Mendoza: Another one that got away

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Al Mendoza.
Al Mendoza.Al Mendoza.

Maxine Isabel Esteban made history on Sunday, March 17, 2024, by becoming the first Filipino fencer to make it to the Olympic Games. She made it to Paris in July-August after making the grade in the Fencing Gear FIE Foil Grand Prix in Washington D.C., USA.

But while we ought to celebrate Esteban’s feat, it is unfortunate that she accomplished the stunning success as a player of the Ivory Coast and not of our country. Meaning, Esteban will not represent the Philippines in Paris after switching nationalities last year.

No, not her fault at all.

Recall that Esteban suffered an injury in 2022 as a Philippine entry in a tournament abroad.

While recovering, she asked for—and was granted—a leave of absence from her mother federation that was headed then by Richard Gomez, now a representative from Ormoc City.

But in a weird twist, Esteban was suddenly dropped from the pool without her being given any sufficient explanation. Her repeated pleas to have an audience with officials all went in vain.

The Ivorian fencing federation took pity on Esteban and offered her a slot. Officials saw a potential in the Filipino as Esteban had held clinics to IC’s (Ivory Coast) young foil fencers. And it helped that Maxine’s parents are doing business in the African nation.

“I have exhausted all means, but my federation turned a deaf ear,” said Esteban. “In the end, I did not leave my federation. Instead, my federation left me.”

It happens all the time?

Esteban’s case mirrored our chess federation’s mishandling of Wesley So, the chess prodigy from Cavite who, in exasperation, left for the US and is now that country’s No. 1 wood-pusher.

Esteban, now No. 37 in the world, thanked her family “first and foremost” while singling out Bambol Tolentino as one of the key figures in her continuing journey.

Tolentino, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, had successfully convinced the International Olympic Committee to waive the three-year residency rule, clearing the way for Esteban’s stint in the Paris Olympics.

“This is for Cote d’Ivoire, the country that embraced me,” said Esteban. “It is truly a testimony of God’s faithfulness… But this is also for the Philippines, the country my heart will always beat proud.”


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