Three Filipino athletes, including one potential medal hopeful, fell out of contention one after the other as action in the 2016 Rio Olympics went full blast on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) in different venues in and around the city.
Table tennis player Ian Lariba, who carried the Philippine flag in the opening ceremony Friday evening, was first to fall, losing to Xing Han of Congo in straight sets, 11-7, 13-7, 11-9, 11-7, in a morning match at the Riocentro Pavilion 3.
“There’s still some things lacking in my game. I can still feel the tension. But I will learn from this experience,” said the 21-year-old Lariba.
In swimming, Jessie Khing Lacuna, who’s in his second straight Olympics, failed to keep up with rivals in the men’s 400m freestyle.
Lacuna, a 22-year-old student at Ateneo, finished sixth among seven swimmers in Heat 2 of his event with a time of 4:01.70. It was way below his personal best of 3:55:34.
Mack Horton of Australia eventually won the gold in the 400m freestyle with a time of 3:41.55. Not even Lacuna’s best time of 3:55.34 would have kept him close to the eighth and last finalist, Jordan Pothain of France who timed 3:49:07.
Reporters were not able to talk to Lacuna.
In boxing, lightweight Charly Suarez, who will turn 28 on August 14, also suffered a bitter 2-1 split decision loss to Joseph Cordina of Great Britain. The Filipino won in the eyes of the referee from Turkey, 29-28, but lost in the cards of those from Morocco (29-28) and Uzbekistan (30-27).
The judge from Uzbekistan gave all three rounds to Cordina, including the second, where Suarez landed a couple of right straights to his opponent’s face. The judges from Turkey and Morocco both had the Filipino winning the second round.
It was a sorry loss for Suarez, who had hoped to get past Cordina, taller by three inches at 5’9” but one who does not have the boxing skills of the Filipino veteran.
Suarez’s corner, including himself, thought he did enough to win the contest.
“I thought we’ve won,” said Filipino coach Nolito “Boy” Velasco at the Athletes Village a couple of hours after Suarez failed to advance to the quarterfinals.
Velasco felt that Suarez did well even in the third round and was quite surprised that all three judges gave the round to the British fighter.
“His opponent hardly threw punches in the third round. He didn’t show anything. But that’s the way it is, win some, lose some,” he added.
Velasco said Suarez did well in the first two rounds that he even ordered the most senior member of the Philippine boxing team to go all-out during the final round to make sure he’d win.
“I told Charly to go all-out during the third round because we might be cheated,” said Velasco.
Suarez, who wanted to reach the medal rounds in his first Olympics, said he gave his best inside the ring but had accepted the decision of the judges.
“I thought I’ve won. But I accept the loss. My opponent is a good boxer. He’s tall and fights long [range],” he said.
A small group of Filipinos based in Rio de Janeiro cheered from the stands, and joined others who booed the decision.
With Suarez out of contention, the burden now falls on light-flyweight Rogen Ladon, who makes his debut on Monday against Colombia’s Yurberjen Martinez, a 3-0 winner over Brazil’s Patrick Lourenco earlier Saturday.
Ladon, who drew a bye as the No. 5 seed in the 49kg class, only needs to win two matches to assure himself of a bronze and four to win the gold.
“What I’ve failed to achieve might be achieved by Ladon or anyone else in our team,” said Suarez.
Philippine Olympic Committee President Jose Cojuangco watched Suarez compete, joined by POC officials Steve Hontiveros, Julian Camacho and Jose Romasanta, who is the chef-de-mission in this Olympics.
“Unfortunately we could not get the win today. But we all saw them compete and fight hard. We still have others in contention,” said Romasanta.
Weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz (63kg) and Nestor Colonia (56 kg) are scheduled to compete starting at 3 p.m. Sunday here.
“I will just give my best. I’m okay. There’s no problem with my training. There are no distractions here,” said Diaz, in her third straight Olympics.
The others who are still waiting for their turn are judoka Kodo Nakano in the 81kg on August 9; swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi, who vies in the women’s 100m freestyle on August 10; golfer Miguel Tabuena from August 11 to 14; marathoner Mary Joy Tabal on August 14; hurdler Eric Cray on August 15; long jumper Marestella Torres on August 16; and taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora in the +67kg on August 20.