Three B’s RP’s strongest fronts
- Joaquin M. Henson () - September 18, 2002 - 12:00am
(Second of a series of articles on the Philippines’ quest for gold and glory in the coming 14th Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.)

Of the country’s last five golds in the Asian Games, four were delivered by boxing. Golf’s only gold came from Ramon Brobio in 1986–the same year that bowling had its last taste of glitter from Olivia (Bong) Coo in the All-Events and in the team-of-five. It was also in 1986 when athletics produced its last gold, courtesy of Lydia de Vega in the 100-meter dash.

Only nine sports have delivered golds for the country in the Asian Games–putting a lot of pressure on non-performers, particularly as the Philippines is entered in 31 of 38 disciplines in Busan. The 31 sports are aquatics (swimming and diving), athletics, archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, billiards and snooker, bodybuilding, bowling, boxing, canoe-kayak, cycling, equestrian, fencing, golf, gymnastics, judo, lawn tennis, karate, rowing, sailing, sepak takraw, shooting, softball, soft tennis, squash, table tennis, taekwondo, weightlifting, wrestling and wushu.

Hopes are high that the Philippine contingent will surpass its Bangkok gold harvest in Busan. That appears to be a doable goal considering four years ago, the Philippines accounted for just a single gold.

In the hot seat is Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman Eric Buhain who’s in charge of channeling public funds in the effort to regain respectability for the country in Asian sports. A disaster in Busan, however, shouldn’t mean an exit for Buhain who’s been on the job for only eight months.

Buhain, who splashed to five gold medals at the 1991 Southeast Asian Games here, has predicted a "conservative" goal of seven golds in Busan.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Celso Dayrit isn’t putting his finger on a number but said he’s optimistic of eclipsing the haul in 1998.

Chef de mission Tom Carrasco, oozing optimism, said the Philippines will bring back at least 10 golds. That’s a bold forecast, considering the country has bagged 10 or more only once–in 1954.

Carrasco said he’s confident the three Bs–boxing, bowling, and billiards–will hit paydirt and taekwondo, wushu, and athletics will also be a rich source of gold. As for basketball, China looms as the team to beat but coach Joseph Uichico’s Fighting 15–to be trimmed to the Daring Dozen when the tournament opens–can’t be considered pushovers in the battle for hardcourt supremacy. Uichico’s challenge is to bring the Philippines back on top of Asian basketball after being dethroned in 1966.

Eight fighters, led by two-time Olympian Romeo Brin, will carry the tri-colors in Busan. Brin, 29, is seeing action in his third consecutive and probably last Asiad. The others in coach Gregorio Caliwan’s squad are lightflyweight Harry Tanamor, flyweight Violito Payla, bantamweight Ferdie Gano, featherweight Roel Laguna, Anthony Igusquiza, Christopher Camat, and welterweight Maraon Golez.

Igusquiza, 27, claimed a bronze as a bantamweight at the 1994 Hiroshima Asiad and is making a comeback as a lightweight. Camat, a Fil-Am who’s the darkhorse in the cast, is tipped to pull a surprise in the lightwelterweight division.

Bowling is bannered by an all-star roster headed by four-time World Cup titlist Rafael (Paeng) Nepomuceno. Coach Purvis Granger’s squad also includes reigning Southeast Asian Games All-Events champion Leonardo Rey, Jr., Engelberto Rivera, Liza del Rosario, Cecilia Yap, Josephine Canare, and Liza Clutario. The sport has a total of 10 golds on the line for men and women.

Billiards and snooker will count on Efren (Bata) Reyes, Francisco (Django) Bustamante, Antonio (Nikoy) Lining, Lee Van Corteza, Warren Kiamco, Marlon Manalo, James Al Ortega, and Benjamin Guevara. Coach Ramon Ancaja will field Reyes and Corteza in the 8-ball singles, Lining and Kiamco in the 9-ball singles, and Bustamante and Lining in the 9-ball doubles.

Bustamante, runner-up at the recent World Pool Championships in Cardiff, will be the Philippine delegation’s standard bearer at the opening rites.

Taekwondo is sending a top-notch cast of 14 jins whom master Sung Chon Hong said are all capable of bagging medals. Former world champion Tae Hyung Kim took charge of training the Filipino jins last May and the prospects of several first-place finishes are bright. Topping the lineup are Sydney Olympians Roberto (Kitoy) Cruz, Donald Geisler, Jasmin Strachan, and Eva Marie Ditan.

Athletics will lean on Olympians Eduardo Buenavista and Lerma Bulauitan.

Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) president Go Teng Kok promised his lean and mean crew of 13 will kick up a storm in Busan.

Buenavista, who collected two golds at the Southeast Asian Games in Kuala Lumpur last year, is a solid bet in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter runs. Bulauitan is a hot contender in the long jump. Another medal hope is middle-distance runner John Lozada. Go is dreaming of a gold but his realistic objective is to harvest at least three silvers and three bronzes.

In Bangkok, athletics drew a blank for the Philippines. So there’s no other way to go but up for Go’s Army.

Wushu could be another gold mine in Busan. The Philippines will compete in nine of 11 gold medal events in the sport. The squad is headed by 1997 world champion Mark Robert Rosales. Also in the wushu team are Arvin Ting, Bobby Co, Lily So, May Lim, Janice Hung, Marvin Sicomen, Rexel Nganhayna, Joseph Pasiwat and Eduard Folayang. In Bangkok, wushu brought in two silvers–one from Rosales–and two bronzes for the country.

While the mood is upbeat for Busan, both Buhain and Dayrit realize the road to glory will be far from smooth. For sure, there will be heartaches, shattered dreams, and disappointments along the way. But if the Filipino athletes perform to the best of their abilities, the results should show how they’ve improved through the years. The country will be proud of their efforts, win or lose.

Buhain’s ultimate goal is to mold the Philippines into a contender for top overall honors at the Southeast Asian Games here in 2005. Busan will be a step in that direction.

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