(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - There were only 23 Asians of 80 fighters who qualified for the Beijing Olympics at the just concluded World Championships at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion.

Under the formula set by the governing International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), the semifinalists in the heavyweight and superheavyweight divisions automatically clinched tickets to Beijing along with the quarterfinalists of the nine other weight categories from lightflyweight to lightheavyweight.

A total of 557 aspirants from 107 countries converged to battle for Olympic slots. In the end, only 36 countries booked tickets. Two more qualifying tournaments for the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia will be held and one for Oceania to fill in the remaining 206 spots.

In all, 286 fighters will see action in Beijing. Two will be wildcard entries designated by AIBA. Asia has a quota of six in the lightflyweight, flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight divisions, five in the lightweight, lightwelterweight, welterweight, middleweight and lightheavyweight classes and two in the heavyweight and superheavyweight categories for a total of 53. Within the quota, China as host nation is allowed six slots of their choice.

But in Chicago, China stood proudly as it booked seven tickets, without a single free ride. That was the most of any Asian country. Next in line was Thailand with five (lightflyweight Amnat Ruenroeng, flyweight Somjit Jongjohor, featherweight Sailom Adi, lightweight Pichai Sayota, welterweight Non Boonjumnong). Kazakhstan had four qualifiers in the lightweight, lightwelterweight, welterweight and lightheavyweight divisions.

Russia finished with the most qualifiers – nine. The US earned six tickets.

The Philippines (lightflyweight Harry Tañamor), North Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Iran and Uzbekistan were other Asian countries to clinch berths with one apiece.

Surprisingly, South Korea (with seven hopefuls), Kyrgyzstan (with nine) and Chinese-Taipei (with three) failed to qualify a single fighter, indicating the highly competitive nature of the Olympic qualifiers.

The Philippines qualified only Tañamor of seven aspirants. It will be Tañamor’s second Olympic outing after representing the country at the 2004 Athens Games. A report from Chicago incorrectly mentioned Tañamor fought at the 2000 Sydney Games where the Filipino boxers were lightflyweight Danilo Lerio, flyweight Arlan Lerio, lightweight Larry Semillano and lightwelterweight Romeo Brin.

Thailand qualified five of eight, Iran one of 10, Kazakhstan four of 10, Japan one of eight, North Korea one of three, Sri Lanka one of three and China seven of 11.

China emerged as a serious threat in amateur boxing at the 2006 Asian Games after collecting two golds and three bronzes (compared to the Philippines’ two golds and two bronzes). Obviously, the Chinese are out to make a big splash in Beijing.

Lightflyweight Zuo Shiming will lead China’s charge at the Olympics. He won China’s only gold medal in Chicago. China also bagged four bronzes and qualified fighters in the lightflyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, welterweight, middleweight, heavyweight and superheavyweight classes.

Tañamor, 29, won four bouts and lost once to claim the silver in Chicago. He was beaten by Zuo in the finals, his third loss to the Chinese in four head-to-head lifetime meetings. Two Filipinos, flyweight Violito Payla and lightweight Genebert Basadre, fell a win shy of qualifying.

But the busts were bantamweight Joan Tipon, featherweight Charly Suarez, lightwelterweight Delfin Boholst and welterweight Wilfredo Lopez who all bowed out in their first bouts.

Tipon was the biggest disappointment, losing a 13-5 decision to Thailand ’s Worapoj Petchkoom who by the way, didn’t even qualify. Tipon was the country’s only gold medalist in the last Southeast Asian and Asian Games. He fought three days after arriving in Chicago from a 27-hour trip that included stops in Hong Kong and Los Angeles.

It’s too early to put Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines (ABAP) president Manny Lopez’ head on the chopping block as two more Olympic qualifiers are scheduled in January in Bangkok and in April in Kazakhstan. With 31 slots still available for Asian fighters in Beijing, the probability is the Philippines will send at least three more fighters to the Olympics.

Lopez himself said he hopes to qualify at least five for Beijing. In the last two Olympics, the Philippines sent four boxers to Sydney and four to Athens.

Calling for Lopez’ resignation at this point makes no sense. His departure will only leave the country’s boxing program in absolute disarray. Besides, Lopez is the Federation of Asian Amateur Boxing secretary-general and deserves all the support he can muster in promoting the country as an Olympic medal hopeful.

Sure, problems beset the country’s campaign in Chicago and Lopez must address these bumps immediately if he is to regroup the Filipino fighters for a serious run in the two remaining Olympic qualifiers. But a hanging is definitely out of the question at this crucial stage of preparations for the Olympics.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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