Taekwondo jin Alora caps Filipinos’ campaign in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO—Kirstie Elaine Alora brings to a close the country’s drought-snapping performance at the Rio Olympics here Saturday morning (Saturday night in Manila) as she clashes with Mexican taekwondo icon Maria Espinoza at Carioca Arena.
The 26-year-old Alora comes into the much-anticipated heavyweight (+64 kilograms) tussle the decided underdog, having lost to the former world and Beijing Olympics champion, 2-1, in the only time they clashed, back in 2009.
The fight kicks off at 9:30 p.m. (Manila time).
Whatever the result of the much-anticipated fight, the 13-athlete Philippine contingent had already accomplished what it came here for—end an alarming Olympic futility with a medal.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz made sure of that on the fourth day of the 207-nation Games by nailing the silver in the 53 kg class and winning the heart of a nation that had waited two decades to toast a new Olympic hero.
Alora could seal the country’s best Olympic performance ever with a second medal, but the prospect seemed as formidable as it looked on paper in a taekwondo division teeming with taller, more experienced fighters.
Espinoza is treated as a national heroine in Mexico, one of the only two women from her country to win an Olympic gold medal.
The world No. 1-ranked female heavyweight battled the last of the original 13 Filipino athletes in these Summer Games, one who had toiled for nearly a month here with her coach in hopes of bagging the country’s first Olympic medal in her sport.
On the eve of the match, Alora told Filipino reporters she was ready for the “toughest fight” of her life.
“I’m very confident that I can do my best to deliver a medal,” said the 5-foot-8, 175-pound fighter from Binan, Laguna, who arrived here as early as July 23, a good eight days before the Games’ opening ceremonies. “I just want to fight and perform well.”
Coach Roberto Cruz had said Alora would have to fight a lot quicker to have a better chance against Espinoza, reputedly one of her sport’s most powerful kickers but one who frowned on the sport’s electronic scoring system which she described as inaccurate.
“I have a little problem with the system,” Espinoza told the Olympic information service. “With any touch, the sensor records points. If you hit it too hard it does not register.”
Alora, a two-time bronze medalist in the Asian Games, said she had seen many of Espinoza’s fight videos and believed she had a chance.
“I know how she moves,” she said. “We have prepared several moves of our own to counter her.”
Chief of mission Joey Romasanta said a medal from Alora would already be a bonus. Together with Diaz’s silver, the seemingly meager harvest would still better the country’s three-medal feat in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
In the only Olympic Games where the Philippines won more than one medal, high jumper Simeon Toribio, bantamweight boxer Jose Villanueva and 200-meter breaststroke swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso bagged a bronze each.
A defeat to Espinoza, however, would not automatically knock Alora out of the competition. Under the sport’s compassionate system of progression called repechage, first-round losers stayed alive for the bronze-medal fight provided the winning fighter moved all the way to the finals.
Alora needed to win her first two fights to contend for the bronze medal, three wins to seize a finals berth.
Ironically, it would be easier for the 5-foot-8 College of Saint Benilde graduate to clinch a spot in the finals with three straight victories rather than reach the bronze-medal phase and then string up at least two more wins. Cruz said that, in the latter case, Alora would dispute the bronze with any two of the four 6-footers from the much-taller upper half of the draw.
Espinoza also stands at 5-8.
Alora’s fight came three days after long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang and hurdler Eric Cray fell short of the finals in their respective events at Olympic Stadium.
Cray came as far as the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles but the three-time Olympian Sunang, hampered by a left hip injury she sustained in the warmups, missed a berth in the final 12 of long jump by 31 centimeters.
Apart from Diaz, Cray, Sunang and Alora, the other Filipino campaigners here who have gone back to Manila or the United States were swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna, judoka Kodo Nakano, table netter Ian Lariba, boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez, golfer Miguel Tabuena, weightlifter Renato Colonia and marathoner Mary Joy Tabal.
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