RP BOXERS'  QUEST FOR  OLYMPIC  GOLD  ENDS;  BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

ATHENS (VIA  GLOBE  TELECOM),  August 23, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Light flyweight Harry Tañamor kept on digging to the body and in the process dug a grave for his Olympic bid Saturday night.

Following a scheme gone awry and reducing the talented and highly rated Filipino pug to a virtual one-dimensional fighter, Tañamor absorbed a stunning 42-25 defeat at the hands of Korean Hong Moo Won at the Peristeri Boxing Hall here. It was a shocking outcome for the man long regarded as having the best chance to advance as the Filipino boxers, accounting for five of the nine Olympic medals the nation has won in the past, bowed out of contention without a podium finish to show for the second straight Games.

And they squandered this one through their own undoing, sticking to a battle plan of incessant body attacks which the game Korean sent into shambles by almost scoring at will with rights and lefts. Gone was the swift, stand-up style Tañamor dished out to Tajikistan’s Sherali Dostiev as he went for the body from midway in the first round and paid dearly for it as Hong hammered away in continuous flurries.

The 26-year-old Zamboanga native took an 8-3 margin in the first minute of the first round but Hong rallied to tie the count at 10-all at the end of the first two minutes. He raced ahead to a 23-15 lead in the second round and won comfortably the next two for that one-sided decision. "Maraming patama sa katawan pero ayaw pumuntos (He made a lot of hits to the body but they didn’t score)," said national coach George Caliwan. It was a gambit ill-conceived from the outset as boxing officials thought wrongly that body blows would register as much as the head shots.

That greatly diminished Tañamor’s effectiveness and fighting style and what was galling was the Filipino fighter never abandoned the strategy even as the Korean pounded away, at one stage scoring on a string of four blows.

"Nagulat kami at hindi pumuntos sa tiyan. We saw on previous fights on TV that body blows would count in the scores pero kay Tañamor hindi bumibilang," said boxing president Manny Lopez who acts as member of the Jury of Appeal here.

Frank Elizalde, the International Olympic Committee permanent representative, watched frustrated from the stands together with Philippine officials and later questioned Tañamor’s failed bid. "This is a top-level competition and as far as I know and from my experience, it’s a head-hunting game and body blows just don’t count," he said.

It was a bitter exit for the four Filipino fighters who chased Olympics berths all over Asia and trained for four months in Bulgaria and France. Middleweight Chris Camat and flyweight Violito Payla went out in the first round while lightwelterweight Romeo Brin and Tañamor lost their bid in the second round. And for the second Olympiad in a row that RP pugs didn’t medal following the silver won by Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco in the 1996 Atlanta Games and the bronze claimed by his elder brother Roel Velasco in Barcelona in 1992 and Leopoldo Serrantes in 1988 in Seoul. They were also shut out in Sydney four years ago. The country’s other silver medal in boxing was won by Anthony Villanueva in the 1964 Tokyo Olympiad.

Left to fight for the RP cause in the Athens Games now down on its final week are taekwondo jins Donald Geisler, Tshomlee Go and Maria Antoinette Rivero and athletics’ Lerma Gabito in the long jump and Eduardo Buenavista in the men’s marathon.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD By Lito A. Tacujan (STAR)

Calls for a radical change in the development program of amateur boxing back home were made after another disappointing finish by the Filipino boxers in the Athens Games.

Bitter over the team’s failure to put a Filipino pug on the medal bouts for the second time in eight years, Philippine officials said it’s high time to look into the program of the sport and search for the winning formula. "We need to make significant change in strategy. We have to make a radical change on our program and improve our training if we were to make a comeback in the Olympics," said Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit.

The boxers stint in the Greek metropolis ended disastrously Saturday night when light flyweight Harry Tañamor followed an ill-conceived and ill-advised gameplan and lost his second round match to Korean Hong Moo Won. The fate he suffered together with three other boxers — Chris Camat, Violito Payla and Romeo Brin — underscored how much RP amateur boxing had logged behind when ranged against the best in the world. Boxing chief Manny Lopez, who is a member of the International Amateur Boxing Federation’s Jury of Appeal, said they would review their program and look for the right formula to get RP amateur boxing back on track.

"In training and fighting technique we’re not far behind but we may be deficient in refinement as far as our program is concerned. Once we return to Manila we will assess our performance, and make our recommendations," said Lopez. There was a consensus to bring in a foreign coach anew after the Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) terminated the services of Cuban mentor Raul Liranza following the medal shutout in Sydney. "It’s ABAP’s decision to bring in a foreign coach or not but other combat sports like karate, fencing and taekwondo have enlisted foreign coaches for some kind of transfer of technology," said Dayrit.

The Philippines could look at Thailand’s proud tradition in the Olympics further enriched with the entry of Cuban coach Juan Batista Fontanills before the Atlanta Olympics. The Thais have won nine Olympic medals, eight of them on the boxing ring, including two golds. Of the six Thai qualifiers here, four are very much in contention going into the quarterfinal round. "We should go back to the drawing board as you can see our boxers keep on losing on high level competition like the Olympics," said IOC permanent representative Frank Elizalde. The 26-year old Tañamor, seeded by the Sports Illustrated as one of four boxers to medal in the division, followed a scheme to launch body attacks and succumbed to a horrible loss to Hong who hammered away with clean head shots.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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