Olympic debutant Lariba bows out in straight sets
RIO DE JANEIRO—Faced with the biggest match of her life in her sport’s most important stage, Ian Lariba thought she could handle the pressure.
Her mind did; her body could not.
Lariba, the country’s first table tennis Olympian, played with an uncooperative wrist and bowed to Congo’s Han Xing in straight sets, 11-7, 13-11, 11-9, 11-7, Saturday morning at the 31st Summer Games here.
“I could feel some tension in my shots, like I was pulling them back a bit especially during the crucial stretches,” said the 21-year-old four-time UAAP Most Valuable Player in Filipino.
She fought Han tooth and nail right up to the late points of all four sets but was no match to the finishing poise of the Congo-born daughter of Chinese parents from Brazaville.
The defeat eliminated Lariba from the competition, where she was ranked second from the bottom at the start of the tournament, being the world’s No. 200.
“I managed to get the scores close in each set, but somehow I was unable to follow through,” she lamented, tears welling in her eyes.
Han reaped the dividends of her four-month pre-Olympic training in the land of her parents’ birth where she practiced with top Chinese players.
She won crucial points off on-the-table smashes and clearly was the more experienced player.
But Lariba surprised Han with an unorthodox defense and dragged each set to its decisive conclusion before yielding.
“I will bring this experience home with me,” said Lariba, originally from Cagayan de Oro who qualified here through the Asian Olympic qualification in Hong Kong several months ago.
Chief of mission Joey Romasanta watched the match, the first involving a Filipino athlete in this Olympics, at Riocentro-Pavilion 3, and could only shake his head at the result.
“Ian showed her fighting heart but in this kind of competition you also need a bit of luck in the crucial points,” he said. “Obviously, the Congolese had everything going for her.”
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