought Jonard was already in front with the lead pack, which means he has to work solo if he wants to catch up. “Akala ko talaga tapos na ang karera” said Nikko. Coach George Vilog shouted to Nikko that Jonard was coming in and that they (together) could still do it.
Being almost a minute behind the race leader, we could see that it was Jonard who was mostly in front of Nikko during the entire 6 loop / 40km bike course. The race was draft-legal, and based on the splits, it’s clear that it was Jonard who was pushing the pace (with Nikko in tow), so they could catch up with the leader.
On lap 5, Nikko went down as far as 5th place.
“When I saw Jonard on bike, I finally relaxed and that was when I knew we had a chance” Nikko said to me as I was interviewing him.
What’s gonna work? Teamwork.
When Nikko found out that Jonard dropped his gels, he immediately offered his. “Meron pa naman akong tatlo” said Nikko. “Pwede kami mag-hati sa isang pakete”. But at that stage, it was probably all too late for Jonard, who’s most likely already low on fuel. It’s just not possible to push that hard on the bike, without refueling, and still be able to run a fast pace. Not even if you’re Jonard.
Here we now have two athletes, vying for contention, helping each other out as much as they could. They trained for months and prepared hard for this race. And with still 10km’s run to go, it didn’t matter for Nikko if he’ll share his gel with Jonard, even if it’ll compromise his own race. In the South East Asian Games, they may be racing individually, but they are still teammates, fighting for one country. This goes exactly the same for Jonard.
We could only imagine what was going on inside Jonard’s head when he dropped his gels on the bike and realized that he was in big trouble, but the fact still remains that he gave it everything he got so that they could get back in front and be in contention to win the race. He could’ve taken it easy on the bike and paced himself so he could still run, but he didn’t. Jonard is a smart racer, he knows the odds and what will happen if pushes himself to the limit on the bike.
“If you’re already in pain and know you can’t win, make sure the one in front of you will break the record”.
After the bike and upon exiting t2, Nikko was already ahead of Jonard. After lap one, the race was all over for Jonard.
Jonard eventually finished 6th, almost 6 minutes behind Nikko, who finished in 2:04:32.
Based on our spotters, Jonard Saim never gave up. Even if he’s so far back, he kept pushing and pushing. Even if he knows he’s already out of medal contention, he gritted his teeth, held his head high, and ran his heart out.
The first words that Jonard said to me when I was interviewing him was “Babawi tayo”. He kept on repeating and repeating it as if those are the only words that matters.
A message from Jonard. Click here if you can’t see the video.
If there’s one good thing about setbacks, it fuel’s new dreams. Everything happens for a reason. We refuse to see what happened to him as a failed attempt, but rather, as a catalyst for what’s to come in the near future.
He still has a lot of racing left in his career – and we’ll be there to watch every step of it.