Monday, August 22, 2011 12:00AM By Christian V. Cruz - For Marianas Variety
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Eli Ebenezer “Rezne” Wong trains at the Main Natatorium of the Universiade Center in Shenzhen, China. Contributed photoRaised in the island of Saipan, both he and cyclist Matthew Mancao were grateful to be the NMI’s initial competitors at the Universiade.

“It’s an honor to be the first athlete to represent the NMI,” said Mancao.

“Hopefully we can send more [athletes] and have a stronger team.”

With anyone in Shenzhen rarely knowing about the Marianas, Wong says he feels unique.

“It’s a pleasure when people ask you where you’re from and they don’t have a clue where it is. You tell them it’s a small rock in the middle of nowhere, and they think of how we speak or what we wear,” noted the 20-year-old swimmer.

“It’s really unique representing a small place. I had to show them that we can compete too. Even if we’re poor or lacked resources, we can still compete at a high level. You can’t make excuses. You just try to respect other athletes as yourself.”

Wong now trains and studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He recently competed in Shanghai for the 14th FINA World Championships.

Mancao, who studies at the University of Guam, seeks to promote the Universiade to the NMI. He hopes to have more qualified athletes from the Marianas.

“When we return, Rezne and I are going to analyze ways to promote sports. Hopefully we can propose a plan to NMASA,” said Mancao.

He referred to the Northern Marianas Amateur Sports Association – the NMI’s governing body of sports in the region.

Wong seeks to train harder and push himself to motivate others to compete at a higher level.

“Once they know that you’re there they’ll just look at your times and think, ‘Wow, this can compete,’” he stated.

Setting an example for kids is the “biggest part,” according to Wong.

“Besides that, everything in Oceania is good. They could do better especially in the university aspect. Many people don’t push for their athletic careers after high school,” he added.

Back-to-back events for Wong

Rezne Wong took on five consecutive events between August 14 and 18 at Shenzhen.

Among his list were the 200-meter breaststroke, 50m butterfly, 100m breaststroke, 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, and 50m breaststroke.

Receiving his start list on the day of his race, Wong admitted the last-minute update affected his performance.

“I didn’t really know who I was racing against or how I could strategize my race. Usually when you go to a meet like this you get the list two months before the race. “

Of all his events, Wong said he performed best in the 50m butterfly, where he posted 26.66 seconds.

He described the meet as a “mental game.”

“I’m at the level where I can make semifinals but hopefully I’m getting there. You gain more experience in every race,” he said.

Meanwhile, Matthew Mancao couldn’t complete the men’s 160-kilometer road race.

He and a handful of cyclists crashed 40km from the starting line and were unable to reach the pack.

“A group is expected to start really fast. This is a senior group and it’s different from my other races. In cycling, you always have to expect flat tires, mechanical problems, or any accidents. Anything can happen,” he said.

“It was hard for me to hang on but I tried my best.”

The group averaged 60km per hour during the race – equivalent to 37.3 miles per hour. 30 out of 62 cyclists failed to finish.

“Everybody was nervous and excited. Tires were too close to each other and everybody was bumping into each other.”

Nonetheless, Mancao still thanks FISU for giving him the opportunity to compete.

Wong praised the volunteers and portrayed the venues as “something straight from heaven.”


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