ATHENS (VIA  GLOBE  TELECOM),  August 24, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - Filipino taekwondo jins found themselves in the same situation four years ago as the last national athletes with a realistic chance to claim an Olympic medal in the Athens Games.

With its hopes to medal inside the ring vanishing into the night at Peristeri Hall, the compact RP team brings its mission to the mats of this ancient Korean martial art placed on a raised podium at the Olympic Pavillion beginning Thursday.

"We’re the last to compete in Sydney and didn’t have good results but this time we feel we are better prepared. Mas preparado kami," said Donald Geisler, the 26-year-old veteran of six World Cup and three World Championships.

The 6-foot-1 German-Filipino mestizo will spearhead the country’s bid in the event on its second Olympic stint in the minus 80-kg category together with first timers Tshomlee Go in the minus 58-kg and Marie Antoinette Rivero in the women’s minus 67 kg class.

Although athletics bets Eduardo Buenavista and Lerma Balauitan-Gabito are yet to see action in the marathon and the long jump, respectively, the three jins are being tapped as having a solid crack at clinching a medal of any Olympic mint after the four boxers failed to advance in a disastrous finish.

And they would need four wins to win a gold and end the nation’s 80 years drought. Losing their first match will send them to an arduous task of going through the repechage, the loser’s side, to earn a bronze.

In fact, Geisler, Go and Rivero have retreated deep into the fast emptying Philippine quarters at the athletes village and resumed a daily two-session workout with coach Jesus Morales and Korean mentor Tae Hyung Kim.

"We’re actually into light training and tapering off to maintain our form," said Morales.

The draw will be Wednesday with the 23-year-old Go, the last Filipino to make it through the world qualifier in Paris, competing on Thursday and Geisler and Rivero going up on Saturday.

Despite a new tournament rule that allows a nation to field only four entries in the four-weight class thus greatly minimizing the chance of a Korean sweep, the taekwondo competition remains with high-powered and talent-laden cast.

The 16-year-old Rivero, a third year student at the Angelicum school’s home study program, doesn’t have the Sydney Games medalists in her bracket but has an equally explosive rivals in a promising Korean and the three top finishers in the World Championships in Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany.

"Laro lang ako and will do my best. I’ve seen the Korean and the other favorites at alam ko ang laro nila," said Rivero who punched a ticket to the Athens Games in the Bangkok qualifying tournament together with Geisler.

In her group are Hwang Kyung-sun, the first high school student to be selected to the South Korean senior team; world champion Lou Wei of China, silver medalist Saric Sandra of Croatia and third placer Elisavet Mystakidou of Greece.

Go has also some of the world’s best jins in his group but the UST education senior has impressive credentials to show, including his third place finish in the World qualifier where a huge field of 400 combatants descended on Paris and fought it out for the 25 berths in the event.

"He has met some of the world’s top performers in the world, kaya hindi na siya maninibago," said Morales.

The silver medalist in the World Cup in Vietnam in 2000 and bronze medal winner in the Busan Asiad in 2002, Go thinks he can hold his own against the likes of world champion Juan Ramos of Spain to whom he lost by a 4-5 count in the Paris conclave.

The other seeded men in Go’s division are Greek Michalis Mouroutsos, who won the gold medal in Sydney but could only finish fifth in the World tilt in Germany and Chinese Taipei’s Chi Su Ju, two-time world champion in Edmonton, Canada in 1999 and Hong Kong in 1997 and bronze medalist in the Sydney Games.

"I have to keep my focus at ilalaro ko ang style ko," said Go who also earned silver and bronze in past Asian Championships.

The memory of a bitter defeat in Sydney where he lost to his Swede opponent via tiebreak still haunts Geisler. He fought Roman Livaja to a 4-all draw at the end of the contest but the referee ruled in favor of the Swede on superiority.

The World Taekwondo Federation has amended the rule and calls for an extra round of three minutes to break a deadlock with the first jin to score point being declared winner. If the score remains tied, the judges will render the verdict on superiority.

"I hope to do better this time. I knew I delivered the solid blows but I lost in the tiebreak so this time I’m coming in better prepared," said Geisler who spent three months in heavy training in Korea with Rivero and Go.

Despite his superb records in a six-year span dating back to silver medal in the World Cup in Germany in 1998 and silver medal in the Bangkok Asian Games, Geisler looms as an underdog in his division in the presence of three brilliant jins led by American Steven Lopez, gold medalist in Sydney and World Championship in 2003 and 2001 in Cheju, Korea.

Then there are Iranian Yossef Karami, the reigning world champion, and Turkey’s Bahri Tanrikulu, a consistent medal winner in the world tournament topped by his winning the middleweight title in the Korean bash.

"Lahat sila magagaling pero handang-handa kami sa laban," said Morales.

Taekwondo notes: Geisler and Rivero decided not to go for the gold in the Bangkok Asian qualifier in February to avoid sustaining injury and avoid being scouted by the other teams…the families of Rivero, who started in the sport at age four, and Go are to arrive Tuesday to cheer for the two jins…Rivero has two brothers who are into taekwondo, too, Mark and Manuel Jr., while Tshomlee’s brother Jefferthom is a member of the national pool… there are close to half a million taekwondo practitioners all over the Philippines who would be praying for the success of the three jins. That’s how broad a mass base taekwondo’s development program has established in the country, reaching out from south to north and even MNLF and MILF camps in Mindanao, according to Morales…in fact, seven of the national athletes who competed in the SEA Games in Vietnam where the taekwondo team had won four golds, have long retired…there are close to 200 tournaments every year back home. A major event drawing 1,000 participants and a minor one around 300.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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