Philippines ecstatic for possible Olympic gold rush

Nelson Beltran - Philstar.com
Philippines ecstatic for possible Olympic gold rush
Pole vault's EJ Obiena and boxer Nesthy Petecio both set out for their mother of all championship battles in tomorrow's Olympic action.
AFP photos

TOKYO – Surreal but real.

That’s the strange sweet feeling pervading right now in the Philippine camp here — and perhaps back home in the country — in the heat of the most amazing Olympic journey Team Philippines has ever been into.

TRACKER: Team Philippines at the Tokyo Olympics

Consider what is up for the team in Day 12 of the XXXII Olympiad – a possible two-medal hit that would add to the golden moment of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.

“All we’d been reading before during the past Olympics is ‘this bet is gunning for the Philippines’ first gold.’ Amazingly, not one but two Filipino athletes go for the country’s second gold in the Tokyo Games,” said a veteran sportswriter.

Gymnast Carlos Yulo guns for a podium finish in the vault final tonight, seeking redemption for coming up short in most of his events, including his specialty floor exercise.

Meanwhile, Nesthy Petecio and EJ Obiena both set out for their mother of all championship battles here Tuesday, with the former going for the female featherweight gold at the Kokugikan Arena and the latter out to soar to a podium finish in the pole vault final at the Japan National Stadium.

A touted home bet in Sena Irie stands in the way of Petecio to the ultimate prize.

Obiena, on the other hand, battles a star-studded cast headed by world record holder Armand Duplantis of Sweden and Rio Games champ Thiago Braz in pursuit of a special place in Philippine sports history.

Carlo Paalam goes up against titleholder Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan in a men’s flyweight quarterfinals face-off at 11 a.m., hoping to set the tone for the Philippines’ campaign this day.

A win will assure the country of another medal — a bronze — in what’s already an incredible run the country could only dream of in the past Olympics.

But while the country’s medal haul has been exhilarating, it isn’t entirely unexpected.

Philippine Olympic Committee president Bambol Tolentino and Philippine Sports Commission chairman Butch Ramirez have been very confident not just of a golden breakthrough but of a multi-medal showing even before the delegation departed for the Japanese capital.

With six days of competitions to go in Tokyo 2020, Team Philippines is sparkling with a gold plus a sure silver and a sure bronze.

The crack 19-strong team has surpassed by a mile the country’s three-bronze harvest in 1932 in Los Angeles and the silver feats in 1996 in Atlanta and in 2016 in Rio.

And the show to remember is far from done.

Boxing coach Don Abnett smells gold from Petecio.

“I’m confident on Nesthy,” said Abnett, optimistic even as Petecio is up against a hometown bet that has beaten the Pinay during their showdown in the Olympic qualifier in Amman, Jordan last year.

But Petecio has to beat Irie convincingly to avoid a tight sympathetic judging that may go to the Japanese — winner by a split decision in her last two bouts.

As for Obiena, the Pinoy vaulter said he’s “chillin” ahead of his big day in the national stadium.

He overcame sluggishness in the qualifying to hit 5.75m.

The fight for the gold, however, is likely to go way above 6.00, meaning Obiena has to surpass his personal best of 5.80 if he’s to make a podium finish.

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