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For every athlete whose Olympic dreams came true in Tokyo — like weightlifter Hidilyn F. Diaz and boxer Nesthy A. Petecio — there are so many others whose dreams were either dashed or delayed because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be part of the redemption arc of Mary Joy R. Tabal, who was looking to make up for Rio 2016, where she crossed the finish line well off her personal best. But canceled race after canceled race forced her to adjust her goals.  

Ms. Tabal, who made history in the 2016 Rio Games by becoming the first Filipino female marathoner to compete in the Olympics, shares the lessons she learned with BusinessWorld senior reporter Michael Angelo S. Murillo — lessons that we can apply to our own lives. 


Goals can change mid-race. 

In Rio, Ms. Tabal remembers that cramping early in the race made her shift her mindset from bettering or matching her personal best to just finishing the 42-kilometer race and earning the title “Olympian.”  

She did it and had to be transported out of the race area in a wheelchair. 

This mental resilience served her again when the pandemic threw a wrench into her plans for Tokyo 2020. 

“I was really training and preparing to qualify for the Olympics but unfortunately so many races were canceled and I just had to deal with the reality that Tokyo was not for me. Sayang [too bad],” said Ms. Tabal. 

“The future is so uncertain; it keeps on changing. What’s important is to live one day at a time. You just have to focus on bettering yourself today and focus on doing something today. … Life is like a marathon,” she added.  

After disappointment, move on. 

Despite the disappointment and frustrations of not being allowed to at least vie for an Olympic spot, athletes just have to move on and take on new challenges. 

“After the disappointment, I had to focus my attention on other things, including the 2021 SEA Games in Vietnam (which has since been deferred to next year because of the pandemic). It is something to look forward to,” said Ms. Tabal. 

“One of the learnings here is to just be prepared. Things can change anytime. An opportunity can be taken anytime. Just take it a day at a time and focus on improving.” 

Keep your eye on the prize. 

Having experienced the Olympics, Ms. Tabal said that focus is paramount if you want to excel in elite competitions. “Be an Olympian and give your 100% so there won’t be any regrets after,” she said. 

While the Tokyo Games got away from her, the Olympic bid is still alive for Ms. Tabal, 32, who has heart set on competing in Paris 2024, finishing the six major marathons (she’s done Boston, which leaves Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York), and competing in the SEA Games and Asian Games.  

“And after maybe I’ll be given the chance to give back and help nurture young athletes to realize their dreams as well,” she said. 


Recorded remotely on July 16, 2021. Produced by Paolo L. Lopez and Sam L. Marcelo. 

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