By DING MARCELO
A stunning setback in boxing sent the Philippine Olympic team reeling on the first day of its campaign in the Rio Olympics which also saw two other Filipino athletes fail miserably in their outings on Saturday held at the Riocentro Pavillion.
Boxer Charly Suarez, fighting in the lightweight divsvion, though gave a good account of himself before dropping a close 2-1 score against Britain’s Joseph Cordina, who survived largely through a third judge who gave him the maximum 10 in each of the three rounds.
Swimmer Jessie Lacuna practically drowned in the waves of his rivals, finishing 46th among 50 swimmers in the 400m freestyle, while table tennis qualifier Ian Lariba lost 4-0 to the Congo’s naturalized Chinese player, Han Xing, in their best-of-seven encounter.
Suarez, 24, stood his ground against the taller Cordina, who also had a longer reach, but the Filipino hope could not deliver the punch, or punches, to turn the tide.
Two judges balanced each other out in the scoring with one scoring it 29-28 for Suarez, the other 28-29 for Cordina. But the third judge from Uzbekistan had Cordina winning all three rounds, giving the Briton 10 in each round and Suarez 9 per round, 30-27.
Boxing coach Nolito Velaco thought his boy had won.
“Sa tingin ko nanalo tayo,” said Velasco at the Athletes Village a couple of hours after Suarez failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
Velasco felt that Suarez did well even in the third round and was quite surprised that all three judges gave the round to the British fighter.
“Halos hindi na sumuntok sa third round ang kalaban. Pero ganyan talaga, Puwedeng manalo, puwedeng matalo,” he added.
Suarez also saw himself the winner, but accepted the decision well.
“Sa tingin ko naman panalo ako. Pero tanggap ko na. Magaling din naman yung Great Britain. Mataas at mahaba (ang kamay)” he said.
A small group of Filipinos based here in Rio de Janeiro cheered from the stands, and joined others who booed the decision.
“May mga nag-boo nga sa decision. Nakakatuwa din,” said Suarez.
Suarez’s loss was a big blow, literally, to the Philippine delegation of 13 athletes which had counted on him and his fellow pug, Rogen Ladon, to deliver an Olympic medal.
Suarez had campaigned hard, put in countless hours of training, travelled the world for experience, and got all the support he needed from the boxing association. But all these proved not enough.
With Suarez out, pressure has mounted on Ladon, who got a bye and will see action on Tuesday, Manila time, against Colombia’s Herney Martinez, who punished his Brazilian rival, Patrick Lourenco, 3-0, in their light-flyweight preliminary bout Sunday.
Needless to say, it’s a must-win situation for Ladon to keep the country’s medal hopes alive. Ladon, one of only two Filipino boxers who made it here, may be inspired by the thought that he needs just two victories to make it to the medal round, a sure bronze, while a third win would put him in the finals and a shot at a gold medal.
Meanwhile, Lariba’s first Olympic foray was forgettable. The 21-year-old from La Salle who carried the Philippine flag at the opening ceremony and the banner of being the first Filipino table tennis player to make an appearance in an Olympics, could not survive an error-filled match against the Congo’s Han Xing, a naturalized Chinese.
Lariba, a two-time UAAP MVP, had her best moments in the second game when she posted two game points at 10-8. But Xing rallied and Lariba was out of the Olympics in 33 minutes, 11-7, 13-11, 11-9, 11-7.
“There’s still some things lacking in my game. I can still feel the tension. But I will learn from this experience,” said Lariba.
If Suarez and Lariba tried to make a game of it, swimmer Lacuña was out of his league in this Olympics.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco Jr. watched Suarez compete, along withPOC officials Steve Hontiveros, Julian Camacho and Jose Romasanta, who is the chef-de-mission in this Olympics.
“Unfortunately we could not get the win today. But we all saw them compete and fight hard. We still have others in contention,” said Romasanta, expressing a very positive note despite the losses. (With additional report from POC pool reporter in Rio)