DISASTER  IN  ATHENS

ATHENS (VIA  GLOBE  TELECOM),  August 27, 2004  (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Nolito (Boy) Velasco’s brothers Roel and Mansueto are in the history books for delivering two of the country’s nine Olympic medals. Roel brought back a bronze from the 1992 Barcelona Games while Mansueto or Onyok claimed a silver in Atlanta in 1996. Both medalists were lightflyweight boxers.

Nolito, Gregorio Caliwan and Pat Gaspi formed the coaching staff of the Philippines’ four-man boxing team at the Athens Olympics. They took over from Raul Liranza after the Cuban failed to produce a medal in Sydney four years ago. Liranza’s claim to fame was steering Onyok to the finals in Atlanta. Before Liranza, another Cuban–Pedro Pacheco–coached the national squad. And before Pacheco, it was American Eugene Menacho.

I was shocked when I read in the papers that Nolito called for a revamp of the national pool after the Philippines suffered a second straight medal shutout in Olympic boxing in Athens. Nolito should’ve kept his mouth shut. Blaming the fighters for the disaster was a cop-out of the first degree. Judas couldn’t have found a more despicable disciple. Unlike his brothers who are Olympic heroes, Nolito will go down in Philippine sports history as a heel. Maybe, the coaching staff should be revamped ahead of the boxers pool.

Middleweight Chris Camat started the Filipino fighters’ campaign in Athens. He gave up the rare privilege of carrying the Philippine flag during the opening ceremony to prepare for his bout. Lightwelterweight Romeo Brin inherited the job from Camat.

The luck of the draw pitted Camat against Sydney silver medalist Gaydarbek Gayderbekov of Russia in his Olympic debut. They were worlds apart in talent. The Russian ended the first round leading 6-3, the second 16-6, the third 24-7 and finally 35-13. To highlight Gayderbekov’s superiority, Camat took a pair of standing eight-counts in the third and fourth rounds.

Camat, 24, was clueless in figuring out a way to beat the Russian. He looked lost in the ring as Gayderbekov turned him into a human punching bag. Worse, Camat received no instructions from his corner as to how to get back at Gayderbekov. The slaughter was an ominous start for the Filipino fighters. Camat should’ve carried the flag–at least, that would’ve been his moment of glory in Athens.

Flyweight Violito Payla, 25, was confident of beating Tulashboy Doniorov in the preliminaries. After all, Payla had beaten the Uzbek twice previously. But Doniorov came prepared for Payla. In the second round, Payla was dropped and suffered a cut over the left eye. He was never in control of the action. Doniorov did his homework and breezed to a 36-26 win.

Someone said the Philippine coaches insisted Doniorov should’ve been disqualified for repeated holding and whatever else. The comment only proved the coaches’ lack of appreciation of what must be done in the ring to win. Like Camat, Payla couldn’t adjust to stem the tide and was bowled over by an obviously superior opponent. The sooner the coaches realize their shortcomings, the better for Philippine amateur boxing.

Appearing in his third Olympics, Brin was sensational in whipping Patrick Bogere of Sweden to post the country’s first win in Athens. The 31-year-old veteran was tipped to beat Manus Boonjumnong in the second preliminaries since he had outpointed the Thai in the Puerto Princesa qualifiers. But it wasn’t meant to be. Manus led 5-2 and 15-7 before winding up a 29-15 winner. Brin was totally outfought in a massacre.

Lightflyweight Harry Tańamor, touted to bag at least a bronze, had a shaky start against Tajikistan’s Sherali Dostiev. At the end of three rounds, Dirty Harry was up only by a point, 12-11. In the third, Dostiev tired out and Tańamor coasted to score a 17-12 decision.

In the second preliminaries, Tańamor was badly outclassed by Korean Hong Moo Won. While Doniorov and Manus turned the tables on their former Filipino tormentors, Tanamor couldn’t do it to Hong. At the Karachi qualifiers, Hong trounced Tańamor, 34-19, for the gold medal. This time, Hong’s margin of victory was bigger at 42-25.

Tańamor was badly coached. He left himself wide open for counter shots to the head in attacking Hong’s midsection. Lopez once said head-hunting is the name of the game in Olympic boxing because judges are inclined to overlook body punches. The coaches in Athens apparently didn’t listen to Lopez.

A rumor circulated that Lopez’ father Mel instructed the coaches to order Tańamor to go for the body. Could the father not have known what was in his son’s mind?

In Athens, the bunglers were the coaches, not the fighters. A reliable source said in between rounds, the coaches hardly talked tactics or strategy–they only told the boys to keep punching. No wonder they lost. They couldn’t execute in the ring because their coaches didn’t know what to tell them. While their opponents adjusted and readjusted, the Filipino fighters stayed stagnant.

Calling for a revamp of the national pool isn’t the priority. The immediate order of business is for the Lopezes to reevaluate the direction of the country’s amateur boxing program. Perhaps, they should ask why Cebu fighters stay away from the ABAP. Perhaps, they should kick out overstaying coaches who’ve outlived their usefulness. In Athens, the coaches showed their inability to react to fight conditions and strategize adjustments. Perhaps, the Lopezes should tap the resources and brains of aficionados like Tony Aldeguer and Rudy Salud to contribute in putting Philippine amateur boxing back on track.

Successive medal shutouts in Olympic boxing are a cause for alarm particularly as the Sweet Science has traditionally been a source of pride for Filipinos in the Summer Games.

The time to bite the bullet has come.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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