ATHENS:  FIGUEROA 'S  AMAZING  TALE  ENDS, LOSES  TO  SPAIN'S  GALLARDO

Athens (Via Globe Telecom),  August 18, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Athens ( Via Globe Telecom) ó Teener Jasmin Figueroa bowed out of the Athens Games but enshrined her name as the best Filipino Olympic archer in 32 years.

Figueroa, catapulted to prominence with her smashing upset of the womenís world No.3, dished out her best form but lost to Spainís Almudena Gallardo, 150-152, in the round of 32 of the 70-meter 18-arrow womenís individual archery event at the historic Panathinako Stadium here.

Thus ended the sophomore studentís amazing tale from an obscurre wild card entrant to a world beater following her storied victory over former world and Olympic medallist Natalia Valeeva in the round of 64 Sunday.

That impressive triumph could be one of the highlights or the very defining moment of the Philippine campaign in the Athens Games.

Although she came up with her best effort since the ranking tournament with a score two shy of her personal best of 152, Figueroa just couldnít overcome the Spanish ace as she trailed the entire run of the face-off.

"Masaya na rin ako maski malungkot at natalo. At least na-experience ko ang ganitong katinding labanan," said the 19-year old Tondo lass.

It was a virtual shootout at high noon with conditions ideal and the crowd animated, igniting into the cheers after every shot.

The dusky Figueroa fired a 10 on her first arrow but finished the three-arrow first end trailing by two.

She lagged behind Gallardo by three points after three ends, burdened by six points on her fifth arrow and by five on the fourth with a 104-99 count on nine arrows. Although she kept Gallardo literally within sight by going four points down after the fifth end, she put a dash of drama by firing a nine off her final arrow.

By then Gallardo, needing only a six to win, nailed a berth in the round of 8 with a seven and lowered the curtains down on the brave stand of the young Filipina archer.

"Ang feeling ko may chance pang manalo pero minalas," said Figueroa, who cried in the company of her coach Henry Manalang and Filipino sports officials.

Hoping to improve only on her friend Jennifer Chanís 58th finish in the Sydney Games with barely four months to prepare as a wild card, Figueroa found herself instead as the very best Filipino archer in the Olympics since a group led by Francisco Naranjilla made a debut in the 1972 Munich Games.

"Nandoon ang focus kaya lang nag-iba ang feeling niya nang naka-una ang kalaban. Pero bata pa siya, may puso at pinakita niya na kaya niyang lumaban sa World at sa Olympics," said Manalang.

" She did better than expected but we have reasons to be proud of her," said Philippine Olympic Committee chief Celso Dayrit.

"A very good performance and she made a mark not only for herself but for the country," said chef de mission Steve Hontiveros.

Chairman Eric Buhain of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) who also gave Figueroa a morale boost from the marbled steps of the site of the first Olympic Games in 330 B also praised Jasmin.

"Solid. Buong buo ang loob," he said.

Jasmin said she learned so much from her first Olympic stint. "Nalaman ko ang mga maling ginawa ko. Marami akong napag-aralan kaya sa next Olympics alam ko na kung ano ang mayroon sa ganitong laban," she said.

Meanwhile, swimmer Miguel Molina improved on his qualifying time on his third event at the Aquatic Center, timing in 2:19.19 in heat one of the 200-m breaststroke.

The 20-year old Molina, a student at the U of Cal in Berkeley, flashed home second in his heat to better his old mark of 2:20.81 made in the Vietnam Southeast Asian Games two years ago.

Fil-Am Jaclyn Pangilinan also surpassed her personal best in the 100-m breastroke with 1:12.47 the other day. Her old mark was 1:12.87 made in the US National championships in Maryland last year although her national mark was 1:11.72 made last year in the junior national.

With her 150 tally against the big Spanish girl, Figueroa was officially ranked 27th in a field of 64, easily surpassing the 58th place finish of Jennifer Chan in the 2000 Sydney Games and the 37th place effort of Francisco Naranjilla Jr. in the 1972 Munich Olympics.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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