20 years after Atlanta, Onyok still pines for gold
MANSUETO “Onyok” Velasco Jr. always feels a tinge of regret each time he talks about his 1996 Atlanta Olympics stint.
With the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro kicking off in a few days, Velasco’s feeling is amplified knowing that he remains the last Filipino athlete to win a medal in the quadrennial Games.
Twenty years since Velasco went home with a silver, the boxer turned comedian still believes he was robbed of the gold medal when he lost a controversial 6-19 decision to Bulgarian Daniel Petrov Bujilov in the finals.
“I still feel bad about what happened because that was our best chance to win the gold,” Velasco, 42, told the Inquirer in Filipino.
“I wanted to win that gold so badly for the country. I did everything I could to win. I trained harder than ever. I had the best preparation. I was focused. I just couldn’t convince the judges [that I deserved the gold].”
By the time he climbed the ring against Bujilov inside Alexander Memorial Coliseum, Velasco, standing just 5-foot-1, was oozing with confidence despite giving up five inches to his Bulgarian foe, who was also the reigning European champion and had won silver in the Barcelona Olympics four years earlier.
Velasco had been the toast of his weight class with a first round stoppage of Chin-hsiu of Chinese Taipei in the first round and a stunning 15-4 victory over Yosuani Aguilera of Cuba in the next round boosting his stock.
A 20-10 win over Hamid Berhili of Morroco assured Velasco of the bronze medal, before the Filipino pummeled Spain’s Rafael Lozano, 22-10, to gain a shot at the gold.
The day he fought for the gold was just like any other day in Atlanta for Velasco. He woke up at 6 a.m. and had soup for breakfast. Although there was a contingent of Filipino officials in Atlanta, Velasco kept to himself on the day of the fight and only talking strategy with coaches Raul Fernandez Liranza, George Caliwan and Nolito Velasco, who is also his older brother. Onyok was at the arena by 1 p.m., an hour before his fight.
Velasco knew he had to close the distance with him and Bujilov so he had to attack right from the get-go. To his surprise, he was down 0-4 by the end of the first round and although managed to cut the lead, 5-7, at the end of the second, Bujilov pulled away in the third round despite the Filipino boxer being the aggressor.
“The coaches were telling me I had to go all out but although I was landing punches, he was the one scoring,” Velasco recalled.
Velasco said the decision of boxing competition officials to use thicker gloves in the finals also affected his bid.
“They (boxing officials) were concerned with the number of fights ending in knockouts. We were using 8 oz gloves until the semifinals. In the finals we used 10 oz gloves. That made a lot of difference especially for a boxer like me who relied on power,” said Velasco.
Still, Velasco returned to the Philippines to a hero’s welcome, particularly in his hometown, Bago City, Negros Occidental.
He hung up his gloves in 1997.
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