Inspiration hits Rio for Pinoy Jin Alora
RIO DE JANEIRO—Taekwondo fighter Kirstie Elaine Alora will draw strength and inspiration from her family in the gallery when she takes on Mexico’s former world and Olympic champion Maria Espinoza on Saturday at Carioca Arena 3 here.
Alora’s parents Lito and Marilou arrived in this carnival city Thursday morning from Alaska, where they are based. Her sister was scheduled to fly in later in the night to also cheer for the country’s lone entry in the taekwondo competition—the last of 13 Filipino athletes to see action in these Summer Games.
The 27-year-old fighter from Biñan, Laguna, practiced for the last time on Thursday and told her parents she is ready for the biggest match of her life, according to her coach Roberto Cruz.
Alora comes into the 67-kilogram fight the underdog to Espinoza, whose fighting style is anchored on swift, powerful kicks.
Chief of mission Joey Romasanta said the presence of Alora’s family in the gallery should boost her morale during the fight, scheduled at 10:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. Manila time).
“We have high hopes for Elaine. Preparations-wise she is ready for the fight,” said Romasanta. “We’re happy that her family will be in the arena to give her a psychological boost.”
Cruz said Alora must bring the fight to the 28-year-old Espinoza by using her speed and agility. Espinoza prevailed over the Filipino, 2-1, in the only time they fought in 2009, a year after the Mexican won the gold medal in both the world championships and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“It’s very important that Elaine makes herself a lot more mobile against Espinoza,” he said. “Tactically that should put the opponent out of her usual rhythm. Elaine is already quick, that’s her strong point.”
But speed is not the only weapon Alora needs to bring to the duel with the veteran Mexican, whose tournament results took a significant dip after the Korean martial art introduced electronic scoring several years ago.
Cruz said his ward must be quicker to adjust to any changes in the Mexican’s strategy at fight time.
“Elaine must dictate the fight’s tempo, not the other way around,” said Cruz, a bronze medalist in the world championship during his heyday.
Espinoza, reputedly one of the strongest kickers in the sport, told the Rio Olympics’ information service that her powerful style puts her “at a disadvantage” against younger fighters due to the electronic scoring system now used to decide fights.
“I have a little problem with the system,” she said. “With any touch, the sensor records points. I still believe the system is not that accurate. If you hit it too hard it does not register.”
Espinoza said she could not tell whether Alora, who belongs to the sport’s “old school” like her, has overcome the quirks of electronic scoring.
“She arrived here much earlier than she needed to,” said Romasanta. “She’s homesick but highly motivated and relaxed. Kitoy (Cruz) is looking forward to a very competitive Elaine. Anything can happen in taekwondo.”