Petecio tries to turn bronze into next valuable medal; Obiena makes his debut
There is a certain afterglow wrapped around Team Philippines, which can now strut into future Olympics with a gold medal. That doesn’t mean though that the chase for Summer Games glory has ended here.
With her fists, Nesthy Petecio can add polish to history. And there’s no telling what EJ Obiena could do with a foot.
Petecio will gun for at least a silver medal when she returns to the ring against Italy’s Irma Testa in the semifinals of the women’s boxing featherweight class on Saturday at Kokugikan Arena. And Testa is quite the big obstacle. The Italian slugger, who fought as a lightweight in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil, is six inches taller than Petecio at 5-foot-8 and will bring her 60-kilogram power to a lower division.
“We have a game plan for the next fight,” said Don Abnett, the boxing team’s Australian coach, who will base a lot of their semifinal strategy from Petecio’s fight against world No. 1 Lin Yu-Ting of Taipei.
“The Italian girl [used to weigh] 60kgs,” Abnett said. “She’s similar to the Taipei girl but she hooks and sways back. So we’re gonna take a counteract move, but I’m comfortable with Nesthy’s performance.”
Against Lin, Petecio made the most out of her ability to shift stances seamlessly to befuddle the top-ranked Taiwanese. Her versatility has been on showcase here, allowing the coaching staff, which is taking a very cerebral approach to winning, to craft different strategies for Petecio.
“I’m just going to stick to the plan and do what the coaches will ask me to do,” said Petecio—who barged into the semifinals by dominating Colombia’s Yeni Marcela Arias Castañeda—in Filipino. “They’re the ones who study my fights and tell me what to do, train me.”
Obiena, meanwhile, makes his debut here and battles 29 other top pole vaulters in the world for one of 12 tickets to the finals.
Obiena’s personal best is listed at 5.87 meters, about a foot shorter than the world record owned by Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis at 6.18m. No one expects Obiena to cover that difference in the Olympics, but he certainly is within sniffing distance of a podium finish.
“I know I can jump 6.0 meters,” said Obiena via Zoom. “I’m not sure how I got it dialed in. I’ve seen how well I can jump, and I’ve seen what I’m capable of, and [I just have to] make sure that I bring that in the game.”
While oddsmakers have pegged Duplantis as the sure bet for a gold, the next two podium spaces have suddenly opened up with world No. 2 Sam Kendricks of the United States scratched off the start list due to COVID-19.
Legit medal chance
Regardless of who is present and who is not, Obiena’s rise to No. 6 in the world after extensive training in Italy has turned him into a legitimate threat for a podium finish.
“I have a shot,” said the 25-year-old Obiena, later saying that having competed and fared well against them in Europe is a big plus: “It showed that I can compete with the best. It was like a preview. They are the top athletes in the world rankings. That showed me that I can compete. And, now it’s a mental game.”
Boxer Carlo Paalam will try to create his own chance also on Saturday when he battles a highly experienced Algeria’s Mohamed Flissi for a quarterfinal berth in the men’s flyweight division.
“Carlo’s opponent is … boxing in the WSB (World Series of Boxing),” said Abnett. “But Carlo’s gonna get moving, similar to the game plan that he did in his last fight, he probably will just continue with that. If it’s working, then we won’t change it.”
Picking the team up
Petecio and Paalam are also trying to get the boxing team back on track after Irish Magno crashed out of the medal hunt on Thursday. Magno’s exit left Petecio, Paalam and highly-rated middleweight Eumir Marcial carrying the medal fight for boxing.
“We suffered a setback yesterday, but that’s sports,” said boxing chief Ricky Vargas in a statement. “We’re back to a positive, winning attitude especially because we got reports from our coaches that both Nesthy and Carlo are itching to get back in the ring and are both in high spirits.”
“We’re confident they’ll do well and we join the entire country in praying for their continued success,” Vargas added.
There are fears that an assured bronze medal—which comes with cash incentives worth at least P6 million, will dull Petecio’s drive in the semifinals. But the team’s sports psychologist, Marcus Manalo, said that won’t happen.
“We actually don’t want to pay attention to the results, incentives, etc,” Manalo said. “We know they’re there and will enter our mind once in a while but it’s important to focus on the process and then the medal will take care of itself.
For Nesthy, the focus is not on the medal that she will get but it’s about executing the fight plan.”
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