Boxing has long been a traditional source of medals for the Philippines in the Olympic Games.
As proof, Filipino boxers delivered five—two silvers and 3 bronzes—of the 10 Olympic medals of the country, which has never won a gold since making its debut in 1924.
The silver medalists were featherweight Anthony Villanueva during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and light flyweight Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while the bronze medalists were bantamweight José Villanueva in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, light fly Leopoldo Serantes in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and Onyok’s older brother light fly Roel Velasco in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Under what is called a “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipino pugilists hope to play the lead roles once again and perhaps, finally collar the elusive gold medal in the world’s greatest sporting arena.
The pandemic had somehow limited the preparations of the four Filipino Tokyo-bound boxers—Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio, Irish Magno and Carlo Paalam—but they somehow found ways to prep themselves up with overseas training arranged by the Alliance of Boxing Associations of the Philippines and financed by the Philippine Sports Commission.
ABAP secretary-general Ed Picson does not promise any medal, but he guaranteed a good showing.
“We cannot say whether they can win medals, but we think we are giving them all the preparation and opportunity to do well. The coaches, led by Olympic head coach Don Abnett, are pacing them so that they will reach their peak when the Olympics come around,” Picson said.
Marcial trained at the Wild Card gym of Freddie Roach in Los Angeles and had a training camp in Colorado, USA, while the rest opted to stay in Thailand to avoid travel fatigue and quarantine protocols which could set back their physical condition.
“We are optimistic that both the Thailand and Colorado camps will give our four Olympians the necessary tools to perform well in Tokyo. A medal or medals are not far-fetched given their work ethic and determination,” Picson added.
Boxing competition slated to commence on July 23 and end August 8.
Eumir Marcial (Men’s 75KG)
Marcial is seeking action in a middleweight class that is not fit for a lot of Filipino fighters.
Most successful world boxing champions excelled in the lower weight categories, except of course, boxing legend and eight-world division champion Manny Pacquiao, who undoubtedly is a one in a billion boxing specie.
There is no doubt that Marcial is in a dreaded weight division, prowled by world-class beaters.
After the conclusion of the European qualifying tournament, the top two ranked boxers have emerged—Ukrain’s Oleksandr Khyzniak and Russia’s Gleb Bakshi – and both have defeated the 25-year-old Marcial in their past meetings.
Doubts were cast on Marcial’s ability to overcome the tough field following his upset loss to unranked Uzbek fighter Jafarov Saidjamshid during the Asian championships in Dubai.
But there’s no doubt that Marcial, who also plies his trade as a professional fighter under the care of world-renown trainer Roach, could shine at any given time.
His credentials speak a lot about his potential to bring home a medal. He was world juniors’ champion in 2011, best Asian boxer in 2014, many-time SEA Games champion and the 2019 World AIBA silver medalist.
Nesthy Petecio (women’s 57KG)
Nesthy Petecio was devastated when she failed to book a ticket to Tokyo following her quarterfinal exit in the Asia and Oceania Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in Jordan last year.
A lot was expected of her as a 2019 Southeast Asian Games champion and 2019 AIBA Women’s World titlist. She admitted that she became too conscious and afraid to fail.
She failed to make it via the regular route, but destiny had other plans.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of several qualifying events and her lofty world ranking earned her a ticket to Tokyo, along with compatriot Carlo Paalam, also due to his high status in the world rankings.
This time, the Davao City pride vowed to be more focused and composed.
“Hindi ko na papayagan maulit ‘yung sa Jordan na masyado akong kabado. Ngayong kung may marinig akong hindi maganda or masamang pakiramdam sa sarili ko, hindi ko hahayaan manatili sa sarili ko ‘yun, pinipilit kong balewalain ‘yun at focus na lang sa performance,” said Petecio, who is making her first Olympic appearance.
“Ito na ang peak ng career ko. Para sa akin, hindi kumpleto ang pagiging atleta kung hindi ka makalalaro sa Olympics.”
Petecio almost quit boxing before becoming the world AIBA champion. “Parang ayaw ko nang bumalik sa training noon. Pero may iba pa palang plano para sakin,” she said.
Her unexpected Tokyo sojourn may be another one of those “great” plans.
Irish Magno (women’s 52KG)
Irish Magno tried boxing just for kicks when a local coach prodded her to join a town fiesta boxing match in her hometown in Iloilo.
That hobby grew to become a passion and a glorious search for a better life, finding out that she could pursue her studies while playing for the national team.
Admittedly, she was not one of the more outstanding performers in the national team. After winning a gold in the 2012 Taipei Open in Taiwan, she competed in three editions of the SEA Games, finding relative success in her last one in 2019 with a silver medal finish.
She competed in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta–Palembang but found the early exit door.
Yet she surprised everyone when she performed at hear peak and qualified for the Summer Games via the Asia/Oceania qualifiers held in March 2020 in Jordan.
Beating a six-time world champion Mary Kom of India via a 5-0 shutout was not expected from Magno, but she did just that to raze the opposition in the flyweight division.
What makes her feat special was the fact that she became the first Filipina athlete to qualify in Tokyo.
Will there be another first in the Land of the Rising sun?
Carlo Paalam (men’s 52KG)
Just like Magno, Carlo Paalam found boxing as a vehicle to escape poverty.
Paalam used to pick garbage at a sanitary landfill in Cagayan de Oro city. While doing this, he was persuaded by a neighbor to try boxing. So he found himself doing both and make some money.
He had no idea that boxing will bring him to places he never dreamt of visiting.
His natural skills have caught the eye of city sports officials and he was included in the boxing program of then Mayor Oscar Moreno that saved a lot of out of school youth in the city.
Under the program, young boxers with great ring talents are provided monthly allowances, board and lodging, and scholarship.
Paalam has not forgotten and is using this as an inspiration when he competes in Tokyo.
“Gusto ko pong suklian ang pagtitiwala ng mga dati kong coaches at Mayor Moreno sa akin by performing my best sa Tokyo,” said Paalam.
While the path to the Philippines’ first-ever gold in the Olympics maybe rocky and full of obstacles, ABAP president Ricky Vargas is hopeful that anyone from the country’s four hopefuls can deliver the goods.
“For the Philippine pride and glory, the next immediate target is a medal or medals in Tokyo this July. It will not be easy, but we believe it is within reach,” said Vargas.