Caluag ends PH gold drought
INCHEON, South Korea—For flag and country, for the people who braved the noontime sun and cheered for him from the stands here and for his wife and newborn baby at home—all that inspiration balled into a tightly clenched fist that Daniel Caluag pumped as he looked at the stands a split second before crossing the finish line yesterday.
The wait for the gold at the 17th Asian Games was over, delivered in dominating fashion by a soft-spoken biker who never trailed in ruling cycling’s BMX event at Ganghwa Asiad BMX Track here.
“It’s fantastic,” said the 27-year-old biker. “This is for the country. This is for my baby and my wife.”
The gold was the first for the country in this meet. The Philippines had endured 13 days of rough patches, of its beloved basketball squad going through a torturous test that saw it plunging to its worst finish ever, and of having to be content with finding solace in a slew of silver and bronze medals before Caluag finally broke through.
The result did not exactly create a seismic shift in the Asiad standings, but the Philippine collection was far better than it was before Caluag’s win: The medal count now stands at 1-2-5 (gold-silver-bronze).
“It’s always good to be able to win and show that Filipinos can do it in the world stage,” Caluag said. “I’m glad to have won the first gold for our country and I hope there’s more to come from our boxers and the other sports.”
That might take a little work.
Just across the street from the bike track where Caluag rode to victory, taekwondo managed to squeeze out a bronze medal—the third from the team after two days of competition but saw two other bets crash Wednesday at Gwangha Dolmens Gymnasium.
Boxing? It will put all four remaining bets still in the hunt on the block Thursday at Seonhak Gymnasium as they face separate semifinal foes in a bid to assure themselves of at least a silver medal.
Charly Suarez battles Obada Mohammad Mustafa Alkasbeh of Jordan for a spot in the lightweight final, Mario Fernandez takes on China’s Zhang Jiawei for a chance to shoot for the gold in the bantamweight class while Wilfredo Lopez battles Odai Riyad Adel Alhindawi of Jordan in the middleweight semifinals.
Mark Anthony Barriga, however, faces the toughest task as he seeks a finals slot in the light fly division against hometown bet Shin Jong-hun. The Asiad has already provided a cautionary tale for the Filipinos: Late Tuesday night, an Indian female boxer virtually beat up her Korean foe but still lost in the eyes of the judges.
Taekwondo’s latest bronze medal came from Mary Anjelay Pelaez, who beat Myanmar’s Nway Nway, 3-0, in the quarterfinals of the women’s -46kg class. But she lost in her bid to make it to the semifinal when she dropped a lopsided 14-2 decision to Korean bet Kim Sohui.
Al Christian dela Cruz looked on his way to booking a semifinal berth and a sure bronze medal but Uzbekistan’s Maksim Rafalovich scored to the head going into the end of the bout and held on for a 10-9 quarterfinal win that sent off the Filipino. Pauline Lopez, moving up in weight to -57kg in the women’s class to replace the injured Jade Zafra, lost to China’s Wang Yun in her opening bout.
In rugby, the Philippine Volcanoes scored a 59-0 victory over Pakistan but lost in the quarterfinals to Hong Kong, 21-0, at Namdong Asiad Rugby field.
In wrestling, Jason Balabal defeated Ibrahim Hanini of Palestine, 4-0, in their 85kg bout but lost to Azat Beishebekov of Kyrgyztan, 4-1, in the quarterfinal stage at Dowon Gymnasium.
At Songdo LNG Baseball Stadium, China hammered out a 3-0 victory that ended the Philippine Blu Girls’ hopes for a medal here.
Gilas Pilipinas, meanwhile, scored an 84-68 win over Mongolia at Hwaseong Sports Complex gymnasium to seal its worst Asiad finish of seventh.
It was understandable to overlook those losses after Caluag’s golden feat.
The California-born rider had to endure criticisms of his no-show in UCI-sanctioned races going into the Asian Games and also had to leave his family just two days after his daughter, Sydney Isabella, was born.
“It was hard to leave just two days after my baby was born, but this was something I had to do for the country and for my baby, too,” Caluag said.
Caluag set the tone straight right during the seeding run which he topped in 35.489 seconds.
“That allowed me to choose my lane,” Caluag said. “I went for the outside lane first knowing I would have inside position in the other events. Me and my coach talked about it and we came in here and executed all the plan in all three events.”
Caluag took the first final heat over Japanese Masahiro Sampei, CJ Caluag, Daniel’s brother, finishing third. Under the format of the final, riders race three heats with the top rider earning one point, the second earning two, and so on. The rider with the fewest points wins the gold.
CJ remained in medal position despite finishing fourth behind Daniel, Sampei and with China’s Zhu Yan in the second heat. But in the third heat, Zhu managed to slip past CJ as Sampei pulled a defensive move in what seemed to be an attempt to cement the silver medal.
“It was unfortunate my brother missed out on the bronze,” Caluag said. “But we trained really hard and with the support of the PSC and PhilCycling, we came here and we conquered.”
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