A Run Through History and For Tradition
by rick olivares
“Very often, the difference between winning and losing largely depends on a team’s lasting power or endurance.”
Thus said the Reverend Fr. Austin V. Dowd S.J. when he pushed for a cross country race program at the Ateneo de Manila more than half a century ago.
Contrary to popular belief, the cross country race began in the University of the Philippines Los Baños and not at the Ateneo de Manila. And it started 20 years before the Fr. Dowd introduced it in the Loyola Heights campus in 1957.
A professor at the agricultural college, Nicholas Machan, used it as a means to condition his runners. Something he brought with him to the Manila campus of UP when he was assigned there years later.
Fr. Dowd saw how it benefited the UP tricksters and he decided that it was time to try it out at Loyola Heights. He went around the college to personally recruit and invite students to participate. It wasn’t easy at first as the attendees gradually thinned out after the first few practices.
Undaunted, the priest who would go on to coach several champion track and field teams of the Ateneo, stalked the cafeteria during lunch to recruit even more runners. “Everybody should go out and run in the afternoon it makes you strong,” he said by way of persuasion.
And for the inaugural cross country race at the Ateneo held on a Wednesday, July 17, 1957, there were 65 runners, but many more looked on in wonder and amusement. A lot was riding on the success of the inaugural event that kicked off the intramural season in the college. The runners had to run five kilometers not just around the campus but along Katipunan Road.
All the participants underwent a 15-minute period of stretching and just before Fr. Dowd fired the starting gun to begin the race, he bellowed, “Balderdash and bamboozlement!”
And off took the 65 running and elbowing their way to the run.
Ramon Falgui led almost all throughout but in the final 115 yards, Romulo Lacerna overtook him and finished at a time of 20 minutes and 16 seconds. Falgui, dead tired and panting heavily came in six seconds after while Donnie Gallardo placed third.
As good as the three were, the real favorites for the race were cheerleader and track star Jesse Paredes and teammate Tony Longa. But the two also took the opportunity to jaw one another throughout the race and as a result of the extra curricular activity, Paredes and Longa finished eighth and ninth respectively.
The race also featured a future star of the sport and athletics in Ateneo -- freshman Eduardo Raymundo who ran the entire race barefoot. It became his signature style for all future events.
It was so successful that four other cross country races were held that year. Among those who participated were the NCAA basketball champions Blue Eagles led by Ed Ocampo, Bobby Littaua, and Jimmy Pestaño.
The cross country race meant running through fields, a forest, over streams, or any obstacle along the way. Following the inaugural race, it became a team sport where squads generally had seven runners and only the fastest five runners per team were eligible for the points system. It meant that whoever crossed the finish line – even if he was the first to do so – counted only as one point. The first team to get five runners across won the race.
Eventually, the team concept was scrapped and it became an individual race once more. But over time, the school-wide cross country race was eventually confined to the Ateneo High School in the 1990’s.
And now, well, we’re reviving tradition.