ATHENS (VIA  GLOBE  TELECOM),  August 30, 2004  (STAR) By Lito A. Tacujan - She fought through the pain and breaks and against a hostile crowd and came so close to winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal but she failed despite a courageous stand.

But Marie Antoinette Rivero left the luxurious blue mat of the Faliro Hall Saturday evening more a victor, particularly to a bunch of Filipino supporters who cheered her on in four rugged matches in the women’s under 67 kg.

The 16-year-old Rivero came within two wins of breaking the country’s 80-year gold medal drought in the Games but she dropped a 2-3 decision to Greece’s Elizavet Mystakidou in the semifinals before a roaring Greek crowd.

"She wanted to do more for the country, she was so close. She’s very young but showed a big fighting heart," said Robert Aventajado, president of the Philippine Taekwondo Association.

Had Rivero not lost to the Greek ,she would have won a silver outright and fought for the gold. She later bowed to Korean Hwang Kyung Sun, 2-6, in the repechage and failed to salvage a bronze.

The other Filipino jin — Donald Geisler III — also missed a crack at the bronze in the men’s under 80kg, dislocating his left ankle and two tendons in the repechage against Tunisia’s Hichem Hamdouni and had to be carried out of the hall on a stretcher.

Geisler, a repeat Olympian, earlier absorbed a verdict by superiority to Turkey’s Bahri Tanrikulu, who later took the silver. But he came out full of fight against Hamdouni, holding his own in a 7-all tie before banging his ankle to the charging Tunisian’s knee.

He crumpled to the mat and doubled up in pain. He struggled to his feet and tried to fight on after getting treatment from Korean coach Kim Tae Hyun but the referee stopped the fight. He was later brought to the Athletes’ Village polyclinic, went through X-ray, CT-Scan and Sonogram.

He now walks on crutches with his injured ankle fitted with a protective boot.

Rivero, the youngest in the RP team first triumphed by superiority over Argentina’s Vanina Beron Sanchez and took a decisive 10-4 win over the Netherlands Charmie Sobers for the semifinals that sent the nation back home all abuzz about a possible Olympic medal.

But Rivero suffered a bruised left thigh in the first encounter, injured her left hand against the Dutch bet and sustained yet another hand injury versus Mystakidou in the semis that had the crowd roaring "Hellas, Hellas‚" (the Greek word for Greece).

"It hurts. I know I could have won, but the breaks went against me. Lahat ng tama niya sa akin sa likod ng hips binilang samantalang ang mga hits ko walang count," she said.

Mystakidou loomed as the Greeks’ lone hope for a gold following the shock loss of sports icon Michailis Mouroutsos, the Sydney Games titlist, in the under 58 kg and evidently put the pressures on the judges as they came in droves for her duel against Rivero.

"Ako ang binawian, gutom sila sa panalo. I know I can beat her," she said.

Mystakidou, who was not impressive in her first two matches, raced to a two-to-nothing lead in the first two rounds with a side kick and turning back kick. Rivero, carrying the fight throughout, rallied in the third round as she nailed two offensive kicks but the former world No. 3 scored on a counter kick and won at 3-2 with one penalty point.

"The Greek showed her a lot of respect. It was low scoring contest and she was calculating and more cautious against Toni than against the Chinese in the final," said Aventajado.

By the time Rivero fought the Korean, she was hurting all over and bucking rush of fatigue. Mystakidou eventually took the silver, losing to world champion Wei Lou in the final while Hwang won the bronze.

The young Pinay jin then left the hall and broke down in tears.

"When she was fighting she looked to me taller and stronger. On the way home to the village I realized she was just a girl," Aventajado said.

Her heartbreaking loss had given her firm resolve to take a shot at the next Olympics. "I’m more determined now to work harder to earn a slot for Beijing."

Overall, the taekwondo jins made an impact on the RP campaign despite failing to medal in their respective events, Aventajado added, noting that Tshomlee Go made a remarkable stand against Spanish former champion Juan Ramos in the under 58 kg while Geisler had lost only on superiority over Tanrikulu before injuring his ankle in the bout versus Hamdouni.

Hamdouni went on to drop his next match to Yossef Karami who won the bronze while American Steven Lopez retained his title in the event.

"I’m proud of these young men and woman representing our country. I’m happy with their performance for it shows we have the materials but not the breaks," he said.

Philippine Olympic Committee president Celso Dayrit and PSC chair Eric Buhain also praised Rivero’s stirring performance.

"She fought bravely, she gave her best and there’s nothing we could ask for," said Buhain.

With the setback of the taekwondo jins, Team RP closes yet another fruitless campaign for an Olympic medal, the loss more galling with the successes chalked up by its neighbors Thailand, Indonesia and Chinese-Taipei.

The Thais enjoyed a great Olympics with three golds so far. They have won two in women’s weighlifting and one in boxing with another pug still in contention in the final day, the Taiwanese copped two golds in taekwondo while Indonesia won a gold in men’s badminton through Hidayat Taufik.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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