By TITO S. TALAO
TOKYO — After months of intense training and campaigning to qualify for the 2020 Summer Games, the best pointers three of four Olympic-bound Philippine boxers could ever have in their corner was saved for last — a Viber call from Atlanta Olympics silver medalist Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco, just before they left Bangkok late Saturday.
“Kinausap sila isa-isa ni Onyok bago kami lumipad pa-Japan, binigyan sila ng encouragement,” said national coach and 1996 Atlanta Olympics veteran Reynaldo Galido early Monday, referring to Nesthy Petecio (57kgs), Carlo Paalam (52kgs) and Irish Magno (51kgs), who have been training extensively at a camp in Thailand for the past four months.
“Binigyan sila ni Velasco ng advice. Malaking bagay yon sa kumpiyansa ng mga bata.”
The country’s fourth boxer, Eumir Felix Marcial (75kgs), flew to Tokyo with head coach Ronald Chavez straight from Colorado Springs where the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines, under federation president Ricky Vargas, sent the Zamboanga fighter to the US Olympic Training Center from Dubai in early June to complete his preparation for the Games.
The diminutive Velasco knew what Olympic competition is all about, having made it all the way to the final of the 48kgs final before running into a rangy Bulgarian named Daniel Petrov, who would extend for an undetermined period of time the country’s quest for its first gold medal in the Olympics.
It has been 25 years since, and now four Filipino boxers are about to trace the steps taken by Velasco, and by featherweight Anthony Villanueva, who settled for the Philippines’ first silver medal in the 1964 Olympic Games, ironically, here in Tokyo.
Most of what Velasco told the three national boxers is privileged information . But what Galido and fellow ABAP coach and two-time SEA Games silver medalist Elmer Pamisa had drilled into them for the longest of times is for the record.
“Pag malaking competition gaya ng Olympics, yung first fight talaga ang mahalaga,” said Galido, 46, a native of Bago City in Negros Occidental, who handles ABAP’s women’s team.
“Pag natalo ka, wala nang bukas. Pag nanalo ka naman, ayahay, kumpiyansa ka na agad. Kaya kailangan ituring nilang parang final yung first fight.”
Galido should know.
As the No. 2 ranked boxer in the tournament in Atlanta, Galido suffered the misfortune of drawing the top-ranked fighter in the Olympics, a strongly-built fellow from Germany, for his first fight, and narrowly lost 15-10.
For his part, Pamisa, 46, a SEAG campaigner in 1997 in Jakarta and 1999 in Brunei Darussalam, has been keeping a close watch on Paalam, a fellow Cagayan de Oro native, ever since the emerging amateur stalwart was 11 years old.
“Maganda ang naging preparation ng mga boxers natin, kasama na si Paalam,” said Pamisa, who helps handle the men’s boxing team.
Women’s featherweight bet Petecio, a gold medalist in the 2019 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championship, is scheduled to raise the curtain for ABAP bets on July 24 at the Kokugikan Arena.
Magno, who qualified after winning the women’s flyweight division (52kgs) box-off against a Tajikistan fighter at the Asia Oceania Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Amman, Jordan in 2020, follows on July 25 in women’s flyweight.
On July 26, Paalam, bronze medalist in the 2018 Indonesia Asian Games, makes his debut in the men’s flyweight class, while men’s middleweight favorite Marcial rumbles up the ring later in the day.