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15 Filipinos battle odds, Olympic gold ‘curse’

August 09, 2008 01:40:00
Ted S. Melendres
Philippine Daily Inquirer

BEIJING — Saddled with fewer medal prospects from among its skeletal 15-athlete platoon, the Philippines is hard-pressed to end the curse of a shutout at the XXIX Olympiad here.

Filipino sports officials, except for the chairman of the government sports agency, have remained tight-lipped about the country’s chances, perhaps wary of a backlash in the event the country’s Olympic bidders stagger out of the quadrennial battles empty-handed again.

The Filipinos failed to put away a single medal from the two previous Olympics in Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) despite parading a bigger complement of boxers, the Philippines’ traditional source of medals.

Only light flyweight Harry Tañamor made it to the quadrennial Games this time, and he’s only too happy to share the load of landing a medal with taekwondo’s Marie Antoinette Rivero and the veteran Tshomlee Go.

Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez on Friday reiterated his fearless forecast that Tañamor, Rivero and Go remained as the country’s best bets for a medal.

He also did not rule out trapshooter Eric Ang and archer Mark Javier, who both plunge into action Saturday.

“Tañamor, Rivero and Go came into this Olympics as medal favorites,” said Ramirez, who arrived here Thursday night on the entourage of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“I’m not the only one who’s saying that. The international federations know ahead of the Olympics who the favorites in their respective events are.”

The other Filipino Olympians are long jumpers Henry Dagmil and Marestella Torres in athletics, swimmers Miguel Molina, Ryan Arabejo, Daniel Coakley, Christel Simms and JB Walsh, divers Shiela Mae Perez and Ryan Rexel Fabriga and female weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.

Not one of them, though, merited a second look from Beijing Olympics pundits.

9 medals, 112 years

The Philippines has won nine medals—seven bronzes and two silvers—since the first Olympiad was played 112 years ago in Athens. An Olympic gold is the one dream that has eluded Filipino athletes.

The two Filipinos who have won silvers were featherweight boxer Anthony Villanueva in Tokyo in 1964 and light flyweight boxer Mansueto Velasco Jr. in Atlanta in 1996.

The bronze medalists were swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso (200-m breaststroke in 1928 Amsterdam and 1932 Los Angeles), bantamweight boxer Jose Villanueva (father of Anthony) in 1932 Los Angeles, high jumper Simeon Toribio also in 1932 Los Angeles, Miguel White (400-m low hurdles) in 1936 Berlin, light flyweight boxer Leopoldo Serrantes in 1988 Seoul, and light flyweight boxer Roel Velasco in 1992 Barcelona.

Chinese nemesis

Still buoyant from his silver-medal finish in last year’s World Championships in Chicago, Tañamor kept his ratings up by winning the gold medal in the first AIBA President’s Cup in Taiwan in June.

The man who beat him for the gold medal in Chicago, however, remained the prohibitive favorite to dominate in these Games. China’s Zou Shiming couldn’t have picked a friendlier place to add the Olympic gold medal to his world championship.

Then there’s Russian David Aryapetyan, the world’s top-ranked light flyweight who, despite bowing out in the quarterfinals at the Worlds, has strung up four international title victories in a span of five months.

In its Olympic previews, the international magazine Sports Illustrated tipped Tañamor to win the silver medal here with Zou cornering the gold.

Narrow miss

Rivero, who narrowly lost a silver-medal match to Greece’s Elisavet Mystakidou in the Athens Games, eventually missed out on a medal when she bowed to South Korea’s Hwang Kung-seon in the repechage for the bronze.

The then-16-year-old from Pasig City has since gained in experience and she went on to bag the silver medal in the 2006 Doha Asian Games.

But so did Hwang, who came back to capture consecutive world championships in Madrid (2005) and Beijing (2007).

Go, the fierce battler from the Bicol region and Manila’s Binondo district, reached the quarterfinals of the -58 kg Athens only to yield to Spaniard Juan Antonio Ramos by the slimmest of margins.

The Filipino is among six men tipped by the International Taekwondo Federation to take home an Olympic medal, along with Chinese Taipei’s defending champion Chu Mu-yen and Ramos, according to national taekwondo association head Robert Aventajado.

One thing going for Go, there’s no South Korean in his weight class. The international federation limits each country’s taekwondo bidders to only four and Korea deems it has better chances for gold in other weight classes.

Experience, luck

Ramirez said Ang and Javier showed world-class form in posting strong international finishes this year.

“I would say that these two are well-equipped to go as far as the shootoffs in their events,” he said. “Everything depends, though, on experience and luck. You can’t have one without the other.”

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