Olympics: Embattled PH contingent dwindles to threeBy Ted S. Melendres
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LONDON—With the flabbergasting exit of boxer Mark Anthony Barriga, only three more Filipinos remained to fight for the embattled contingent at the 30th London Olympics here.
Bicycle motocross (BMX) rider Daniel Caluag, long jumper Marestella Torres and 5,000-meter runner Rene Herrera now shoulder the hopes of a nation still dreaming of a medal at the quadrennial Games.
Barriga, fagged out at the end of what looked like a wrestling match, lost a disputed 17-16 decision to Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov in their light flyweight bout at ExCel Arena Saturday afternoon (evening in Manila) and crashed out of the Games (See story on A30).
The defeat stunned the PH delegation here and prompted boxing officials to file a protest before the tournament’s jury of appeal. Emboldened by the successful result of a similar appeal lodged by the United States boxing team against an Indian winner, the PH team sought to nullify the 2 points assessed on Barriga for ducking over what is said was insufficient caution.
The reply came back an agonizing two hours later: The jury cannot review the fight; the appeal did not have merit; the decision remained.
“This is what we get because we (PH) are still a boxing have-not,” rued Ricky Vargas, president of the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines who, along with Abap executive director Ed Picson tried in vain to decipher the cryptic jury decision.
“Only the ‘haves’ in competitions get the best from the jury.”
A PH team official, who requested not to be named, said some Aiba officials have been known to accept bribes.
“Money change hands, but we don’t do that. We don’t buy a win,” said the fuming official, shortly after the competition jury rejected the plea for a review.
Barriga looked to have victory in the bag after two rounds as he led, 9-7, when the taller Kazakh started wrestling the 5-foot Filipino to the canvas. In all, Barriga was pushed to the canvas three times in the third and final round, sapping his strength and draining his fighting adrenalin.
His second fall drew a mind-boggling 2-point deduction as Canadian referee Roland Labbe chose to turn a blind eye on Zhakypov’s dirty tactics. The Kazakh was leaning on the back of Barriga’s head with all his weight in the third minute of the third round when the referree shockingly penalized the Filipino supposedly for ducking.
“I won the fight,” said the 19-year-old from Panabo, Davao del Norte, in Filipino. “I was the victim and yet I got the penalty. The referee did not see me as I suffered there from all the pushing and the wrestling.”
The defeat of Barriga, the country’s only athlete so far to have reached the second round in these Games, left Caluag as the only Filipino from among the three athletes still to see action here with an outside chance of landing a medal.
The Filipino-American bicycle motocross ace will not race until Wednesday’s seeding run at a specially constructed 400-meter Olympic track in Stratford. He gets to finally test the track along with the rest of the elite 32-man field on Monday.
Torres eyes new mark
Torres, meanwhile, guns for a new national record and qualification to the 12-entry semifinal round when she sees action against 39 other bets from 34 countries in the women’s long jump on Tuesday at the Main Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
The 28-year-old former Asian long jump queen owns the PH record of 6.68 meters, which she set two years ago in Laos.
Smashing that leap gives her a mathematical chance of landing in the next round based on the results in Beijing 2008, where four of the 12 qualifiers posted inferior numbers.
“She has a chance if she beats her record,” said Torres’ coach Joseph Sy, who is hoping that his ward finally peaked during the last stage of their preparations in Guilford.
Long-distance runner Herrera’s 5,000m event fires off only on the eve of the Games’ Closing Ceremonies on Aug. 11.