A four-man contingent of the island's top track-and-field athletes got the opportunity to learn from athletes and coaches in Japan during the Oceania National Olympic Committee Fukuoka Olympic Project. The two-month camp was an intensive training session aimed at honing the talents and improving the skills of the island's Oceania athletes in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The team – Richelle Tugade, Genina Criss, Paul Dimalanta and Raymond Terry – spent hours on the track working on fundamentals during their stay in Japan.
"We're training and competing as well," said Criss, adding there were two athletic meets. "Basically, the camp is preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and is focused on the Oceania athletes."
The training was good, Criss said, adding she could see differences in her performance on the track.
"We've been working on plenty of fundamentals or, as I like to say, basics," she said. "This means ... endless ... drills using mini hurdles, ladder drills, form drills, and speed drills."
Criss said it's been great to work on basics.
"We can get so caught up on the workouts that we start to neglect the littlest things which end up making the biggest difference in race results," she said.
The biggest difference has been the daily training, said Tugade.
"Training here, so far, is definitely different compared to back home." said Tugade, who recently won several medals at the 2018 Micronesia Games in Colonia, Yap, and represented Guam at 2019 Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa.
"I’m learning many new techniques that have really taught me how to correct my form and warm up my body. ... Everything here is new to me, and for sure I’m going to incorporate it into my workouts back home."
Tugade said hurdling is where she can see the biggest growth and the most opportunity for the island's athletes.
"I could also use what I learned here to teach others back home, especially with the hurdles since there aren’t many hurdling coaches on Guam," she said. "I’ve definitely learned new drills that work on strengthening hurdle technique."
Working with the Japanese coaches and their athletes in Fukuoka allowed the athletes to approach the sport without outside influences, such as work or school.
Once a week, athletes worked with a coach, training for a specific event. For three other days, they worked with another Japanese coach to improve on speed.
"For me, this is a new approach to training as it's mainly focused on speed and not so much on mileage," Criss said.
In a sport where it's the little things that count, Criss said, her coaches have honed in on details that can make a difference in their times. Already, Criss said she has seen an improvement in her technique.
"My strides are becoming more efficient," she said. "It's all the little things that will make a big difference in the long term and that's exactly what we're working on."
Tugade echoed her teammate's sentiments.
"Despite my times, I do feel my body getting stronger," she said. "We usually have two training sessions a day, so that would explain why we’re exhausted. With our weight training, we give ourselves the workout."
For training ideas, Tugade tapped into her other resources, reaching out to her sister, Regine, who is considered one of the faster women in the Marianas and is currently running for the U.S. Naval Academy.
"Since then, I’ve been following her weight training program and I really feel myself getting stronger," she said. "With our training on the track, we have two coaches we see on different days. One of our coaches works on correcting our running form with mini hurdle drills for warmups, and the speed and endurance training for the hard workout."
According to her coaches, Tugade said she is on her way to hitting faster times.
While there has been a lot of work on the track, there has been some down time as well, allowing for the team to see the sights and embrace the local people and their rich culture.
"We have been doing cultural exchanges, which has been terrific!," Criss said. "We get to dive into the Japanese culture while training. Honestly, it's a fun combination."
The school exchanges have been a blessing for the hardworking athletes.
"My favorite part is the opportunity we've had to attend schools and talk to the kids, sharing what we do and why, and hopefully inspiring them as well," she said.
Tugade agreed, adding, she's loving the experience.
"It’s all a new experience for me and I’m one who enjoys new experiences on our free time," she said.