RIO DE JANEIRO – Three Filipino athletes, including one potential medal hopeful, fell out of contention one after the other Saturday as action in the 2016 Rio Olympics went full blast in different venues in and around the city.
Ian Lariba of table tennis, who carried the Philippine flag the opening ceremony Friday evening, was first to fall, losing to Xing Han of Congo in straight sets, 11-7, 13-7, 11-9, 11-7, in a morning match at the Riocentro Pavillion 3.
“There’s still some things lacking in my game. I can still feel the tension. But I will learn from this experience,” said the 21-year-old Lariba.
After Lariba’s unsuccessful Olympic debut, swimmer Jessie Khing Lacuna, who’s in his second straight Olympics, failed to keep up with rivals in the men’s 400m freestyle.
Lacuna, a 22-year-old student at Ateneo, finished sixth among seven swimmers in Heat 2 of his event with a time of 4:01.70. It was way below his personal best of 3:55:34.
Mack Horton of Australia eventually won the gold in the 400m freestyle with a time of 3:41.55. Not even Lacuna’s best time of 3:55.34 would have kept him close to the eighth and last finalist, Jordan Pothain of France who timed 3:49:07.
Reporters were not able to talk to Lacuna.
After the twin defeats, members of the Philippine delegation had hoped for someone to save the day, and top officials trooped to Pavilion 6 of the same convention and exhibit center for the start of the boxing competition.
Lightweight Charly Suarez made his Olympic debut against Joseph Cordina of Great Britain.
But Suarez, who will turn 28 on Aug. 14, also took a bitter loss, a split decision (2-1). He won in the eyes of the referee from Turkey, 29-28, but lost in the cards of those from Morocco (29-28) and Uzbekistan (30-27).
The judge from Uzbekistan gave all three rounds to Cordina, including the second, where Suarez landed a couple of right straights to his opponent’s face. The judges from Turkey and Morocco both had the Filipino winning the second round.
It was a bitter loss for Suarez, who had hoped to get past Cordina, taller by three inches at 5’9” but one who does not have the boxing skills of the Filipino veteran.
Competing today for the Philippines and determined to end the 20-year medal drought for the country are weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz (63 kg) and Nestor Colonia (56 kg).
Suarez’s corner, including himself, thought he did enough to win the contest.
“Sa tingin ko nanalo tayo (I thought we won),” said Pinoy coach Nolito “Boy” Velasco at the Athletes Village a couple of hours after Suarez failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
Velasco felt that Suarez did well even in the third round and was quite surprised that all three judges gave the round to British fighter.
“Halos hindi na sumuntok sa third round ang kalaban (Our opponent hardly threw punches in the third round). Wala naman pinakita (He didn’t show anything). Pero ganyan talaga (But that’s the way). Puwede manalo, puwede matalo (Win some, lose some),” he added.
Velasco said Suarez did well in the first two rounds that he even ordered the most senior member of the Philippine boxing team to pour in on in the final round to make sure he’d get the win.
“Ang sabi ko nga kay Charly bombahin na sa third round dahil baka madaya pa tayo,” said Velasco.
Suarez, who wanted to reach the medal rounds in his first Olympics, said he gave his best inside the ring but has accepted the decision of the judges.
“Sa tingin ko naman panalo ako (I thought I won). Pero tanggap ko na (But I accept the loss). Magaling din naman ’yung Great Britain. Mataas at mahaba (My opponent is a good boxer. He’s tall and fights long),” he said.
A small group of Filipinos based here in Rio de Janeiro cheered from the stands, and joined others who booed the decision.
“May mga nag-boo nga sa decision. Nakakatuwa din,” said Suarez.
With Suarez out of contention, the burden now falls on light-flyweight Rogen Ladon, who makes his debut on Monday against Colombia’s Yurberjen Martinez, a 3-0 winner over Brazil’s Patrick Lourenco earlier Saturday.
Ladon, who drew a bye as the No. 5 seed in the 49 kg class, only needs to win two matches to assure himself of a bronze and four to win the gold.
“Yung hindi ko nakamit baka makamit ni Ladon o sino man sa mga kasama natin (What I failed to achieve can be achieved by Ladon or anyone else among our team,” said Suarez.
The weightlifters are scheduled to compete starting at 3 p.m. Sunday here.
“I will just give my best. I’m okay. There’s no problem with my training. There are no distractions here,” said Diaz, in her third straight Olympics.
The others who are still waiting for their turn are judoka Kodo Nakano in the 81 kg on Aug. 9; swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, who vies in the women’s 100m freestyle on Aug. 10; golfer Miguel Tabuena from Aug. 11 to 14; marathoner Mary Joy Tabal on Aug. 14; hurdler Eric Cray on Aug, 15; long jumper Marestella Torres on Aug. 16; and taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora in the +67 kg on Aug. 20.
Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco watched Suarez compete, joined by POC officials Steve Hontiveros, Julian Camacho and Jose Romasanta, who is the chef-de-mission in this Olympics.
“Unfortunately we could not get the win today. But we all saw them compete and fight hard. We still have others in contention,” said Romasanta.