AUGUST 14, 2008
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Filipino taekwondo bet Tshomlee Go said yesterday it will be a dream come true to win the Olympic gold medal in Beijing and vowed to go all out for the chance of a lifetime when he reports for action in the -58 kilogram class at the Science and Technology University gym next week.

Go and the country’s only other taekwondo qualifier Toni Rivero leave Manila for Beijing tomorrow. Accompanying them are Korean coach Kim Hong Sik and women’s coach Rocky Samson. The draw in the men’s and women’s events is set on April 18. Go will fight on Aug. 20 and Rivero, two days later.

Go, 27, said he’s now more prepared and focused than at the 2004 Athens Olympics where he was eliminated by Spain’s Juan Antonio Ramos via a 7-6 decision in his debut.

“It was my first Olympics,” recalled Go. “I couldn’t believe I was there. Now, four years later, I’m more experienced, more focused. I don’t think about how many wins I need to get a medal or how strong my opponents are. I just concentrate on one fight at a time.”

In Go’s division, there are 16 contenders, eight of whom he has faced in previous competitions. Although he has beaten the likes of Thailand’s Dech Sutthikunkam, Germany’s Levent Tuncat, Afghanistan’s Rohullah Nikpai and Benin’s Jean Moloise, Go isn’t taking anyone lightly – not even Belize’s wildcard entry Alfonso Martinez.

Go admitted he has never defeated the top two favorites, Ramos and Chinese-Taipei’s Chu Mu Yen, but there’s always a first time. Go lost to Chu in the Manchester qualifiers last year. He dropped a pair of hairline cliffhangers to Ramos in the Paris qualifiers for the 2004 Olympics and in Athens.

A two-month training program at the Pung Saeng High School in Seongnam near Seoul warmed up Go for Beijing.

“It was like a military camp,” said Go. “We trained thrice a day, Monday to Sunday. We were up before 7 for 7:30 practice then we trained some more at 2:30 and 7:30 before sleeping at 10. We ran up and down over 100 steps of stairs they carved on a hill every morning.”

Go said he learned a lot of new techniques from Kim in the grueling training sessions.

“Coach Kim taught me many things,” continued Go. “In the past, I would just come forward and try to kick as quickly as possible. He polished my stepping, approach, style and technique. I learned to fight in and out and how to position myself after a kick so I won’t get hit by a counter. Coach always reminds me to keep my focus, stay with the basics, be ready to attack and never bring down my guard.”

Go said Kim also drilled him on how to beat Chu in case they meet in Beijing. “I’ve got a few surprises for him,” said Go. “Just like Ramos. I will fight them differently from when I lost to them before.”

Go’s father Tomas and brother Jefferthom, who operate a taekwondo gym in Los Angeles, are arriving tomorrow and will fly to Beijing with his mother Lilia on Aug. 19. It will be a special treat for Go to perform in front of his family.

“I’m dedicating my second Olympics to our country,” said Go. “This is for our people. I’m hoping to share my Olympic dream with our countrymen and everyone who means so much to me.”

Go said his Olympic training has not allowed him too much time to be with his girlfriend, former Ateneo taekwondo jin Renee Ortega.

“Since I came back from Korea, I’ve been so busy training,” said Go. “She comes to see me in the gym and that’s the only time we get together.”

Go said the P15 million incentive promised for an Olympic gold medal is extra motivation.

“Of course, I think about it,” said Go. “That amount is no joke. But I’m not putting pressure on myself because of it. Am I nervous?

Naturally. I like it when I get nervous because it pumps me up. I don’t think I’ll do well if I’m not nervous.”

Go said he was inspired by the opening ceremonies on TV.

“It would’ve been nice to participate but I understand why we’re leaving later,” said Go. “We also missed the opening parade in Athens. If we left to join the parade, we would’ve been too early because taekwondo is one of the last events. We would’ve been able to train only for an hour once a day in Beijing. Unlike in Manila, we’re able to continue training. Anyway, we’ll be there for the closing program. I watched the parade on TV and Manny Pacquiao as our flag bearer really inspired me.”

Four wins in a row will earn the gold medal and three will guarantee a silver. The six jins who lose to the two finalists knock each other out in a consolation bracket with the last two survivors gaining a bronze medal apiece.


SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Another banner crowd is expected to jam the Araneta Coliseum tonight as Barangay Ginebra and Air21 slug it out in Game 4 of their best-of-7 duel for the PBA Fiesta Conference crown.

Over 16,000 fans trooped to the Big Dome for Games 1 and 3 so the trend is clear for a big throng to show up for what could be the turning point in the series. Game 2 was played at the Ynares Center in Antipolo.

The Express leads, 2-1, and Ginebra’s back is against the wall. If Air21 takes Game 4, it’ll be the Express’ third victory in a row, meaning to salvage the title, the Kings must defy the odds in winning three straight to clinch in Game 7 – a tall order for the crowd favorites.

No doubt about it, Ginebra is in a must-win situation tonight. A win will knot the series count at 2-all and send it back to square one – a refreshing thought for coach Joseph Uichico who could use the extra days of rest for his tired charges. A loss will push Ginebra to the brink of elimination because crawling out of a 1-3 hole is next to impossible.

After handily winning Game 1 behind Chris Alexander’s 18 points and 25 rebounds, Ginebra hasn’t been the same. Point guard Jay-Jay Helterbrand hurt his hamstring in the third period of Game 2 as Air21 capitalized on his no-show to hammer out a convincing 124-90 rout. Then, in Game 3 last Sunday, Ginebra kept it close and showed the way in the first three periods only to collapse down the stretch in yielding a 97-87 verdict without Helterbrand in uniform.

* * *

Air21 coach Bo Perasol exploited Ginebra’s lack of depth in the backcourt and used a three-guard combination in Gary David, Niño Canaleta and Arwind Santos to finish off the Kings in a fiery fourth quarter surge. With Helterbrand and Ronald Tubid out of commission, Uichico tried to slow down the pace using a big lineup. The trick of keeping the scores low nearly paid off except in the closing minutes, it was evident the Express had more air in reserve than Ginebra.

It was Canaleta who made the difference in the payoff period as he buried four triples off Ginebra’s crumbling defensive rotation. Because Steve Thomas repeatedly scored in Alexander’s face, the Kings gambled on double-teaming the Air21 import, leaving Canaleta unmarked.

But all is not lost for Ginebra. The good news for Uichico is Junthy Valenzuela, a playoff veteran, has still to explode in the series. He scored 12 points in Game 1 but was limited to only two in Game 2 and seven in Game 3. Then, there is Eric Menk’s reemergence as an inside threat. Menk hit a conference-high 17 points in Game 3. If he keeps it up, it’ll be easier for Alexander to operate down low. Alexander will enjoy a field day sweeping the offensive glass on the weak side whenever Menk misses.

How Uichico adjusts his starting lineup is crucial. In Game 3, he started Paul Artadi at point guard, Mark Caguioa at offguard, Valenzuela at small forward, Menk at power forward and Alexander at center. In Game 4, he could start Chris Pacana at point guard, Caguioa at offguard, Sunday Salvacion at small forward, Rafi Reavis or Billy Mamaril at power forward and Alexander at center. That way, Pacana can establish Ginebra’s defense early with Valenzuela coming off the bench as his reliever.

* * *

When the going gets rough, Valenzuela could play point guard alongside Caguioa with Artadi and Menk leading the second unit charge. It’s important that Ginebra has a strong core of relievers to keep fresh legs on the court because Air21 thrives in transition. Artadi’s spark will provide continuity for Ginebra while Menk will fuel the Kings’ power attack.

The key for Ginebra is Alexander’s aggressiveness. If he performs like he did in Game 1, there’s no way Thomas can outplay him. Alexander, however, is more effective when there is motion in Ginebra’s offense. Giving the ball to Alexander and expecting him to inch his way close to the hole for scoring position won’t get it done because Air21 isn’t about to allow him the space to move in.

Air21 dominated the boards, 63-49, in Game 3. Still, Ginebra was in the thick of things until Canaleta erupted in the fourth period. The Kings learned a bitter lesson last Sunday – you don’t win a game by controlling the first three periods.

Uichico is no stranger to adversity. He knows what’s at stake. He understands his predicament. It’s almost a do-or-die situation for Ginebra. Win or lose, the Kings will fight until the bitter end because that’s their legacy to the fans – they’re the never-say-die team.

Postscript. The PBA’s average paid attendance this conference is 6,405 and should increase as the finals extends. Average sales per game is P482,611.19 as of last Friday. Sources said the league overshot its revenue target of P22 million by P2 million at the end of the eliminations. The overall conference target is P28 million which has probably been surpassed by now, what with the burgeoning ticket sales in the wildcard series, quarterfinals, semifinals and so far in the finals. No wonder commissioner Sonny Barrios has been grinning ear to ear lately. He’s got every reason to be pleased with the league’s performance in his first full conference as permanent commissioner.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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