KORAT, Thailand: A little over two years ago, Daniel Coakley was training on his own in Hawaii.
His father, a native of the islands, had married Daniel’s mum, who hailed from the Philippines.
Hawaii was home, and he swam on his own.
Then, Daniel’s oldest brother heard about the Philippines’ programme offering promising sportsmen of Filipino parentage dual citizenship and the chance to represent the country.
The 17-year-old decided to take the plunge and after a year was selected to race for the Philippines at last December’s Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.
He clocked a time of 23.98s in the 50m freestyle there and was also part of the 4x100m freestyle relay team that came in sixth, but crucially, it was his first taste of a multi-event Games programme.
Monday at the Aquatic Centre here in Korat, Thailand, he signalled his arrival on the international stage with a storming win in the 50m freestyle.
His time of 22.80s rewrote the previous Games record of 22.96 set in 2005 and it ensured he made the ‘B’ cut for next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing.
“Joining this team it’s the best thing I’ve done,” said the youngster.
“In this team we are all so close and I can honestly say that we are like family.”
Many had tipped the likes of Singapore’s Bryan Tay and Thailand’s Arwut Chinanapasaen to take gold Monday, no one had even heard of Daniel.
But the youngster has swimming in his blood. He is the grand nephew of a Filipino sporting legend, the late Teofilo Yldefonso, who won the Philippines’ first Olympic medal, taking bronze in the 200m breaststroke at the 1928 Games.
Yldefonso repeated the feat four years later.
Daniel says he has never felt out of place in the Filipino swim team, thanks to his mother.
“I grew up eating lots of Filipino food that my mum cooked,” he said. “And it’s really healthy stuff. You know, I’ve never taken vitamin supplements because my mother believes that it’s all there in the vegetables that she cooks. And we had no choice but to eat them.”
“My mother and her family are all so proud of being Filipino,” he revealed. “I felt that this was one way I could give back.”
He did give back, and in the process set the tone for the swimming team for the Philippines Monday.
Miguel Molina captured the men’s 200m breaststroke with a time of 2:18.11, while Ryan Arabejo clocked 15:53.16 to comfortably win the men’s 1,500m freestyle.
But undoubtedly the star of the day for the Philippines was Daniel.
Next up for him is college and he’s thinking about heading to Florida for a university with a good swimming programme. He’s not going to think too much about the Olympics just yet, until he gets back into the weights room.
As for his new Games record, the laidback Daniel played down his achievement.
“I feel really good about winning but, really, it could’ve been anybody’s day,” said the strapping 1.88m-tall swimmer. “That’s what the 50-free is like.”
Channel News Asia