(The author is sports editor of the Philippines Daily Inquirer)
LONDON—The chief of mission of the 11-man Philippine delegation is basically looking at only two possible sources of Philippine medals at the London Olympics here.
Manny Lopez, also the Philippine Olympic Committee vice president, said he sees just boxing’s Mark Barriga and BMX racing’s Daniel Caluag as the two athletes who could end the country’s medal drought in three Olympics.
“They have a chance and we are praying that Lady Luck also smiles on them,” said Lopez late Thursday night. “Barriga and Caluag are two gifted athletes who just could spring a surprise.”
Barriga’s first-round opponent in boxing’s light flyweight division would not be known until late Friday night (Saturday morning). Boxing official Ed Picson said his ward could have a stronger chance of progressing into the later rounds if he does not draw any of the weight category’s top three, including defending Olympic champion Zhou Ziming of China.
Incidentally, it was Barriga’s defeat to Zhou in an Olympic qualifier in Uzbekistan last year that landed the Filipino a berth in the Games. The international boxing federation, in a qualification quirk, put Barriga in the Olympics for losing to the tournament champion (Zhou).
No other Filipino boxer—man or woman—managed to nail an Olympic spot, with featherweight Charly Suarez getting closest to qualification by settling for the silver in another tournament that rewarded the gold medalist a London berth.
Caluag, the Filipino-American who reigned for four years as the United States No. 1 BMX rider, earned his spot in the Games by accumulating enough points in the international circuit. He will be handicapped, though, by his unfamiliarity with the race course.
Shunned by a secretive US team at its practice course in Chula Vista, California,
Caluag went to the Netherlands for last-minute training. He will be the last Filipino athlete to check at the Olympic Village here.
“I believe Caluag knows what to expect from his rivals,” said Lopez.
His biggest opponents will come from the British and US teams. The Americans won half of the gold medals at stake in cycling in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.