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TOKYO—Here’s where the gold drought ends.
This is the kind of optimism sports leaders here cherish, encouraged by the credentials borne by a Team Philippines looking to produce an Olympic champion — or two — as the Summer Games officially kick off Friday amid a restrictive environment forced by a still-raging pandemic. .
But one of the country’s bright gold mounds warns everyone against thinking that past success is enough to guarantee a gold medal here.
“This is a new game, a new tournament, a new challenge,” said Nesthy Petecio, a reigning women’s boxing world champion who had been identified as a gold source. “We still have to work hard.”
“We can’t take our records into this new fight. Your performance, your name, if I throw this at my opponent, will it get me a point? If I say I am a gold medalist in the World Championship and in the SEA (Southeast Asian) Games, does that mean I will win my next fight?” added Petecio.
Maybe not. But it’s hard to temper expectations with the kind of talent Team Philippines is bringing to the Olympic battle.
Carlos Yulo is a reigning world gymnastics champion, dominating floor exercise in 2019. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz is a silver medalist from the last Summer Games in Brazil. Pole vaulter EJ Obiena is the world’s number 6 and has won gold in several tournaments with opponents he will face here. Yuka Saso recently stomped on the world’s best golfers in the US Women’s Open a few months ago.
“We’re good for at least one gold here,” said Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) that oversees the Philippine athletes here.
Eumir Marcial and judo star Kiyomi
Watanabe will carry the flag in an opening ceremony that will be toned down. Already, spectators are banned from the stadium and only foreign dignitaries and sports officials are allowed to watch the opening.
“But it will still be memorable. Knowing Japan, there will be some big surprises,” Tolentino said.
Earlier in the day, rower Cris Nievarez will kick off the Philippines campaign at Sea Forest Waterways as he campaigns in the preliminaries of the men’s single scull.
Nievarez told the Inquirer’s SportsIQ that despite having a shot at a medal, he will do his very best to at least put his sport in the mainstream.
“By representing the Philippines, I will put my sport in the spotlight,” Nievarez said.
It wouldn’t be difficult to put the spotlight on these Games. It is already the most scrutinized edition of the Olympics in history – if only because of the unprecedented health protocols that have raised concerns among some representatives of the country.
“Before you fly to Tokyo, you will be tested three times; when you arrive you will be tested every day,” Diaz told the Inquirer. “That makes you nervous.”
But perhaps its most notable feature: Fans are not allowed into venues as the host city struggles with a spate of COVID-19 infections.
“To be honest, it’s sad,” Diaz said in Filipino. “There’s no crowd to cheer on ‘Philippines’… after a good lift.”
But it’s a trade-off that almost any athlete is willing to make for an event that’s been over a year.
“All the athletes who have qualified, we really want this to continue so we can perform. We’ll never know if we’ll be strong enough to qualify at the next Olympics,” added Diaz, a four-time Olympian. “So even if there aren’t people in the stands, it’s still an opportunity for us to show how good the Filipinos are.”
Good enough for gold? Turn chief Cynthia Carrion thinks so.
Carrion doubled her prediction of gold for Yulo, who has recovered from an injury he sustained two weeks ago while trying for a “sure-win” move.
“If he can pull that off, he’ll win 101 percent gold,” Carrion said. But Team Yulo went in a different direction, Carrion added, after Yulo’s injury.
“The coach said they won’t do it again,” Carrion said. “In addition, if he can’t execute it perfectly, he could be disqualified.
“But he’s ready. He’s really strong and he’s working really hard to win,” Carrion said.
She was talking about Yulo, yes, but she was talking about maybe every member of this Team Philippines where people see gold. INQ
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