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And so it begins: The Greatest Show on Earth finally starts

Team Philippines believes that this is the year that a century-old thirst for a gold medal will be quenched
By: - Sports Editor / @ftjochoaINQ
/ 04:06 AM July 23, 2021

GOLDEN HOPES: Philippine bets seen with great gold medal chances (clockwise from center) Hidilyn Diaz, Yuka Saso, Carlos Yulo, Nesthy Petecio and EJ Obiena get going in Tokyo. —INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

TOKYO—Right here is where the gold drought ends.

This is the kind of optimism harbored by sports leaders here, emboldened by the credentials sported by a Team Philippines that seeks to produce an Olympic champion—or two—as the Summer Games officially get going on Friday amid a restrictive environment forced by a still-raging pandemic.

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But one of the country’s bright gold hopes cautions everyone from thinking that past success is enough to guarantee a gold medal here.

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“This is a new game, new tournament, new challenge,” said Nesthy Petecio, a reigning world champion in women’s boxing who had been tagged as a gold source. “We still need to work hard.”

“We can’t bring our records to this new fight. Your achievements, your name, if I throw this at my opponent, will that score me a point? If I say I’m a gold medalist in the world championship and in the SEA (Southeast Asian) Games, does that mean I’ll win my next fight?” Petecio added.

Maybe not. But it is hard to temper expectations with the kind of talent Team Philippines is bringing into the Olympic fight.

Carlos Yulo is a reigning gymnastics world champion, lording it over the floor exercise in 2019. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz is a silver medalist from the last Summer Games in Brazil. Pole vaulter EJ Obiena is No. 6 in the world and has won golds in various tournaments featuring opponents he will face here. Yuka Saso recently stomped on the world’s best golfers in the US Women’s Open a few months back.

“We’re good for at least one gold here,” said Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president overseeing the Filipino athletes here.

Eumir Marcial and judo star Kiyomi

Watanabe will carry the flag in an opening ceremony that will be watered down. Already, spectators will be banned from the stadium and only foreign dignitaries and sports officials will be allowed to watch the opening.

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“But it’s still going to be memorable. Knowing Japan, there will be some big surprises,” said Tolentino.

Earlier in the day, rower Cris Nievarez will kick off the Philippines’ campaign at Sea Forest Waterways when he campaigns in the men’s single sculls preliminaries.

Nievarez told the Inquirer’s SportsIQ that despite him being a long shot for a medal, he will give his very best to, at the very least, put his sport in the mainstream discussion.

“By representing the Philippines, I will put my sport in the limelight,” Nievarez said.

Putting these Games in the limelight would not be difficult. Already, it is the most scrutinized edition of the Olympics in history—if only for unprecedented health protocols that have caused anxiety for some of the country’s representatives.

“Before you fly to Tokyo, you get tested three times; when you arrive, you get tested every day,” Diaz told the Inquirer. “You get anxious over that.”

But perhaps the most striking feature: No fans will be allowed in venues as the host city grapples with surges of COVID-19 infections.

“To be honest, it’s sad,” Diaz said in Filipino. “There’s no audience to cheer ‘Philippines’ … after a good lift.”

But its a trade-off almost every athlete is willing to make for an event already set back for a year.

“All athletes who qualified, we really want this to push through so we can perform. We’ll never know if in the next Olympics, we will still be strong enough to qualify,” added Diaz, a four-time Olympian. “So even if there are no people in the stands, it’s still a chance for us to show how good the Filipinos are.”

Good enough for gold? Gymnastics chief Cynthia Carrion certainly thinks so.

Carrion doubled down on her prediction of a gold for Yulo, who has recovered from an injury that he suffered two weeks ago while trying for a “sure-win” move.

“If he could pull that off, 101 percent he’ll win gold,” Carrion said. But Team Yulo went a different direction, Carrion added, after Yulo’s injury.

“The coach said they won’t do it anymore,” Carrion said. “Besides, if he can’t perform it perfectly, he might be disqualified.

“But he’s ready. He’s really strong and he’s working very hard to win,” Carrion said.

She was talking about Yulo, yes, but she might have been speaking of every member of this Team Philippines that has people seeing gold.

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TAGS: Olympics, PH Tokyo 2020, Sports
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