Philippines campaign off to hot start

Nelson Beltran - The Philippine Star

TOKYO – Young Olympic rowing debutant Cris Nievarez passed his initial test here yesterday, summoning enough strength and energy to be right behind his heavyweight rivals for an automatic quarterfinals entry in men’s singles sculls.

Nievarez raced according to his game plan, sticking in the coattails of Rio Olympics silver medalist Damir Martin of Croatia and world indoor champ Alexander Vyazovkin of Russia, and safely finishing in the Top 3 in their heat to avoid the repechage today.

In the heat of the midmorning sun at the Sea Forest Waterway, the 21-year-old Atimonan, Quezon pride sparkled on his boat and provided some boost to the whole Philippine delegation ahead of the opening ceremonies last night and Day 1 of full action today.

“It’s a good Olympic start for Team Philippines. Nievarez qualifying in the quarterfinals on the first day is a good testament that our athletes have prepared well, despite the pandemic,” said Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino.

“This is an auspicious start for Team Philippines. We are proud of Cris. Laban lang!” said Philippine Sports Commission chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.

“It definitely boosts the morale of all our competing athletes,” Tolentino also said.

“Sarap ng pakiramdam, unang race pumasok ako sa quarters,” said Nievarez who joined the march of the favorites to an early quarters entry, avoiding the knockout races today.

Nievarez, the singles sculls kingpin in Southeast Asia, returns to action tomorrow, going for a spot in the A-B semifinals.

With a cue from Nievarez, gymnast Caloy Yulo, taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa, female boxer Nesthy Petecio and swimmer Remedy Rule go out today looking to sustain the Philippine drive.

Yulo performs in men’s all-around qualifying from 9 a.m. (8 a.m. in Manila) onwards at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre while Petecio opens her campaign in the women’s 57kg versus a rival from Congo at 11 a.m. at the Kokugikan Arena.

Barbosa chases his dream as he vies in the 58kg in taekwondo competition at the Makuhari Messe Hall A while Rule plunges into action, competing in the heats of women’s 100m butterfly at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

The world champion Pinoy gymnast is expected to qualify in the floor exercise final, and might also advance in parallel bars and vault. The gymnastic finals – the moment of truth for Yulo – are set Wednesday.

Petecio, a 2019 AIBA World Championships winner, is fancied to get past African champion Marcelat Sakobi from Congo.

The same could not be said of Barbosa, however, as the Bangued, Abra bet is ranged against two-time world champ and 58kg top seed Jang Jun of South Korea right in the opening round.

But if Barbosa survives Jang, another win for the Pinoy gets him to the medal round. It’s a one-day knockout affair, with the last man standing getting the gold and hearing his country’s national anthem played at the close of the day’s affair.

Barbosa is the lone bet here from the Philippine taekwondo team that hit podium finishes only when the sport was still just a demonstration sport in the Summer Games. Stephen Fernandez and Bea Lucero made the semis in their categories in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Nievarez made some ripples in his third-place finish in Heat 5 behind Martin and Vyazovkin, clocking 7:22.97 in the 2,000m race, 10 seconds clear of Nicaraguan Felix Potoy and 18 seconds ahead of Benin’s Privel Hinkati.

“I had a good race. The Croatian took the lead in the first 1,000m and I was close with the Russian, then there’s the Nicaraguan. I went ahead (of the Nicaraguan) at the 750m mark and I kept the distance to the very end,” said Nievarez.

The Filipino bet believes he can still improve in the quarterfinals, saying he’s usually stronger in the third and fourth races.

“Pag-aaralan ko kung sino ang makakalaban ko sa quarterfinals, at titignan ko kung anong time ang hahabulin ko,” he said.

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