ATHENS (VIA  GLOBE  TELECOM),  August 26, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - The next three days may provide the Philippines a shining Olympic moment.

Or a Greek tragedy of its making.

For the long wait for the three Filipino jins and the entire nation back home, including the President, is over as the martial art of taekwondo takes center stage at the Faliro Sports Pavilion beginning Thursday.

With the Athens Games fast winding down to its final days, this ancient Korean combat sport offers the country the last Olympic discipline for a podium finish.

In fact, the RP jins made up of Donald David Geisler III, a veteran of the Sydney Games, first timers Tshomlee Go and Maria Antoinette Rivero would need three straight wins to be assured of a silver or four wins to claim the nation’s first Olympic gold. But they have to hold their own against a star-studded cast in three weight divisions.

They have impressive credentials to show and the talent and the skill to wage battle with the best in the sport although their campaign would as much hinge on some luck in the draw which was set Wednesday afternoon over the same venue.

The 23-year-old Go, the first Filipino qualifier in the World meet in Paris, is the first to vie for honors in the minus 58 kilogram class.

He fights former world champion Juan Ramos of Spain, whom he defeated, 5-4, during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Paris last December. If he wins, Go will probably meet another world champion, Chu Mu Yen of Chinese Taipei, in the quarterfinals.

Yen eventually topped the Paris eliminations, with Ramos second and Go third.

Rivero, a full-fledged taekwondo warrior at the young age of 16, and Geisler, a former silver medalist in the World Cup, will compete in the minus 67 kg and the minus 80 kg, respectively, on Saturday with their campaigns expected to be followed keenly by fans back home, including the President.

"The President has been looking forward to the second half of the Olympics because of our taekwondo athletes. She’s hoping that we can still make it and bring home a medal," said Buhain.

Geisler also drew a world champion, Bahri Tanrikulu, in the first round. If he wins, Geisler will have an easier assignment in the next round where he meets the winner in the match between Hichem Hamdouni of Tunisia and Jacob Martins Obiorah of Nigeria.

Rivero has an easier first round assignment in Argentina’s Vanina Beron Sanchez. A win sends her to the next round against the winner in the match between The Netherlands’ Charmie Sobers and Sarah Bainbridge of Great Britain.

"Good or bad draw," said coach Jesus Morales. "We still have to fight them. Wala ka talagang pipiliin."

The mood remains upbeat for the small band of Filipino bets despite the huge meltdown of the boxers, the other squad the country has pinned so much hope for an Olympic glory.

Buhain said that the Pinoy jins are at par with the best in the world, noting that the three made it to the elite 16-member rosters through cutthroat eliminations in Bangkok and French capital.

"If we look at the number of nations participating here, 202 in all, you’ll notice that only few have entries in taekwondo and our jins qualified for the top 16 berths in the world. That in itself is an achievement," said Buhain.

RP’s chance for a breakthrough is a further enhanced by the new rule allowing only four entries per nation to avert a Korean sweep of the gold and ensure the status of the event as an Olympic sport.

"Maganda ang laban natin dito, better than boxing because of the limited number of entries per country but everything really depends on the breaks," said Celso Dayrit, president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.

Another rule in settling a draw in the final match that calls for a sudden death round could also work for the Filipinos, bringing to mind Geisler’s sorry loss in Sydney four years ago when the referee ruled against him on superiority.

"We have better chances here than four years ago, our athletes have trained hard and shown excellent form in various tournaments we played in," said Korean official Hong Sung Chon who will also act as one of the tournament officials.

Go, bronze medalist in the Paris elims and silver medalist in the World Cup in Vietnam in 2000, will report for action in one of the preliminary matches beginning at 11:23 a.m. (4:23 p.m. in Manila) and if he wins, he will advance to the quarterfinals set at 1:23 p.m.

Two more wins will send him to the semifinal in late afternoon and the final at 8 p.m. All events will be completed in the day with repechage matches, or the loser’s side’s bid for the bronze, set in the afternoon.

"Focus lang ako sa laban," said Go, a UST education senior who started in taekwondo at age 7.

Morales has handled their buildup including over two months of training in Korea and in-house grind at the Moro Lorenzo gym in Ateneo with coach Tae Hyung Kim.

Among the three jins, only the 5-foot-8 Rivero, a second year student at the Angelicum School, has a Korean rival in Hwang Kyung Sun in a start list toughened further up with presence of the top three finishers in the World tournament — China’s Lou Wei, Croatia’s Sandra Saric and host Greece’s Elisavet Mystakidou.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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