Athens (Via Globe Telecom),  August 17, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - In a thriller of a face-off that went down to the very final arrow, teener Jasmin Figueroa claimed archery’s biggest upset, beating former world champion Natalia Valeeva of Italy Sunday.

The 19-year-old Figueroa pulled off the stunning reversal, 132-130, amid high winds and in majestic surroundings in Panathinaiko Stadium, the site of the first Games of the modern era in 1896.

She stared defeat in the eye and didn’t blink.

Needing seven points on her final arrow as Valeeva put the pressure on with a fierce comeback, the dusky Figueroa fired an eight instead. Then as the impact of the feat dawned on her, she broke down in tears.

"Hindi ko akalain na aabot ako dito. Ang inaasam ko lang ay matapos na mataas (I didn’t expect to reach this far. All I hoped for was to finish with high points)," she said of her stint in the 70-meter 18-arrow knockout match.

That sent the archer from Balut, Tondo, who is now assured of 32nd place, to the round of 32 where she will meet Alumeda Gallardo, two-time Spanish best archer of the year awardee, on Tuesday.

Her victory capped a day of shattering upsets in archery by two wild card entries and boosted a sagging campaign and ebbing morale of Filipino athletes in the Athens Games. She also improved on compatriot Jennifer Chan’s 58th finish in Sydney, Australia four years ago.

It was also the first time a Filipino archer made a mark in the Olympics since a team led by Francisco Naranjilla made its debut in 1972 in Munich, Germany.

Of the two wild card bets’ victories, however, Figueroa’s was the more impressive. The other upset was posted by Bhutan’s Thsering Chhoden with a 159-156 win over 11th seed Lin Sang of China. Myanmar’s Thin Thin Khaing, the third wild card entrant, lost in

sudden death to Poland’s Malgorzatta.

It was a drama-fraught encounter between the young Filipina and the former Olympic and world champion and rated third in the Games who struggled in strong winds in the late afternoon match.

"I told her to keep her focus, not to try hard because she would lose her form and I think the strong winds worked in our favor. Nahirapan ang kalaban dahil na-pressure sa lakas ng hangin. Na rattled kami, na-rattled siya," said national coach Henry Manalang.

Conditions will be ideal in her next match against the Spanish ace since they will battle it out at 11:11 a.m.

"It’s a good schedule. Hindi mahangin sa umaga," Manalang said.

Figueroa, a second year University of Makati student who comes from a family of archers, trailed in the first end of the 18-arrow contest but recovered in time to even lead by seven points after the first nine arrows.

But Figueroa opened the last three ends of the contest badly, missing the target entirely on her 10th arrow and trailed by three points as Valeeva countered with a 10.

The 34-year old Valeeva, who has enjoyed a successful career in archery that netted one world outdoor (1995), three world indoor crowns (1991, 1999 and 2001) and an Olympic bronze in 1992, lost her touch anew with 6-2 in her next two arrows while Figueroa fired 10-7 giving the Filipina a six-point spread.

Figueroa later took a seven-point lead on her fifth end with two 9s and a 10 and the crowd, sensing a big upset in the works, started cheering her on as Valeeva responded with 8-10-9.

The veteran Italian put Figueroa to a wringer by finishing 10-9-8 to trail by only two as the Filipino archer wavered in the mounting pressure with 7-7. But she finished off Valeeva with an 8.

"Naisip ko ganyan ang buhay — kung matatalo, matatalo. Nagtiwala na lang ako sa itaas, " she said before firing the final arrow.

She recalled concentrating on making seven points but when she hit eight and secured the win, didn’t know how to react to the feat.

"Blangko ang isip, pero noong nakita ko si coach na umiiyak, napa-iyak na rin ako," said Figueroa, who could only finish 24th in the Madrid University Games prior to Athens.

Valeeva then congratulated Jasmin, and Manalang said the former world titlist lauded her poise during the showdown. "Sabi niya kay Jasmin, I envy you because you always smile," said the coach.

Both groped for form in the match swept by the winds with Valeeva way out of character with her 130 points while Jasmin’s 130 was way below her best score of 152.

"Masayang-masaya", said Figueroa, a member of the RP team that won the team gold in the 2003 Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi.

Her victory — witnessed by Philippine Olympic Committee president Cito Dayrit, Philippine Sports Commission chairman Eric Buhain and Toursim Secretary Roberto Pagdanganan — now looms as one of the defining moments of the RP campaign which suffered early setbacks in various fronts of the Games barely a week old.

"It was a very good day for the Philippines," said chef de mission Steve Hontiveros.

Figueroa could improve further her ranking with a victory over Gallardo although at this stage she has already earned the distinction as the highest—placed Filipino in the event at 32nd. Naranjilla was 37th and Ramon Aldea 54th in the Munich Games; Basilisa Ygnalaga 49th in 1988 Seoul and Chan 58th four years ago.

The start of the archery knockout series marked the return of the Olympic Games to the stadium where it all began 108 years ago.

But it turned out to be a demanding venue for the event in the presence of strong winds. While 22 archers scored 150 or above in the morning, only two of the 32 competitors in the afternoon session managed to break the 150 barrier.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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