DECEMBER 14, 2006
(STAR) By Dante Navarro - Boxer Violito Payla delivered the second gold 16 hours after Antonio Gabica scored the breakthrough win in the all-Filipino 9-ball final as Team Philippines finally found its bearing heading into the last two days of the 15th Asian Games here.

The feisty Payla dethroned an aging Songjit Jongjohor of Thailand with an impressive 31-15 decision as he mastered his old tormentor with spunk and ring savvy to claim the flyweight crown and fuel the countryís golden run so late in the Games.

Payla controlled the action from the second round on, sneaking in left straights and right hooks to punish Jongjohor, the former world champion, and the fired-up Filipino slugger pressed his attack in the third, catching the Thai again with a powerful left that sent him down on his knee.

The 27-year-old Payla took a 17-11 lead and, from there, worked the time by dancing away from the embattled Thai to nail the gold that touched off a wild celebration among Filipino fans at ringside.

The victory came after Gabica fashioned out an 11-7 win over compatriot Jeffrey de Luna to bag the countryís first gold after 11 days in the 9-ball menís singles final.

"We are right on track of our goal and we will get the second gold after Paylaís inspiring win," said boxing president Manny Lopez, referring to Joan Tiponís bid against Korean Han Soon Chul for the bantam gold Wednesday.

Counting the two bronzes tucked by Cecil Mamiit in tennis that ended the Philippinesí 40-year medal drought in the sport, and karateka Noel Espinosa in the menís individual kata, the Philippines now has a 2-4-8 (gold-silver-bronze) medal take to jump to No. 18 in the tally, one rung better than its finish in the Busan Asian Games in 2002.

It could get better with a Tipon victory.

"Tipon has the edge and after Paylaís inspiring victory, Tipon will follow suit," said Lopez. "We will now set our eyes for the Beijing Olympics."

Payla trained his sight only for Jongjohor.

"I really prepared for the gold medal and I never went out (of training). I know I have improved as he has beaten me three times," said Payla, who ended a 12-year gold medal drought by RP in boxing.

With one gold, a sure silver (Tipon), and two bronzes, boxing has indeed improved from its Busan stint with only a silver to show courtesy of lightfly Harry TaŮamor although it paled in comparison with the three-gold haul by Mansueto Velasco, Elias Recaido Jr. and Reynaldo Galido in the 1994 Hiroshima Games.

Jongjohor, back-to-back gold medal winner in the 51kg division in the Vietnam SEA Games and the Manila SEAG, refused to be gracious in defeat, blaming the judges for the lopsided score in the fight that started out a tight contest.

"I didnít prepare enough. But the game turned around because of the judges. I think they pressed their button according to the people around the ring," rued Jongjohor, also the world champion in 2003.

But what slowed down the Thai veteran was when he was hit by Payla in the elbow in the second round where the Filipino took charge and turned the game around.

"I got punched in my left elbow so my arm was stiff and I couldnít punch with it. But I had to push," said Jongjohor.

Payla pushed him harder as the Filipino fighter stepped up his charge in the third to post double-digit leads.

"I am now looking to getting the gold in the Olympics for the Philippines. I want to dedicate this honor to the Filipinos who watched my bouts," Payla said.

Late Monday, Gabica defeated compatriot de Luna to win the gold medal in the 9-ball event of billiards after blowing his title bid in the 8-ball singles.

Meanwhile, Mamiitís impressive run in the menís singles event in tennis ended when he succumbed to top seed Lee Hyung Taik of South Korea, 7-5, 6-0.

He later teamed up with fellow Fil-Am Eric Taino and absorbed a 2-6, 4-6 defeat at the hands of the top-seeded pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhuphati of India in the menís doubles semifinals.

Hopes also sparked at the Equestrian Jumping Arena.

After the first half of the individual jumping event, Juan Ramon Lanza, aboard Donít Cry for Me, tied for first place with eight other entries with no penalty each.

The second round will be held later in the day.

Meanwhile, China hiked its tally to 124 gold, 70 silvers and 51 bronzes. Japan was next with 45-51-59 and South Korea 45-39-70.

Karate produced its first medalist in Espinosa who defeated Palestineís Diaaldeen Al Karaky, 5-0, for the bronze in the menís individual kata event.

Espinosa, who trained in Japan, was relegated to the final repechage after losing to Japanese Tetsuya Furukawa, 0-5, in the semifinals.

On the way to the round of four, Espinosa clobbered Inthanousone Vilaysouk of Laos, 5-0, in the first round and turned back Lee Chi Kit of Hong Kong, 4-1.

In fencing, the menís foil team, composed of Emerson Segui, Rolando Canlas Jr. and Ramil Endriano, won its opening match against Iraq, 45-41.

In archery, the Filipinos couldnít hit the target. Mark Javier bowed to Korean Im Dong Hyun, 104-113, while Marvin Cordero couldnít break 100 in losing to Kuo Cheng Wei of Chinese-Taipei, 97-106.

Diving resumed Tuesday morning with NiŮo Carog and Zardo Domenios qualifying to the final of the menís 1m springboard event.

Carog tallied 329.20 points while Domenios totaled 313.00.

Chinese Luo Yutong and Qin Kai topped the qualifying with 443.70 and 413.00, respectively.

In sepak takraw, Deseree Autor and Irene Apdon were beaten by Sun Xiaodan and Wang Xiaohua of China, 10-21, 6-21.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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