Boxer, 3 swimmers start RP’s Olympic campaign

By ding marcelo

ATHENS — The excitement, pageantry and fantasy of the opening ceremony of the Athens Games behind them, Filipino athletes begin to live the real Olympic world Saturday when they open their campaign in various fronts.

All are filled with hope and expectation, some dreaming that this could be the year that one of them would bring home the country’s first gold medal, but the prognosis, as usual, is not bright.

Despite the enormous wealth that await the first Filipino Olympian to bring home the elusive gold, riches that could set the winner for life, none among the 16 athletes who will compete here is deemed a shoo-in for a medal.

Only one, boxer Harry Tañamor, has appeared in a reputable pre-Olympic forecast as a possible medal winner when the respected American magazine Sports Illustrated picked him to win the bronze in the light flyweight division.

But hope springs eternal in the hearts of the members of the Philippine delegation. Add prayers, too, which are in abundance as boxer Chris Camat becomes the first to go into the ring among the hopefuls Saturday afternoon.

Three swimmers are also seeing action, as well as shooter Jethro Dionisio. Then there’s archer Jasmin Figueroa, who started the RP campaign, returning to the range to face a former world champion in the matchplay phase of the women’s individual championship.

Barring any hitch, for instance her rival Natalia Valeeva hurting herself in a bathroom accident, Figueroa, 21, the country’s best archer and gold medallist in Hanoi last year, is headed for oblivion.

She ranked 56th among 67 archers in Thursday’s ranking competition, shooting 600 points which was way below her objective of scoring at least 630.

Although Figueroa’s was not an auspicious start for the campaign, this has not diminished the enthusiasm of team officials.

And to hear it from Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit, the athletes have already succeeded in their mission.

"You are all winners," he told them Wednesday night during a pep talk he conducted during which many athletes and officials appeared enthused and upbeat for the coming campaign.

"Para sa bayan," they shouted, their hands on top of one another to show unity and determination.

Dayrit said that by being Olympians, the athletes are already winners because they are the select 10,000 among billions on this planet to have qualified to compete.

He said that while they will be alone when they enter the competition arena, they should not feel lonely as the hopes and prayers of their nation are behind them.

"Eighty-four million Filipinos are praying for you," he said. "Don’t fail them."

Camat, earlier assigned as flag-bearer, will probably be excused from that task as a result of yesterday’s draw that put him into the ring against Russia’s Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov.

Though thrilled by the prospect of carrying the country’s colors, Camat had no choice but to defer to the wishes of boxing officials who concluded that the long walk and the long wait during the opening rites which lasted over five hours, would adversely affect the boxer.

"We can’t gamble on the months of preparation made by our boxers for this one event," said coach Nolito Velasco.

Velasco said the team had invested so much for the boxers who, by virtue of their past records, are again tipped as the country’s best hopes for an Olympic medal.

Besides year-round training as part of the national pool, the Olympic qualifiers had an intensive six-month training prior to the Athens Olympics, the last three months of which was spent in Bulgaria and France where they had a chance to size up their rivals.

"Best of the best dun," said Velasco. "Kung baga yung napili sa camp ay best boxers of every continent."

Besides Camat and Tañamor, also in that camp were Violito Payla and Romeo Brin.

Brin will see action next on Sunday while Tañamor starts his bid on Wednesday, Aug. 18. Payla follows next on Saturday, Aug. 21.

Meanwhile, the swimmers competing on this day are Miguel Molina in the 400m individual medley, Miguel Mendoza in the 400 freestyle and Raphael Chua in the 100m breastroke.

All are heats or preliminaries. With their best clockings way off the world standard, the Filipino swimmers’ targets are modest. All of them are simply aiming to improve on their personal records.

If, along the way, they surpass the RP or the SEA Games marks, that would be a bonus.

"I don’t expect much from this race because it’s not my favorite event," said Mendoza after his final practice at the pool.

Mendoza, 22, said he will use the event as a warmup to get him psyched up for 1500m freestyle. "That’s where I’ve been focusing and I hope to improve on my best time." And that would be 15:49.55

Chua, involved in a controversy with his national association a few weeks before the Games, said the same thing: "I hope to improve on my personal best (in the 100m breastroke.) His best time is 1:04.93.

The team’s two other swimmers Jackie Pangilinan, 19, and J. B. Walsh are scheduled to compete at a later date.

Pangilinan is entered in the 100 and 200m breastroke while Walsh is in the 200m butterfly. Both are Fil-Americans and had not competed on Philippine soil.

Shooter Dionisio, on the other hand, nervously awaits his first Olympic appearance.

Known as a speed shooter, whose combat skills on a set of moving and stationary targets earned him world titles, Dionisio is entered in the trap event where he must shoot at 75 targets.

Assessing Dionisio’s present form his coach Ramon Jose Corral said his ward is moving along fine.

"Maganda ang putok, kaya lang medyo merong pang kaba," he said.

14/08/2004

Bron : Manila Bulletin

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