High hopes for Rio gold after Eric Cray's World Challenge silver

MANILA, Philippines – After Eric Cray's performance at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Challenge Cup in Madrid where he nearly bagged the gold in the 400-meter hurdles, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA) expressed high hopes of a gold medal finish in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In a neck-and-neck finish at the Moratalaz Sports Complex in Madrid, American hurdles specialist Jeshua Anderson needed a strong finish to hold off Cray for the gold.

Anderson clocked in a 48.96 while Cray smashed the Philippine national record at 48.98. Spain's Sergio Fernandez claimed the bronze at 49.02, just a mere 0.02 shy of their national mark.

PATAFA president Philip Juico expressed joy and hope at Cray's performance.

"That was a huge triumph for the country. That was a breakthrough time of under 49 seconds," said Juico.

"It shows that Eric is heading into Rio with his morale and confidence at an all-time high. Eric's coach, Davian Clarke, believes that he can realistically aim for a 48.50 time for a possible gold. Should this target be hit, we could be in line for the country's first-ever gold medal in the Olympics and in athletics." 

The Texas-born Cray's latest finish is ranked by the IAAF as the 11th best finish for 2016.

"We're not yet done," added Juico. "We still have Marestella Torres-Sunang still in the running for a spot in the Philippine contingent for Rio. She wasn't able to qualify for Rio when she was measured at 6.52 meters in an athletics meet in Kyrgyzstan. The qualifying mark is set at 6.7 meters. There is one more chance for her to qualify and that is a tournament in Kazakhstan in the next few days."

Juico added that qualifying for Rio would be a nice parting shot for Torres-Sunang who is now 35 years old.

The bemedalled long jump specialist from Negros Oriental has won 5 golds, one silver, and two bronze medals, representing the country since the 2002 Asian Championships in Colombo, Sri Lanka. – Rappler.com