Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mendoza: Rekindling Tokyo romance

All Write

If there’s one city in the world that gave us our biggest Olympic break in history, it is Tokyo.

It is there where we saw our first Olympian make it to the finals of one event 40 years after our first stint in the quadrennial Games.

That discipline was boxing, where our featherweight, the late Anthony Villanueva, barged mightily to the battle for the coveted gold in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The late, lamented Joe Cantada, who still remains as the best Filipino sportscaster of all time, was at ringside covering that historic event.

Early in the fight, Joe was confident of seeing our first gold since the Philippines debuted in the Olympics when it sent runner David Nepomuceno of Albay as our lone entry in the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Villanueva was landing the harder blows against his opponent and Cantada had sounded so sure in his electrifying coverage of a Filipino victory long before the final bell rung.

But to his consternation — and to the nation’s utter disappointment — Joe saw Stanislav Stepashkin, Villanueva’s Russian foe, declared the winner.

Joe constantly cried “We wuz robbed! We wuz robbed!” after the fight, using a cliché to describe a fight’s controversial decision.

Before he succumbed to cancer in 1992 at age 50, Joe, colleague Recah Trinidad, the late, respected broadcaster Hermie Rivera (manager of former world boxing champions Luisito Espinosa and Morris East) and I had a drinking marathon at Kamayan on West Ave., QC.

Wild as we were then, we started at around 8 p.m. and ended at around 8 a.m. We only had vodka and tonic. Bottles strewn on the table after we were done. Make that Absolut, Joe’s favorite.

During this night of nights, not once did Joe express his bitterness over Villanueva’s loss to Stepashkin, at times pounding the table to stress his point — but gently, though as Joe, despite his booming and baritone voice, was of genteel mien.

I swim back to that momentous joust with Joe as Tokyo is in our nation’s consciousness once more, mindful of the mountain of hopes heaped on our 19 Olympians to finally end our 97-year gold drought.

Again, boxing (Eumir Marcial) takes equal billing with gymnastics (Carlos Yulo) and weightlifting (Hidilyn Diaz) for the brightest chances to finally win that elusive first Olympic gold.

The nation can’t wait.


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