Meet Olympian Yan Lariba: The next big thing in Filipino sports

Meet Olympian Yan Lariba: The next big thing in Pinoy sports
How the DLSU Lady Paddler plans to put ping-pong on the map (Photos taken from Yan Lariba's Instagram account: @yannasiyan)

Of basketball, volleyball, and other, say, mainstream sports events growing in popularity year by year and with it, the athletes who play it becoming superstars in their own right given their huge following and swelling sponsorships, here’s Ian “Yan” Lariba recently making headlines for being a champion player in, well, ping-pong. Yes, that’s table tennis for the ignorant. But, not your entire fault if you’re not that familiar about it. The DLSU Lady Paddlers’ pride—and the country’s, too, after booking a ticket to the Olympics after finishing strong at the ITTF-Asian Olympic Games Qualification Tournament back in April—isn’t exactly thrilled either about the situation of table tennis as a lesser-known sport in the Philippines.

“Hindi sya ganun kasikat kagaya ng basketball and volleyball, or other more popular sports,” Lariba admits. “Siguro, I was used to it already na di talaga masyado napapansin yung table tennis dito sa Pilipinas.”

Yet, her champion attitude pulls through.

“As for the comments na sidelined yung sports namin, hindi ko na pinapansin. Makakasama lang yun. Basta ako, as long as i am enjoying it and doing my job well, then I am fine. But, of course, I am hopeful na with what we've achieved today for the table tennis community in the Philippines would be a start of something better for us.”

 

I know that a week had already gone by, yet still I just can't believe that that moment happened into my life. It still feels incredible. Still feels surreal. Still feels magnificent. My heart suddenly beats faster out of nowhere, my tummy still gets butterflies everytime I remember that instance I got the last point. What makes it even more overwhelming is the fact of how God moves in mysterious ways. His plan may be a bit bumpy and questionable sometimes, but trust me, it's the best and the most inspiring encounter ever. Because of this, He made me realize that every hardship, every trial, every heartbreak, every sacrifice will all be worth it, will all make sense as long as I hold on unto Him and trust in His plan, in His ways. And so, please take this moment for me to thank all of you who have been instrument and inspiration of God's love, of God's plan, of God's will. Thank you because you trusted and believed in me during those moments when I even doubted myself. Thank you because you never gave up on me on during those times when I myself gave up for a while. Thank you because you were there to pick me up whenver I fall down. Thanks to you because you motivated me to become better and better everyday. Thank you because you really showed your support in any way possibe. Thank you for reminding me that you will be by side all throughout this journey. I am taking this opportunity to THANK the most important people who've been with me all throughout this journey. To my family Mama, Papa and Yen, thank you so much. I love you always. To my relatives the Nietes and Lariba family. To my second families; TATAP Family,TATAND Family, DLSU Green and Lady Paddlers, Andro Family, the Lasallian Community nationwide and all over the world, to my Corpus Christi family, to my fellow kagay-anons, to my co student-athletes, to my mentors and coaches, to my barkada and closest friends, to all kapongers, to all the supporters out there, you know who you are, May God to continue to bless you with abundance and blessing in life for I know you all deserve it. AGAIN, THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART. ALL GLORY TO HIM! Sincerely, YAN LARIBA ☝🙏😀

A photo posted by Ian N. Lariba (@yannasiyan) on

Her responsibility
Lariba operates on the Spiderman cliché that given great position and power comes a greater responsibility. After finishing her five-year collegiate career with three UAAP championships, she is now preparing herself as she flies to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Olympics. Lariba, at 21, is the first Filipino to be playing at the Olympics’ table tennis event since its introduction in 1988.

“It’s such a blessing and a privilege for me. Nakakataba mg puso. Nakakatuwa,” she says, her wise choice of words coming out of her mouth like she were running for public office.

Lariba started in the sport in third grade when she accompanied her parents in a sports complex in her native Cagayan de Oro City. And that “nalaman ko sya through yung mga per hour sessions na ping-pong sa malls.”

She eventually made it to the varsity team at her school, Corpus Christi School. She then became part of the national women’s team in her freshman year in high school. Because of it, she would fly to Manila every summer since for national competitions.

 

Once a Corpus Christian, always a Corpus Christian. Ride high! ☝💙

A photo posted by Ian N. Lariba (@yannasiyan) on

Her athleticism
Lariba’s competitive beginnings would prime her to be what she would turn to be.

“Back then, nahasa na yung pagiging student-athlete ko kasi there were weeks na na-absent ako sa school for international competitions, ‘tapos pagbalik ko, I had to make up for my missed quizzes and lessons,” she recalls.

The case was the same once she entered college at La Salle. She got into Taft after being scouted in the competitions, and that “I just felt that I was just really for La Salle pagpasok ko palang sa school. When I was introduced in the Sports Office during recruitment, sabi ko, ‘Ay, dito na ako. Gusto ko dito na!”

It has been five seasons since. On her first year, she impressed by winning the Rookie of the Year plum and then steered the DLSU Lady Paddlers to being the queens in Seasons 75, 77, and the recent one. Her awards include three MVPs and two Athlete of the Year honors.

Lariba is presently finishing her BS Management in Financial Institutions, a course she loves because “I get to see and analyze why changes in stocks and other finance matters work that way.” She calls herself “simpleng estudyante” who pushes herself to be on the Dean’s List every now and then.

Curious about the lady champ’s aspirations besides table tennis? She reveals, “I want more of a managerial corporate job, making good relations with people and (practicing) team effort. Basta yung flexible and to get along with my colleagues.”

“Ultimately, I’d like to travel around the world.”

Her love for the country
However, for Lariba who dreams of jet-setting, it has been and will always be the Philippines. As of this writing, she is in South Korea until July 4 for training and a following competition as part of her preparations for the Olympics. She’ll return to the country right after and will be flying to Brazil on the 22nd next month. It has been six hour-per-day training sessions since.

But it’s for national pride, she says.

“I feel na it still boils down to the bigger responsibility of making myself better and better. As long as I can inspire more people then I would be more fulfilled about it. Sa akin kasi, gusto kong ipakita pa sa boung mundo gaano kagaling ang mga Pilipino sa kahit anong larangan man at dapat ipagmalaki natin yun.”

Back to her mission in making table tennis the next big thing here, Lariba vows to pour all her heart out in the incoming world event. It’s not just for herself or for her parents although “I just always want to make them proud and gusto ko suklian yung lahat nang ginawa nila para sakin.”

If at all, the incoming sponsorship offers, any of which she still hasn’t signed because she’s keeping busy in competitions, may be the first steps towards her dream. Thus, she stresses, “I think the situation of our sport in our country still needs a lot of attention and support for the athletes in terms of competing and getting at par with high standards of international competitions.”

Like Michael Jordan and Roger Federer whom she idolizes for their “strong character and charisma,” Lariba says she’s “happy now that I can see also how sports can make a big impact on the youth and today’s generation because it challenges them to strive for excellence.”

“I also hope that this moment could inspire other people, touch their lives to continue pursuing their dreams no matter what.”

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