JAMES MICHAEL LAFFERTY believes a Filipino has a future in the world of competitive running—including a crack at an Olympic medal.
Lafferty, the former chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble, is hoping to someday find a young protégé who he could train with the Olympics as his goal.
“Filipinos are amazing runners. I’ve been joining races all over the Philippines, from Laoag to General Santos City, and I saw a lot of youth runners who have the potential to become world-class athletes,” said Lafferty, who trains a mixed group of Filipino runners near his home at the Ayala Alabang Village.
Lafferty thinks young Filipino athletes, given proper funding, training and a nutritional program, and even equipment, could be at par with the world’s best.
Lafferty holds a University of Cincinnati degree in Sports Physiology and Psychology. He was a former United States National junior athletics team coach and was in the London 2012 Olympic Games to guide the Nigerian runners. He also coached in Germany and France
The Saint Xavier (Cincinnati) alumnus said his ultimate dream for the Philippines is to see a Filipino long-distance runner compete and win an Olympic medal.
“Where Filipino kids would someday watch on TV a Filipino among those standing on the podium and see the Philippine flag go up. Then they will say to themselves ‘I want to do that.’ And it will start the boom. That’s all we need, we need one to start the fire.”
Filipino sports officials, especially from the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa), should capitalize on the recent running boom in the country, stressed Lafferty.
“Manila has more marathons than any city in the world. The running boom has taken off and it is good for the country. ‘Good that people look into fitness and a lot of people go out and run. They go to The Fort and started to jog,” said Lafferty.
“But the question is ‘is there a grassroots system that can find that kid and give them shoes, put them in the right program and get them to join a running club? Or that kid ends up working young and the talent is wasted?”
Lafferty said Kenyans, although they are at a different level, used running as their way out of poverty. “Just like basketball in the US with inner city kids. Any rich Kenyan is a runner. So the whole country runs. If you have the whole country pushing and motivating you like that, you become better,” he said.
He added that a sound training program and adequate funding are key to building a world champion, especially in present times when the Olympic Games has become big business with corporate sponsors investing huge amounts of time and resources to transform one person into a superstar athlete who becomes the face of their brand.
“I’m a former Olympic coach, there’s some advanced techniques that anybody can do, called speed work, more manageable with a group because it’s too difficult [if you’re doing it by yourself] and it’s basically a high-intensity training where we do different distances.”
“[Michael] Phelps’s budget was $7 million a year. When I went to the 2012 London Games with Team Nigeria, there was this picture in the paper that says: ‘Meet Team Ennis’ where she has 15 people helping her including a doctor, therapist, sprint coach, strength coach, dietician and sports psychologist.”
Phelps went on to win four gold and two silver medals in London, while Jessica Ennis gave Great Britain the heptathlon gold.
Lafferty said that if most Filipino athletes, like long-jumper Marestella Torres, are given the same attention as Phelps and Ennis, the Philippines would have already clinched that elusive Olympic gold medal.
“In my own opinion, Torres is the best long jumper in the world. But she’s fighting on her own with P20,000 a month, 10 percent of one coach, no dietician and no strength coach. That’s the reason why she couldn’t win a gold. She has the potential to win gold in the Olympics,” added Lafferty, who has been helping Torres by giving her training and competition shoes and advice on diet and strength conditioning.
“For me, Torres is the best jumper in the world. You can’t ask her to go and compete with no proper coaching, diet and conditioning, against a full-time athlete, under a Nike sponsorship, who doesn’t have to worry about money and has all kinds of support. In long jump, the difference of winning a medal is always in a few centimeters.