Petecio and Obiena: Triggering a gold rush
The path that took Nesthy Petecio here was never easy. But when faced with a tough challenge or when she feels her drive is depleted, all Petecio does is scan through the photos on her phone.
“My family,” she told Inquirer’s SportsIQ before flying here, “They are my lucky charm.”
Petecio will need juiced-up motivation on Tuesday when she goes for the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics women’s boxing competition at Kokugikan Gym.
“It means a lot to me because it’s my father’s dream, and it’s also my dream,” Petecio said after making the final. “It’s not just for me. It’s for my country and the Filipinos that prayed for me.”
Her opponent for the featherweight gold medal will be Japanese standout Sena Irie, whose hometown edge will be blunted by the absence of spectators in their 12:05 p.m. (Manila time) bout, but who will be leaning on a different advantage when she tries to deny Petecio her spot in Philippine sporting history.
Irie has won two out of three previous meetings with Petecio, including a victory in the Olympic qualifiers in March last year, in Jordan, that nearly slammed the Games’ doors shut on the 29-year-old Filipino.
But Petecio managed to find a window to the Olympiad through her rankings.
“You reap what you sow,” she said. “We kept sowing and sowing in the past and we reaped [an Olympic berth].”
Petecio also lost to Irie in the 2019 ASBC Asian Confederation Boxing Championships in Thailand. Her lone victory against the 20-year-old Irie came during the 2019 world championships in Russia, where she claimed the featherweight crown.
But the stakes here are exponentially higher.
For a country that waited nearly a century to win a gold, Petecio could send the Philippines home with yet another one. And who knows? The right break here, a perfect vault there and EJ Obiena could make that three.
Obiena battles a star-filled field in the pole vault final that gets going later in the day.
“I have a shot,” Obiena said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
In a meet that has produced the finest Olympians in their discipline in history—even Cris Nievarez, who made it only to the quarterfinals of men’s single sculls here, became the most accomplished Filipino rower in the Olympiad—Obiena could cement a status as greatest ever in a field that has produced the likes of Lydia de Vega-Mercado and Elma Muros-Posadas.
None of the fabled Filipino athletics legend had ever come as close as Obiena has to a podium finish in the Olympics. But the path to the gold is daunting.
Not only will Obiena deal with the likes of world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden and reigning Olympic champ Thiago Braz of Brazil, he will also face top pole vaulters who belong to the six-meter club—like Piotr Lisek of Poland and Renaud Lavillenie of France.
Obiena’s personal best is 5.87m, which means he will need to dig deep if he wants his shot at Olympic glory to count.
The 25-year-old Obiena qualified on his final try at 5.75m, admitting he felt sluggish during the preliminary round at New Olympic Stadium.
“I have to be better,” Obiena emitted, adding he and legendary coach Vitaly Petrov will study his mistakes and prepare a better plan for the final.
In the shadows of his two illustrious Team Philippines standouts, Carlo Paalam will also try to add to the country’s medal tally.
Paalam will be a big underdog in the men’s boxing flyweight quarterfinals when he challenges Olympic and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan for a spot in the last four—and a sure bronze.
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