Alora gains silver, kicks way to Rio

Abac Cordero (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Filipina taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora went down on her knees and cried after she stunned Iranian top seed Akram Khodabandeh, 10-2, yesterday and punched a ticket to this year’s Rio Olympics.

Alora, 26, ranked fifth in the +67 kg division of this Asian Olympic qualifying tournament, carried the perfect game plan against the taller, longer Iranian, silver medal winner in the 2014 Asian Games.

She stayed close to her Iranian foe all throughout and threw close punches that scored. It was a puzzle how Alora, who was easily six inches smaller, landed clear, solid head kicks against Akram.

“We focused on speed. We studied her style. We came prepared,” Alora told The STAR after the victory, as supporters, mostly young ones, milled around her and took selfies.

Alora was in tears as she ran to her coaches, and then to the VIP row, bowing before Philippine Taekwondo Association master Sung Chon Hong and Philippine Olympic Committee vice president Jose Romasanta.

“I’m very happy to make it to the Olympics,” said Alora, a BSBA graduate of La Salle. She joins track star Eric Cray and boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez as official qualifiers to this year’s Summer Games.

In the finals, Alora ran into reigning Asian Games champion Sorn Seavmey and took a 5-0 loss that hardly dampened the celebration of her making it to the Olympics.

Over 200 jins from 35 Asian countries are competing in this event that offers Olympic slots to the gold and silver medalists in each of the four weight classes in the men’s and women’s divisions.

Samuel Morrison (-80 kg) and Kristopher Robert Uy (+80 kg) of the Philippines fell short in their respective bids to make it to Rio, bowing out in the quarterfinals and round-of-16 matches yesterday.

Pauline Lopez, gold medalist in the 2013 Asian Youth Games and reigning SEA Games champion, will vie in the -57 kg class today, seeking to join Alora in the Rio Olympics in August.

The grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel erupted with cheers after Alora sealed the victory with a round-house kick to the head of the Iranian in the closing seconds of their semifinal showdown.

Alora, bronze medalist in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games and gold medalist in the 2013 SEA Games, caught Akram off guard right in the opening round, and landed another head kick for a 6-1 lead after the second.

A heavy group of Iranian supporters cheered wildly from the stands but couldn’t lift the spirits of Akram. In the final round, she waged a desperate battle but just couldn’t use her size advantage to the hilt.

Akram kept throwing kicks, most of the time her feet merely resting on the shoulders of the Filipino. In the closing seconds, she shook her head in disbelief.

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