RIO DE JANEIRO – Kirstie Elaine Alora’s coach is confident that the Filipino taekwondo entry and the country’s lone remaining hope here has what it takes to go far in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Alora, a 26-year-old fighter who hails from Binan in Laguna, will make her Olympic debut Saturday morning (Saturday evening in Manila) in the women’s +67 kilogram division.
She faces an acid test in her opening match, an early battle with 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist and 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico.
The Pinoy camp is not intimidated at all.
“They’ve fought once, right after the Beijing Olympics, and the Mexican won, 2-1. Elaine can beat this Mexican,” said coach Roberto “Kitoy” Cruz.
Alora, according to her bemedalled coach, will have to rely on her speed to have a chance against Espinoza, and she will do just that.
“Elaine has been training well even while we were in Manila and since we arrived here in Rio almost a month ago,” said Cruz, the former finweight king in the Southeast Asian Games.
Cruz is the most successful Filipino taekwondo jin, also having won three silver and two bronze medals in the World Championships, two bronze medals in the World Cup and a gold, a silver and a bronze in the Asian Championships.
He knows a good match when he sees one.
“Kaya ni Elaine,” said Cruz yesterday as he quietly celebrated his 44th birthday.
Espinoza, gold medalist in the 2007 World Championships and 2016 Pan American Games, also stands 5-foot-8 like Alora. She is two years older at 28 and is just a couple of kilos heavier.
If Alora gets past Espinoza, she will need two more wins to make it to the finals and give the Philippines a crack at the highly-elusive Olympic gold.
If she’s not successful, Alora will hope to land in the repechage (losers bracket) for a shot at the bronze. But that will only happen if Espinoza reaches the finals.
“I would rather win three straight matches and get to the finals than land in the repechage where I can meet fighters taller than six feet,” said Alora.
Cruz knows what Alora needs to do to succeed here.
“Basta kailangan mabilis si Elaine. Dapat lumabas ang bilis niya sa laban na ito,” said Cruz, overseeing Alora’s training here in Rio – normally twice a day.
Cruz said Alora’s quickness on the mat brought her to the Olympics.
“Yun talaga ang panglaban ni Elaine. Mabilis siya. Kung mabagal ka, kaya ka ni Elaine,” said the six-time SEA Games champion from 1991 to 2001.
Cruz can only hope for the best from Alora.