Lariba’s training pal now her first Rio foe
RIO DE JANEIRO–Flag-bearer and Olympic first-timer Ian Lariba opens the country’s bid in the 31st Summer Games on Saturday as she clashes with a crafty Congolese born to Chinese parents in the table tennis preliminaries at Riocentro Pavilion in Olympic Park here.
The 21-year-old four-time UAAP Athlete of the Year sets out as the underdog against the world No. 125 Han Xing in a sport which has been ruled with an iron hand by China’s collection of female stars for decades.
Lariba ranks No. 297 and admittedly needs to play at her best to hurdle Han, the 2015 African Championships singles and doubles finalist from Brazzaville who, ironically, has been the Filipino champion’s training partner in the past several days.
“Small world, siya ang ka-sparring ko,” said Lariba, who is originally from Cagayan de Oro. “It’s OK having her as my training partner but in the actual match, everything will change.”
It helped the country’s cause a bit that a kink in rostering now pits Lariba against Han, instead of the 15-year-old Adriana Diaz, her higher-ranked (No. 80) original opponent from Puerto Rico. In any case, the change didn’t ruffle the first-ever Filipino table tennis Olympian.
“Either (the entry list) was reshuffled or there was a system error when the previous draw came out,” said Lariba, who is coached by Korean Kwon Mi-sook. “It’s fine with me because it’s beyond my control.
“Gagawin ko lahat (I’ll do my best). There’s no backing out. Anywhere you go, it will always be a fight to the death.”
The De La Salle University financial institution management senior made the Olympic draw by nailing one of four slots staked in the Asian qualifiers in Hong Kong early this year.
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