RIO DE JANEIRO -- Kirstie Elaine Alora, the country’s lone taekwondo bet in the Rio Olympics, can’t find a better coach than Roberto “Kitoy” Cruz.
The 26-year-old Alora is hoping to deliver a medal for the Philippines in the women’s +67 kg weight class, which gets going on Aug. 20.
It’s not going to be easy.
Assisting her in this Olympic journey, which begins with an early clash with 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico, is Cruz, the finest taekwondo athlete the Philippines has ever produced.
Cruz, now 43, represented the Philippines in various international competitions in the ‘90s, and delivered the medals no one else could.
As a finweight, Cruz won the gold in the SEA Games six straight times from 1991 to 2001, and had three silver and two bronze medals in the World Championships.
In the Asian Championships, Cruz won the bronze, silver and gold during a five-year stretch starting in 1994. He also has two bronze medals from the World Cup.
Cruz said Alora has what it takes to win a medal at any stage. But again, nothing will come easy when you’re up against the world best.
“The pressure is there,” said Cruz.
“But as long as she gives her best and stays focused, then she has a chance,” the taekwondo guru said of Alora, a two-time bronze medalist it the Asian Games.
Cruz said Alora, who normally gives away an inch or two in height against her rivals, makes it up with a big heart.
“Likas na matapang (She’s pure heart),” said the coach.
The early clash with Espinoza, who also won the bronze in the 2012 London Olympics, should give Alora the early chance to prove her worth in the Olympic level.
“Basta laban lang (As long as we fight). Get through her (Espinoza) early on. That’s the mission anyway,” said Cruz.
Alora was back in the swing of things Monday after taking a needed rest Sunday when she ran a slight fever.
“I’m okay now. I just have to train today,” she said.
“She’s fine,” said Cruz.
RIO DE JANEIRO – Filipino athletes who are all set and raring to compete welcomed a special visitor to their quarters inside the Athletes Village Monday.
It was approaching noon when International Olympic Committee representative to the Philippines Mikee Cojuangco Jaworski paid the Pinoy athletes a visit.
Jaworski just arrived from an extra-long trip from Manila the night before. With very little rest, she came out to see the athletes to wish them well ahead of the Games.
The IOC official praised the athletes, including boxers Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez, and weightlifters Nestor Colonia and Hidilyn Diaz, for all the hard work they’ve put in prior to the start of the competition on Aug. 6.
“Make our country proud,” Jaworski told them.
Four athletes will see action for the Philippines on Aug. 6 – table tennis’ Ian Lariba, swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna and the two boxers.
It’s not an easy task to advance, not when it’s the Olympics, where only the best and finest athletes gather and compete once every four years.
Cojuangco, a gold medalist in equestrian during the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, knows how difficult it is to qualify and be part of the Olympics.
“To qualify to the Olympics is already an achievement,” she said.The other athletes were out training when she came.
“That’s why I’m proud of them. Everyone here is competitive and everyone wants to do their best. I hope their preparations for these Olympics are enough,” said Jaworski.
She said winning a medal in the Olympics is easier said than done, especially when the athletes are aware that the country has not win any medal in the Summer Games since 1996.
Twenty years of waiting will either end or continue here in Rio.
“Of course, we want medals for the Philippines. I want them to win. But there’s anybody who really wants it most, it’s them, the athletes. We are just here to support them,” said Jaworski.
She said competing in the Olympics is something she could not achieve when she was at the peak of her career as an equestrienne.
“It was also my dream,” said Jaworski.
“That is why I’m very happy for them, because I was not able to get to join the Olympics. And for that I respect them more,” she said.
“I did not get to the Olympics. They did,” Jaworski said.