RIO DE JANEIRO – Kirstie Elaine Alora, the country’s lone taekwondo bet in the Rio Olympics, can’t find a better coach than Roberto “Kitoy” Cruz.
The 26-year-old Alora is hoping to deliver a medal for the Philippines in the women’s +67 kg weight class, which gets going on Aug. 20.
It’s not going to be easy.
Assisting her in this Olympic journey, which begins with an early clash with 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico, is Cruz, the finest taekwondo athlete the Philippines has ever produced.
Cruz, now 43, represented the Philippines in various international competitions in the ‘90s, and delivered the medals no one else could.
As a finweight, Cruz won the gold in the SEA Games six straight times from 1991 to 2001, and had three silver and two bronze medals in the World Championships.
In the Asian Championships, Cruz won the bronze, silver and gold during a five-year stretch starting in 1994. He also has two bronze medals from the World Cup.
Cruz said Alora has what it takes to win a medal at any stage. But again, nothing will come easy when you’re up against the world best.
“The pressure is there,” said Cruz.
“But as long as she gives her best and stays focused, then she has a chance,” the taekwondo guru said of Alora, a two-time bronze medalist in the Asian Games.
Cruz said Alora, who normally gives away an inch or two in height against her rivals, makes it up with a big heart.
“Likas na matapang (She’s pure heart),” said the coach.
The early clash with Espinoza, who also won the bronze in the 2012 London Olympics, should give Alora the early chance to prove her worth in the Olympic level.
“Basta laban lang (As long as we fight). Get through her (Espinoza) early on. That’s the mission anyway,” said Cruz.