DECEMBER 2, 2006
(STAR)  By Dante Navarro - Thirty-six Filipino athletes from nine sports carry the brunt of the Philippines’ campaign in the first full day of competition in the Asian Games here today with the brave bunch of boxers, gold medal producers the past Asiads, plunging into action with hopes of surviving the tough field in the elims of their respective divisions.

But the burden to produce the country’s first medal, not necessarily the gold, in this 15th staging of the continent’s greatest show rests on the broad shoulders of the tankers, led by SEA Games triple gold medalist Miguel Molina, and the power of judoka Tomohiko Hishani.

Molina, 22, sees action in Heat 1 of the 400m individual medley at 10:13 a.m. at the Hamad Aquatic Center where he is expected to advance to the finals based on his 4:26.1 clocking, which is fifth best among 17 starters but too far behind the Asian Games record of 4:14 held by Japanese Miki Jiro.

"I’ll do my best to win a medal," said Molina, who trains in Berkeley, California.

Fourteen gold medals are actually up for grabs in five sports on the first day of action although the Filipinos are vying for only seven golds, five in swimming and one each in judo and shooting.

Hishani opens his bid in the +100-kg category when he takes on Makhmadamin Khonov of Tajikistan. A victory will set him up against Yeldos Ikhsanagaliyev of Kazakhstan in the quarterfinal round.

The women’s trap team, composed of Gay Corral, Veneranda Garcia and Anna Maria Gana, will vie for the other gold outside of swimming. The men’s trap squad of Asiad bronze medalist Jethro Dionisio, Jaime Recio and Eric Ang sees action in the men’s trap elims at the Luisail shooting complex.

The other RP bets plunging into swimming action and hoping to get spots in the afternoon finals are James Walsh and Ernest Dee in men’s 200-m fly; Erica Totten in women’s 100-m fly and 200-m free, Maria Giorgina Gandionco in women’s 200-m free and Denjylie Cordero in women’s 50-m breaststroke.

After a three-gold medal haul by the Brown Bombers in the Hiroshima Asiad in 1994, courtesy of Mansueto Velasco, Elias Recaido and Reynaldo Galido, the Filipino fighters came out empty-handed in the last two Asian Games with lightfly Harry Tañamor settling for a silver in Busan in 2002.

With Tañamor booted out of this year’s roster for breach of discipline, boxing president Manny Lopez is pinning his hopes on Joan Tipon, the hard-punching 24-year-old SEA Games bantamweight champion.

"Harry is really a big loss to the team but I think with Joan around, we can still come up with a solid performance plus the rest could spring some surprises," said Lopez.

He, however, said the draw, slated late yesterday, could make or unmake his wards’ respective bids.

The other boxers eyeing berths in the next round at the Aspire Sports Complex beginning at 2 p.m. (7 p.m. Manila time) are SEA Games gold medalist Genebert Basadre, veteran Violito Payla and rookies Godfrey Castro, Delfin Boholst, Frances Joven and Anthony Marcial.

Over at the Al-Dana Club, International Masters Ronald Dableo and Darwin Laylo try their luck in the men’s rapid chess, which is also making its debut in the quadrennial meet. Also competing in the event firing off at 11 a.m. is youthful Jedara Docena in the women’s rapid competition.

Without the country’s top GMs, the Philippines is among the least fancied squads in the sport expected to be dominated by the Chinese and the teams from the former Soviet Republics along with those from Vietnam although Dableo and Laylo hope that their opponents’ unfamiliarity with their style would work to their advantage.

Gymnast Roel Ramirez, a 2005 SEAG double gold medalist, takes on the Asian titans in the sport like China, Japan and Korea when he competes in the men’s qualifiers, also at the Aspire Complex.

Soft tennis also opens at the Khalifa International Complex with Wenifredo de Leon Jr. Michael John Enriquez, Samuel Noguit, and Orlando Silvoza III bidding to come up with a fine start along with the women’s squad of Petrona Bantay, Belen Dante and Divina Gracia Escala.

The tandems of Heidi Ilustre and Diane Pascua and Parley Tupaz and Rhoyvi Verayo also hope to pull off surprises at the start of the beach volleyball competitions at the Sport City.

National champion Ernesto Ebuen faces Brunei’s Bu Hijji Hamas as table tennis competitions unwrap at the Al Arabi Sports Club.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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