Nesthy bundles world No. 1 and takes away one big hurdle on way to gold
TOKYO—The coaches called it a game of cat and mouse. And in that short but crucial stretch between the halfway mark of the final round and the last 10 seconds, Nesthy Petecio played it to perfection against a formidable foe in the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.
The unflappable flyweight, caught in a thriller of a match, caught Taiwanese Lin Yu-Ting with a couple of big shots in that short span, and—after being cued by her corner—had the sense to stay away from trouble the rest of the way to emerge a 3-2 split decision winner at Kokukigan Arena here.
“She couldn’t hit me with a clear shot so I knew I was ahead,” Petecio said about the final 10 seconds of the match. “That’s why I ran away [from trouble].”
“Coach Boy [Velasco] told me we were ahead and told me to just protect that advantage.”
For one breath-pausing moment after both fighters were called into the ring, there was uncertainty whether the ploy worked.
But then the decision came: Petecio had advanced to the quarterfinals, where she faces Colombia’s Yeni Marcela Arias Castaneda, and moved to within a win of a bronze medal.
“She stuck to the tactics, without overcommitting,” said coach Don Abnett. “[She was] getting into her punching range, getting her opponent to lead off and then catch her with one or two punches or combinations.”
And part of the plan was to befuddle Lin by switching stances a lot during the match. Petecio rode that strategy to a strong start, hogging the advantage in four of five judges’ cards.
“Whatever stance I used to get a hit, I’d stick with it,” Petecio said. “If she figured me out, I would switch again to confuse her.”
The Taiwanese world No. 1 did unlock Petecio’s puzzle in the second, squaring the match going into the third. And for the first half of that last round, it seemed that Lin had seized the reins of the match. But in the waning moments, all that guesswork Petecio made Lin do came into play. Not knowing from what angle to defend because of Petecio’s frequent stance-shifting, Lin left herself open to a crisp combination that may have very well decided the outcome.
“[Lin] was waiting on her to overcommit on her punches she’s notorious for, to make her opponent miss. But she never comes into your punching range and uses her range very well,” said Abnett.
“So Nesthy played a cat-and-mouse game so it was really good and it paid off,” he added.
The Southeast Asian Games champ resisted the lure of overreaching to cover the distance Lin wedged between them, using her height and reach advantage—the 5-foot-7 Taiwanese was almost a head taller than the compact Petecio—and left the world No. 1 befuddled on the ring and in tears outside of it.
“Because of the [coronavirus] and because I missed the Rio Olympics, I prepared for this for five years,” Lin said, speaking through an interpreter.
“She [Petecio] made much more effort than me and I could not take my chances, so I can only blame myself,” she added, her voice slightly cracking.
The bout was so close that Lin, who did her “research on [Petecio],” had held on to the thin film of hope that she had done enough to advance.
But the closeness of the score offered little reprieve for the end of a dream.
“Regardless of the score, it’s all about my effort. Even if I won today, it’s not about the score, it’s about my effort,” Lin said.
By taking out the top ranked woman in her division, Petecio also seemed to have greased her path to the gold.
But she is not looking that far ahead.
“Let’s take this step by step,” she said. INQ
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