Philippines’ best hope loses-A A +A
Sunday, August 5, 2012
MANILA – Mark Anthony Barriga was three minutes away from making what no Pinoy Olympian has done since 1996, qualifying to the quarterfinal round in boxing, when disaster struck.
Barriga, nursing a 10-8 lead going into the third round, had two deductions and eventually lost, 17-16, to former sparring partner Birzhan Zhakypov and the country’s best hope to end its medal drought since the 1996 Olympics is headed home.
A smiling Barriga walked into the stadium and started aggressively against the taller Zhakypov but despite getting a few body shots, the first round ended with the Filipino trailing, 5-4.
In the second round, Barriga finally got the measure of his foe and connected with a few head shots for a 6-3 score and a precarious 10-8 lead. In the third, Barriga seemed content in protecting the lead and that prove costly against the aggressive Kazakh, who got a break when Barriga was penalized.
With 30 seconds to go, Barriga seemed spent and the sting of his punches was gone, and at one point, he was hunched over in the corner after a break. Both fighters fell to the mat again in the final seconds and got deducted a point each.
Zhakypov will now face China’s Zou Shiming, who beat Cuba’s Veitia Soto, in the quarterfinals.
With Barriga gone, the country’s Olympians who are still in contention are Marestella Torres in the long jump and Rene Herrera in the 5,000-meter race and Daniel Caluag of BMX.
Of the three, Caluag has the best chances of a surprise medal, as the 25-year-old Filipino American has four No. 1 titles in the American Bicycle Association and is also the 2012 Asian BMX champion.
Caluag, whose parents hail from Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, also trained in the Netherlands and Canada.
Meanwhile, it was only a morning 400-meter heat but Oscar Pistorius took a giant stride into Olympic history just by starting Saturday, becoming the first double-amputee runner to compete.
If there was any other morning event to match that for anticipation it was the 100 meters, with Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake both cruising through to take the biggest duel of the games into the semifinals.
Even if he coasted to victory in 10.09, the starting problems for defending champion Bolt were there for all to see again. Stuttering the first steps, he had to catch up four sprinters before he could relax and look left to see if he was clear for first place.
“I made a bad step and stumbled a little bit,” Bolt explained. Nothing major, according to him.
With none of the hoopla that accompanied Bolt’s entry, world champion Blake just ran a standard strong race — out quick and easing at the finish — to beat Bolt’s time with 10.00.
None of it, though, had the significance of Pistorius’s opening race.
In front of another full 80,000-seat stadium for a qualifying session, the South African cut through the mild morning sunshine on his carbon-fiber blades to reach the semifinals with a second-place finish in his heat.
“Today was just an unbelievable experience. I found myself smiling on the starting blocks, which is very rare,” Pistorius said.
His time of 45.44 seconds was important enough, but didn’t quite match the fanfare from the stadium announcer who marked the start of the race by proclaiming: “This is Blade Runner, Oscar Pistorius.”
At first he had to fight the international athletics federation for the right to compete in able-bodied races and, since then, he has been facing critics who still say his artificial legs give him an unfair edge at the Olympics.
“I’ve worked for six years ... to get my chance,” Pistorius said.
Even if Luguelin Santos won the heat in a coasting 45.04, the Dominican runner was aware the race was not about him.
“I know Oscar was the protagonist in the race, but I love him,” Santos said.
World champion Kirani James also embraced Pistorius into the Olympic fold, much as the massive crowd did with a huge cheer when his name was announced.
“My hat’s off to him, just coming out here and competing,” James said. “I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What’s more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”
Even if Pistorius is no medal threat in the 400, he could well get on the medal stand with the South African 4x400 relay squad next week.
Beyond Pistorius, attention centered on defending champion LaShawn Merritt, who has been struggling with a sore left hamstring for two weeks. (Mike Limpag of Sun.Star Cebu with AP)
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 06, 2012.