WITH loud music blaring inside the Kokugikan arena, Nesthy Petecio exchanged fist bumps and high fives with a small group of Filipinos on her way to the interview area, wearing a wide grin and teary-eyed.
Anyway you look at her, Nesthy was a picture of one enjoying the moment.
And it was easy to understand why.
Just a while ago, this brave sent Philippine pride soaring again on a Saturday to remember, gaining a shot at the gold medal that assured Team PH of its most productive campaign since it began competing in the world’s biggest sporting show almost a century ago.
Rallying in the middle and third rounds, Petecio slew another giant in Irma Testa of Italy, scoring a 4-1 split decision and moving a win away of replicating what beloved weightlifter and now multi-millionaire Hidilyn Diaz had done the other week–win a gold medal.
“Sobrang saya ko po. Hindi lang po para sa akin ito, para sa bayan,” said Petecio, dedicating the win to her father who dreamt of seeing her fight in the Olympics and a best friend and former national team member Alexcel Dargantes who died early this year.
Once the verdict declaring her the winner on points was announced, Petecio, the 2019 world champion in the featherweight class but ranked only No. 7 here, fell on her knees and cried.
The triumph made the Davao del Sur native as only the third Filipino boxer to reach an Olympic final after the late Anthony Villanueva in the 1964 Tokyo Games and Mansueto Velasco in the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Not only that, Petecio will go home with a lot of moolah on her doorsteps.
In winning this one, Petecio will be taking on the winner the bout between Irie Sera of Japan and Karriss Artingstall of Great Britain, the other half of the semifinal pairing scheduled in the day’s evening session.
Petecio’s bid had looked in tatters in the first round which she lost in all scorecards of the five judges, something which didn’t come as a surprise to the coaching staff since she hardly attacked. Meanwhile, Testa was busy throwing 1-2 combinations, with at least a good number of them finding their mark.
Turns out, it was the game-plan.
“Noong first round po, sinunod ko lang po yung unang game plan nila coach na di muna pumasok sa kanya,” Petecio said, not minding that coach Boy Velasco and consultant Don Abnett were with her in the interview area.
“Sinubukan namin, pero hindi talaga nag-click kasi ang haba talaga ng reach n’ya. Kita n’yo naman po, kahit ako nagugulat sa haba ng reach n’ya,” she added.
On order of the coaches, Nesthy abandoned the first game-plan in the second round.
And it did wonders for her.
Once the bell rang signalling the start of the second round, Petecio sprinted out of her corner and went bang, bang, bang to the surprise of the Italian, who started backtracking as she got tagged by a hard Petecio right not only once, twice, thrice but four times.
The small Filipino group in the arena were seen smiling again. They knew Nesthy had the Italian’s number.
The third round was basically the same as the middle round–Petecio attacking and Testa backtracking and clinching to parry the Filipina’s onslaught.
Gracious in defeat, Testa later told reporters that she agreed with the decision, adding she was really surprised by the change in tactics of her tormentor.
An hour before Petecio took the measure of the much-taller, veteran Italian fighter, Team PH celebrated the victory of Carlo Paalam, who was all over Algerian Mohamed Flissi to win by unanimous decision and reach the quarterfinals of the flyweight division.
Executing a game-plan to perfection, Paalam, 23, counterpunched effectively and defended well against the older and bigger African champion, easily earning a 5-0 decision under the 10-point must system of scoring.
“Sobrang saya po, hindi lang para sa akin kundi sa buong Pilipoinas,” said Paalam, a native of Carmen, Cagayan de Oro who is now only a victory away from giving Team PH its second boxing medal her
His next assignment is a formidable one.
Paalam will next fight Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov– who looked every bit the defending champion in his 5-0 demolition of Cape Verde’s Daniel Varela de Pina –in an August 3 fight where a win will make him the first Filipino male medalist in boxing since Mnasueto Velasco won a silver in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Take a look at Zoirov’s record: He was a gold medalist in the same division in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and is the reigning world and Asian champ.
But in making this deep run in his division, Paalam showed he could handle the best of them.
The 23-year-old Paalam started slowly, but there was no stopping him the moment he got his rhythm. He went head-hunting and repeatedly tagged the pursuing Algerian with solid punches, both coming from long range and inside.
Once the second round ended, there was no denying that Paalam had gotten Flissi’s number. In the final two minutes of the third round, the Filipino fighter spent most of the time moving out of harm’s way while occasionally hitting his foe with solid counter-punches.
“Karamihan kasi ang laro ng kalaban n’ya puro hablig. So ang strategy namin, kunwari papasukin s’ya, pero sa pagbalik namin may kasamang suntok. So yun ang ginawa niya,” said PH coach Ronald Chavez.
Buong araw kahapon, pinag-aralan namin ang laro ng kalaban. Walang pinagkaiba. Ganon at ganon rin ang laro. Madaling basahin,” he added.
As Paalam was disposing of Flissi, EJ Obiena was busy doing his thing at the National Stadium just a short walk away from the boxing arena.
And like in the boxing ring, there was a good news to tell at the track.
The 25-year-old Obiena, the first Filipino to qualify in the Tokyo Games who spent nearly two years building up in Formia, Italy, cleared 5.75 meters on his third and final attempt to finish 10th in the qualifying, good enough to make the medal round featuring the top 12 finishers.
There were some anxious moments.
Obiena fouled on his first two tries at clearing 5,75, including in the second one where he missed making an attempt during the one-minute allotted time limit. By Joe Antonio