Filipino hopes down to 10
RIO DE JANEIRO—Table netter Ian Lariba, swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna and boxer Charly Suarez careened into the ditch of defeat one after the other Saturday as the country’s already tiny contingent thinned to 10 after just the first day of action at the Rio Olympics here.
In an ominous sign that the campaign to end the Filipinos’ long Olympic medal drought faced a massive roadblock yet again, Lariba, Lacuna and Suarez fought bravely but failed to stave of elimination against some superior opposition.
Lariba, the country’s first table tennis Olympian, didn’t snag a set and yielded to Congo’s transplanted Chinese ace Han Xing, 11-7, 13-11, 11-9, 11-7, in their morning match at Riocentro Pavilion 2.
Lacuna never had a chance to give justice to his “Universality” berth (token slot awarded to a country by swimming’s international federation) on his second straight Olympics.
The 22-year-old from Pulilan, Bulacan, wound up second to last in his afternoon heat of the 400-meter freestyle event and fifth from the bottom in the 50-man field with a paltry time of 4 minutes and 1.07 seconds at the Olympic Swimming Stadium.
It was the soft-spoken, hard-driving Suarez, though, who showed the biggest fighting heart among the three Filipinos in his first-round lightweight (60 kg) bout in the evening.
The 27-year-old Davaoeño lost by a narrow 2-1 decision to Great Britain’s Joseph Cordino, 29-28, 28-29, 30-27, but not before convincing the majority of boxing fans at the Olympic arena that he was the better fighter.
“Unfortunately, we could not get the win today,” said PH chief of mission Joey Romasanta. “But we all saw them compete and fight hard.”
Suarez changed his pace and fighting stance at will to baffle his Welsh foe, the reigning European champion who enjoyed a three-inch height advantage.
The ploy reduced the zap of Cordino’s vaunted counterpunches and regaled fans who goaded the Filipino with chants of “Su-wa-rez! Su-wa-rez!”
Suarez and his corner were so convinced they had the victory sealed that he spent the last several seconds of the third and final round mocking Cordino by swaying his body from side to side.
“Binigyan ko ng konting libog ang style ko para di masyado tamaan (I boxed with more energy to make me harder to hit),” he said. “Hindi ako nagkulang sa training, stamina at aggressiveness, ang judges lang ang di kumbinsido na nanalo ako (I had the stamina and aggressiveness, but the judges saw otherwise).”
The three Filipinos’ elimination meant that only 10 of their teammates remained to shoulder the country’s fading medal ambitions.
Yet to see action are weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia, who both compete in the preliminary round on Sunday; light flyweight boxer Rogen Ladon, judoka Kodo Nakano, swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, golfer Miguel Tabuena, long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang and marathoner Mary Joy Tabal.
Both medal potentials, Diaz vies in the women’s 53 kg class while Colonia takes on the world’s finest strongmen in the 56 kg division at Riocentro-Pavilion 2 in Rio’s sprawling Olympic Park.