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Lariba in tough Rio debut

RIO DE JANEIRO – Ian Lariba of table tennis, one of four Filipino athletes seeing action the day after the Aug. 5 opening ceremony, has drawn a Puerto Rican who’s younger and ranked higher for her opening match at the Riocentro Convention Center here.

Lariba, a soft-spoken 21-year-old student of De La Salle University, will be pitted against Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz in the opening day of the table tennis competition that features 86 athletes each in the men’s and women’s divisions.

The Puerto Rican, who’s only 15, is ranked No. 80 in the world while Lariba is at No. 297. Their match in the preliminary round is set as 12 noon.

Winners in the preliminaries will move on to the next rounds heading to the round-of-32 where the seeded players are eagerly waiting. For those outside the top 32, it’s like going through the eye of the needle.

Lariba got hold of a copy of the draw Friday morning, and immediately, her South Korean coach, Mi Sook Kwon, had started gathering data on her Puerto Rican opponent, a veteran of the 2014 and 2016 World Championships.

Diaz is ranked 9th among the world’s top 20 junior players (aged 18 and below). Like Lariba, she is the first athlete to represent her country in the table tennis competitions of the Summer Olympics.

“I’ve seen her play although I haven’t played her. She’s younger but has more experience in international tournaments. She joins the World Tour. She is right-handed,” said Lariba before her training session Friday.

“She’s more active than me when it comes to international tournaments,” said Lariba, who hasn’t missed a day of practice since the Philippine delegation arrived here Sunday afternoon.

Lariba said in the coming days, she and her coach, a silver medalist in the 1999 World Championships, will study more of Diaz.

“We will see more of her on the Internet. But I’ve seen her play. We’re now studying her game,” said Lariba, who started playing table tennis when she was nine years old, as a young student at Corpus Christian in Cagayan de Oro.

The three other Pinoy athletes seeing action on Aug. 6 are swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna in the men’s 400-m freestyle and boxers Rogen Ladon in the light-flyweight 949 kg) and lightweight (60 kg) divisions.

Lacuna has been training twice a day here along with Jasmine Alkhaldi, who is entered in the women’s 100-m freestyle.

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