Team RP jins face uphill battle
- Joaquin M. Henson () - August 13, 2008 - 12:00am

The country’s taekwondo bets Tshomlee Go and Toni Rivero are not among the experts’ picks to bag medals in the Beijing Olympics but they’re not intimidated by the odds in staking their claim to history.

Sports Illustrated chose Spain’s Juan Antonio Ramos to win the gold in the -58 kilogram flyweight division where Go is a qualifier with 15 others. Chinese-Taipei’s Chu Mu Yen, the defending Olympic gold medalist, was tipped for the silver. The choices for a bronze apiece were Mexico’s Guillermo Perez and Germany’s European champion Levent Tuncat.

Go, 27, joins Chu and Iran’s Reza Naderian as the only Asians in the division. The University of Santo Tomas standout placed third at the World Championships in Manchester last year behind gold medalist Chu and runner-up Tuncat. Go lost to Chu via a 7-0 mandatory stoppage in the semifinals.

To earn a qualifying ticket to Beijing in the Manchester repechage, Go defeated Athens Olympic bronze medalist Tamer Bayoumi of Egypt. 

The other fighters in the division are Afghanistan’s Robullah Nikpai, Australia’s Ryan Carneli, Belize’s Alfonso Martinez, Benin’s Jean Moloise, Brazil’s Marcio Wenceslau, Dominican Republic’s Gabriel Mercedes, Great Britain’s Michael Harvey, Kenya’s Dickson Wamwiri and Portugal’s Pedro Povoa. 

Also expected to vie for top honors are All-Africa Games titleholder Wamwiri and Pan-American Games champion Mercedes.

Ramos got Sports Illustrated’s nod by virtue of his victory in the -50 kilogram division at the World Championships last year. He also won the world crown in 2001.

The scuttlebutt is Chu, 26, may be distracted in Beijing because his girlfriend Yang Shu Chun is making her Olympic debut in the women’s -49 kilogram division. Reports from Taipei said Chu is “under pressure” to win another Olympic gold with Yang, who won the Asian title last April, a favorite in her class.

Go’s division has no entry from host China or South Korea. Rivero, 20, is in a tough bracket where the hot pick is Korea’s Hwang Kyung Seon. In 2004, Hwang beat Rivero, 6-2, for the Olympic bronze. Sports Illustrated chose Hwang to win the -67 kilogram gold with Canada’s Karine Sergerie the silver and France’s Gwladys Espangue and Australia’s Tina Morgan a bronze each. Hwang, 22, is a two-time world champion who also beat Rivero, 6-1, in the 2006 Asian Games finals.

Among the contenders is 2004 silver medalist Elizavet Mystakidou of Greece. Mystakidou eked out a 3-2 decision over Rivero in the Athens semifinals, guaranteeing the Greek a silver and sending the gritty Filipino into a repechage match against Hwang.

Sergerie failed to qualify for Athens but made it to Beijing by finishing second at the Pan-American qualifiers in Cali last year. She is the reigning world 63 kilogram champion.

Espangue won the welterweight gold at the World Championships in Manchester last year with Hwang claiming the silver and Croatia’s Sandra Saric the bronze. Saric, 24, defeated Rivero in a sudden death kick-off for the bronze.

Saric will compete in Rivero’s class with Kazakhstan’s Liya Nurkina, Argentina’s Vanina Sanchez, Japan’s Yoriko Okamoto and Puerto Rico’s Asuncion Ocasio.

The Beijing draw will be held on Aug. 18. Go is set to fight on Aug. 20 and Rivero, on Aug. 22. Venue is the Beijing Science and Technology University gym. It will take four wins to bag the gold, three for a sure silver. The jins who lost to the finalists will square off in a consolation bracket where the last two survivors gain a bronze each.

In taekwondo, each country is limited to qualify two males and two females. South Korea, where the sport was born, took three golds when taekwondo was introduced in the regular Olympic calendar in 2000 and two in Athens. Hwang is the top Korean bet for a gold medal in Beijing where 128 athletes from 64 countries are vying for honors.

World Taekwondo Federation president Choue Chung Won said there is no grand design for Korea to dominate the sport in Beijing.

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