Alora says time to strike is now
(The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – It took Kirstie Elaine Alora three attempts to make it to the Olympics and now that she’s in Rio, the 26-year-old taekwondo jin won’t wait for another chance to bring home a medal.

“I didn’t make it to Beijing in 2008 because I was too young at 16 and not at my peak,” said Alora. “I was then fighting in the 59-kilogram division. In 2012, I went up to 67 kilograms but it just wasn’t my time. Now, I’m in the +67 kilogram class. I’m comfortable in this division. I think I’m quicker compared to my opponents and I’m confident of my strength. This is my first and probably last Olympics. I won’t wait for 2020.”

Alora qualified for Rio by clinching one of two spots in the heavyweight division of the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Marriott Convention Center Ballroom in Manila last April. She trounced Nepal’s Nisha Rawal, 9-0, and Iran’s Akram Khodabandeh, 10-3, before bowing to Cambodia’s Sorn Seavmey, 5-0, in the final. The top two finishers were awarded tickets to Rio.

An older sister Kathleen Eunice, 28, also competed for the Philippines in taekwondo but never fought in the Olympics. She’s now retired from the sport, working at BDO. Another sister Inah, 24, never dabbled in taekwondo and is taking up medicine at Fatima. Her parents Pablito and Marilou migrated to Alaska three years ago and are employed in a fish company.

“Eunice has always been supportive and she’ll be in Rio to watch me,” said Alora whose first match is against top seed Maria Espinoza of Mexico on Aug. 20. “My parents are trying to go but it depends if they can get a leave of absence from work. Eunice and I always dreamed of fighting in the Olympics. That was our goal. She’s happy I made it. I promised her I’ll do my best. Win or lose, she told me she’ll always be proud of me.”

Alora said even as she’s facing the top seed, there’s a good chance of winning. “As a first-timer in the Olympics, I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s a privilege to represent my country. I’ll be out there trying as hard as I can to win a medal. My coach (Roberto Cruz) is with me in Rio. We spar and he teaches me a lot. He wants me to be fast, to engage and to do volume kicks. It’s important that I’m close to my opponent so the electronic sensors can detect my kicks. My favorite is the turning kick to the body which is worth three points. It’s easier to land than the turning kick to the face which is worth four points. I can do the axe kick which is worth three points but my execution isn’t perfect. I’m going with the turning kick to the body as my main weapon.”

Before leaving for Rio, Alora said she got sound advice from Stephen Fernandez who took a bronze in taekwondo when it was a demonstration sport at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was Fernandez who recruited Alora out of Alpha Angelicum Academy in Biñan, Laguna to join the St. Benilde varsity.

“Sir Stephen always goes out of his way to talk to me, to encourage me,” she said. “He’s been a big influence. In preparing for Rio, he told me to just enjoy the Olympics, to fight without pressure, to focus, to take it one match at a time, to be confident of beating anyone no matter her world ranking. His advice is for me to be mentally tough.”

After Rio, Alora said she has no plans. An option is to visit her parents in Alaska. At the moment, her mind is on the Olympics, nothing else. “It takes two wins to be assured of a bronze,” she said. “We’re 16 in the heavyweight division. One loss and it’s over. The world’s best will be in Rio. I know I’ll be ready. This is my time. I can’t throw away this opportunity.”

Espinoza, 28, won the gold in the +67 kilogram class at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but slid to third place for a bronze at the 2012 Games in London. A celebrity in Mexico, she was her country’s flag-bearer at the Parade of Nations in the opening rites of the 2012 Olympics. Her rise to fame began in 2007 when she struck gold at the World Championships in Beijing.

The world’s top five jins in the women’s heavyweight division are seeing action in Rio. They are Espinoza, No. 2 Zheng Shuyin of China, No. 3 Bianca Walkden of Great Britain, No. 4 Jackie Galloway of the US and No. 5 Reshmie Oogink of the Netherlands. As a consolation, Alora isn’t the lowest ranked contender.  But at No. 61, she’s third to last. The lowest-ranked jin is Rawal whom Alora blanked at the Asian qualifier. Rawal was awarded a wildcard ticket by the Tripartite Commission. Next to last is Papua New Guinea’s Samantha Kassman who’s ranked No. 99.

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