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Lariba, Lacuña, Suarez kick off PH campaign

2016 Rio Olympics - Opening ceremony - Maracana - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 05/08/2016. Athletes from the Philippines (PHI) enter the stadium.               REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach  FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Philippines kicks off its campaign in the Rio Olympics on three fronts Saturday with a young table tennis player, a dedicated swimmer and a seasoned boxer hoping to provide the spark for the 13-strong delegation.

Ian Lariba, who carried the Philippine flag in Friday’s opening ceremony, will be the first Filipino athlete to see action here in Rio when she goes up a Congo’s Han Xing at 9 a.m.

Lariba, who’s ranked No. 297 in the world, will be the underdog at the Riocentro Convention Center. Her opponent is ranked No. 125.

The only thing going for Lariba is her familiarity with Xing’s game. For the past week here, Lariba and Xing have been hitting partners.

“Somehow we’ve gotten used to each other. But it will all change in the match,” said Lariba, the first table tennis player from the Philippines to get to the Olympics.

Lariba has trained hard under a South Korean coach. But since this is her first Olympics, all she needs for now is to prove that she deserves to be here.

During the opening ceremony, Lariba was cautious to strain her left hand while carrying the flag, and heeded the advice to pass it on as the delegation marched away from the spotlight.

“It was quite heavy so I gave it more effort with my right hand. We thought there would be a harness. But there was none. You to carry the weight all the way through,” she said.

Taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora, who is not seeing action until Aug. 20, ended up bearing the Philippine flag the rest of the way.

By noontime, Jessie Khing Lacuña, who’s in his second straight Olympics, competes in the 400m freestyle at the Olympic Aquatic Center.

Lacuña, being coached by Archie Lim, will race his own race, and hope for the best, that his time of 3:55:34 or anything better than that will get him far.

The 22-year-old student of Ateneo said he’s better prepared now than when he was four years ago in London.

“I’m more mentally prepared now because in London I think I got too excited,” he said.

At 6 p.m., boxer Charly Suarez climbs the ring against Great Britain’s Joseph Cordina in the preliminary rounds of the lightweight class. He’s eyeing a win that will push him two more shy of the semis and a medal finish.

“They have not fought each other,” said boxing coach Boy Velasco.

“The plan is for Charly to be the one to establish his distance and not the other way. We’ve seen Cordina fight in Doha. He’s good. But Charly is stronger than him,” said Velasco in Filipino.

While the other Pinoy athletes prepare for their own battles up ahead, Lariba, Lacuña and Suarez will carry the fight Friday.

Weightlifters Nestor Colonia (56 kg) and Hidilyn Diaz (53 kg) compete on Sunday.

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