RP bets better this time, Officials still cling to faint hopes of a medal
By Artemio T. Engracia Jr.
Inquirer News Service
ATHENS, Greece -- With ten athletes relegated to being mere spectators and cheerleaders, the Philippines is down to its last six men halfway through the 28th Olympic Games.
The Filipinos have so far nothing to show in the medal standings after eight days of the Games, but sports officials are confident they have surpassed the Filipinos' modest accomplishment in the Sydney Games four years ago.
With three Philippine records serving as a consolation for a disappointing performance in swimming at the Olympic Aquatic and the sensational first-round victory of Jasmin Figueroa in archery, the Filipinos have something to crow about.
"I think we've surpassed our performance in Sydney," said Celso Dayrit, president of the Philippine Olympic Committee Friday night.
Eric Buhain, chairman of the Philipine Sports Commission, said he remained optimistic that the Philippine delegation would still win a medal in the Games, pointing to flyweight boxer Harry Taņamor as a big possibility.
Of the four Filipino boxers who qualified for Athens, Taņamor is the only survivor so far. He was to fight Korea's Hong Moo Won in the second round Saturday night (early Sunday morning in Manila) at the Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall.
Boxing has been the traditional source of medals for the Philippines since it joined the Olympic movement in the 1924 Games in Paris. And Taņamor is still the best - and last --realistic shot at a medal in Athens.
Faint hopes are entertained in taekwondo where three Filipinos are scheduled to see action starting Thursday, but little is expected, except perhaps a Philippine record, from Lerma Bulauitan Gabito, who will see action on Wednesday in the women's long jump.
Long distance runner Eduardo Buenavista is set to compete in the marathon on Aug. 29, the last day of the Athens Olympiad. But he stands absolutely no chance at all of finishing with a medal - unless the rest of the field wilts in the hot and humid Greek summer and the hilly route from Marathon to the ancient Parathinaiko Stadium in Athens.
''We hope to come up with a medal performance in taekwondo," Dayrit said as he assessed the Philippine performance so far in the Games. ''Let's also hope Lerma sets a new Philippine record in long jump."
Citing the performance of Figueroa in archery, Dayrit said the Philippines should look at the vast potentials of being a wild card entry.
''Wild cards are not a token participation, as Jasmin has shown," the POC president said. ''A wild card means that, while you didn't make it in the Olympic qualifying, the international federation recognizes your record.'
Figueroa, the 19-year-old archer with the innocent smile, deadly aim and nerves of steel, stunned the archery world when she upset former world champion Natalia Valeeva of Italy in the first round of the women's individual competition in Panathinaiko.
The upset win made Figueroa, who was not even the country's top archer until she received a wild card to complete the 64-woman field in women's archery, the toast of the archery competitions.
It also gave her enough confidence and poise for a creditable performance against Spain's Almudena Gallardo in the second round, which she lost by two points, 150-152. A victory would have placed the diminutive Filipina in the quarterfinals and the top 16 of the Games.
She wound up 27th place overall, which more than surpassed her modest goal of improving the 58th place finish of the erstwhile queen of Philippine archery, Jennifer Chan, in the Sydney Olympics.
It was a performance better than any other archer achieved in the Olympic Games. Francisco Naranjilla, long time men's Philippine champion, was 37th in the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
''Jasmin's performance is an eye opener on the potential of archery as a sport," Dayrit said.
Figueroa said she had learned valuable lessons from her Olympic experience and that she hopes to use them as she looks forward to the next Olympics in Beijing. By that time, she will be the woman to watch.
Shooter Jethro Dionisio had a good start but faded in the end to finish 32nd of 35 entries in trap shooting, an event he picked up only four years ago after making his mark as former world champion with the pistol in practical shooting.
Swimming produced mediocre results, except for the Philippine record performances of Miguel Molina and Jaclyn Pangilinan. However, officials, including former Olympic swimmer and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Eric Buhain see the six-man team as the nucleus of the Philippine team that will campaign in next year's Southeast Asian Games.
Buhain said the Olympic exposure was a "coming out party" for the youthful and ''blooming" Philippine team to the SEA Games next year.
The six Filipino swimmers entered have an average age of 19 and a half years.
''It's going to be a powerhouse team," said Buhain as swimming competitions ended.
Harvard-bound Fil-Am swimmer Jaclyn Pangilinan accounted for two national records, clocking 1:12:47 in the women's 100 -meter breaststroke and 2:33.38 in the 200m breaststroke. The 19-year old New Jersey-based daughter of a Filipino father and a Syrian mother owned the two old records, which were slower than her personal bests.
The 20-year old Molina timed 2:19.19 in the men's 200 breaststroke to sink the 12-year old record of Lee Concepcion of 2:20.37.
Raphael "Timmy" Chua and another Fil-Am, James Bernard Walsh, fared badly in their only events, the 100m breaststroke and the 200m butterfly, respectively.
Most disappointed was Miguel Menodza, who closed out the Philippine participation in Olympic swimming Friday with a poor swim in the 1500 meters, where he finished dead last in his heat and dead last overall among 34 entries.
He clocked 16 minutes and 26.52 seconds - way off his personal best of 15:49.55 and the Southeast Asian Games record of 15:43.27.
"No excuses," said the 22-year old Mendoza, the only swimmer in the team with Olympic experience. ''I was feeling good until I hit the water. And then everything went wrong."
Aside from Tanamor, light welterweight Romeo Brin was the only Filipino boxer to get past the first round.
Middleweight Christopher Camat was the first to go, losing on points in his first round assignment against Russia's Gaybek Gaydarbekov on Saturday. Flyweight Violito Payla went out next, losing to Uzbekistan's Tulashboy Doniyorov on Tuesday.
Light welterweight Romeo Brin, the Philippine flag bearer during the opening ceremonies on Aug. 13, won his first fight over Patrick Bogere of Sweden on Sunday. But he crashed out Thursday night when he lost to Thailand's Manus Boonjomnong in the second round.
Left to carry the Philippine banner is the lightest of the Filipino boxers, Taņamor, who was to fight the dangerous Korean Saturday night.
''We will fight to the last man," Dayrit said.
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