Petecio, Obiena get chances to shoot for gold in their events
TOKYO — A final, pressure-heavy vault that unnerved even a legendary coach. A deciding round that ended with the opponent managing to sneak in a combination that had everyone caught in a tense pause.
Surely, there are much better, less heart-stressing ways to get into an Olympic final, right?
Then again, what more can a country ask for from its unflappable national athletes?
“I made it to the final,” a relieved and laughing EJ Obiena said on Saturday. “That’s good.”
Obiena and Nesthy Petecio both chose dramatic ways to get into the battle for the gold.
Petecio, assured of a silver medal already, needed an abrupt change of strategy after a disastrous first round and defeated Italy’s Irma Testa in the semifinals of the women’s boxing featherweight division on Saturday at Kokugikan Arena.
“It means a lot to me because it’s my father’s dream, and it’s also my dream,” Petecio told a handful of international journalists after the match. “It’s not just for me. It’s for my country and the Filipinos that prayed for me.”
For a country that, prior to this year’s staging, hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal since 1924, the Philippines has a shot at walking off these Games with more than one.
Hidilyn Diaz bagged the breakthrough gold when she ruled the 55-kilogram division of women’s weightlifting earlier and Petecio will get a shot to follow up on that.
The 29-year-old fighter from Davao faces Japanese Sena Irie, who eked out a close 3-2 split decision against Karriss Artingstall of Great Britain.
While going up against a hometown bet certainly isn’t the most ideal of situations, it doesn’t compare to what Obiena will have to overcome to emerge triumphant. Obiena will battle 12 of the best pole vaulters in the world on Tuesday, a field that includes world record holder Mondo Duplantis of Sweden, the hands-down favorite in the event.
And there’ll be a lot of fine-tuning within the Obiena camp after the University of Santo Tomas standout needed one final leap to join the gold-hunting fray.
“That made us very nervous,” said Obiena’s dad, Emerson, who, along with legendary coach Vitaly Petrov gestured to the rest of the team exaggerated sighs of relief.
Later, Petrov seemed to have collected himself.
“We’ll return here in three days for the finals,” he said.
He’s going to have a chat with Obiena, though. And the world No. 6 believes that chat will be a little interesting.
“He’s going to be killing me right now,” Obiena said. “I made a lot of mistakes.”
Not as many mistakes as Juvic Pagunsan, though.
A longshot for a podium finish here, Pagunsan continued throwing away the gains of a promising start, this time tossing his chances so far out he fell out of contention for a medal at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
With just one more round on Sunday, all Pagunsan can do now is try to improve his finish in his first stint in the Summer Games.
With Pagunsan out, Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan will shoulder golf’s golden hopes in the Olympics.
After losing on all judges’ scorecards in the first round, Petecio turned it all around with a scintillating display of firepower and a multioptional strategy that deflated Testa.
Petecio’s bombs had Testa second-guessing a lot in the last two rounds.
“As soon as [Testa] started hesitating, she was in trouble,” coach Don Abnett said.
Then came the pulsating third round. In an either-or battle that Petecio seemed to have a slight edge in, Testa managed to find a final fight inside of her and tagged the Filipino with a combination as she was coming in.
Luckily, it wasn’t enough to turn the tables around.
Obiena, however, hopes he can turn things around for the sake of his medal hopes. After easily clearing the first two qualifying leaps, Obiena missed his first try at 5.75 meters. On his second try, he never even got to take off.
“Brain freeze,” he called it, changing it to a harsher, unprintable expletive later.
But with everything on the line, Obiena cleared the bar on his last try, with a lot of space to spare. Meanwhile, Eumir Marcial faces Armenia’s Arman Darchinyan in the men’s boxing middleweight quarterfinals on Sunday, with a victory assuring the highly-rated Filipino of a bronze medal.
Carlo Paalam, on the other hand, also made it to the quarterfinals of the men’s flyweight division, hammering out a smashingly dominant victory over Mohamed Flissi of Algeria.
With an aggressive attack that left Flissi helpless, Paalam forged a unanimous decision triumph.