WHEN IT RAINS . . . Nesthy pounds foe for at least a bronze as PH assured of multiple medals for first time since 1932

PHOTO CAPTION: Philippines’ Nesthy Petecio (red) and Colombia’s Yeni Marcela Arias Castaneda fight during their women’s feather (54-57kg) quarter-final boxing match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo on July 28, 2021. Petecio had to change tactics midstream to assure herself of at least a bronze medal going into her semifinal bout against Italy’s Irma Testa. (Photo by Frank Franklin II/AFP)

(Francis T.J. Ochoa/Inquirer Sports)

To describe the Philippine boxing team’s game plans, coach Don Abnett labels them with such hackneyed phrases as “bread-and-butter” or “cat and mouse”. The strategy itself, however, has been energizing.

Fighting in the slipstream of a historic triumph, Nesthy Petecio ended an 89-year wait for a Philippine delegation to win multiple medals in the Olympics with a crafty unanimous decision victory over Yeni Arias Castañeda of Colombia in the women’s boxing featherweight quarterfinals on Wednesday.

“It’s my first Olympics and it’s my first medal. I feel blessed,” Petecio said after the fight at Kokugikan Arena here.

Coming at the heels of Hidilyn Diaz’s historic gold-winning feat, Petecio’s victory may seem minor.

But there is no diminishing Petecio’s feat. Her quarterfinal victory assured Team Philippines of at least a bronze medal, making this the first time since 1932 that the country will take home multiple medals from the Summer Games.

This will also be the first time since 1996, when Onyok Velasco went home with a silver medal from the Atlanta Games, that boxing scored an Olympic medal. Petecio is also two wins shy of a second gold medal for the country, but she refuses to look beyond her next match, a semifinal showdown against Italy’s Irma Testa.

“Let’s do this step by step,” the 29-year-old athlete said. “If we rush, we might trip.”

While she isn’t thinking of matching Diaz’s feat, she admits that the weightlifting queen’s triumph in the 55-kg women’s class generated a lot of momentum for her going into the match.

“I was very inspired by Hidilyn,” said Petecio, who can assure herself of a silver medal with a victory over Testa. “I really waited for her match to finish [Monday] night. We were so happy. We were so proud.”

INSPIRED BY DIAZ

Diaz won the weightlifting gold on Monday, handing the Philippines its first Olympic title in history. That victory generated enough pull for Petecio to ride, but the Davao-born fighter relied heavily on a precise plan hatched by the team’s coaches to frustrate an opponent who had beaten her before.

“The difference now is that I kept moving and moving,” Petecio said. “One, two and then get out of the way. My coaches told me not to fight too close to her because that is her comfort zone. I kept moving away even if I was already tired.”

Abnett said they had thoroughly scouted Arias, but the Colombian switched tactics during the fight, forcing Petecio to feel out her foe for an extended period.

“We watched the Colombian the other day and she was very aggressive so the plan was to try and counterpunch,” Abnett said. “But she changed her plan today and stood there just waiting for Nesthy.”

Petecio thus switched her attack, too, stepping into the pocket for an attack, backing out at the right time to force Arias to over-commit before throwing counters.

Nesthy is the better boxer, but if you try and scrap with a scrapper, usually good boxers don’t win against scrappers. You fight to your strengths, not their strengths,” Abnett said.

The ploy worked as Arias could not win a round off Petecio. It was a quiet day for Team Philippines the rest of the day, with Diaz leaving the Olympic Village here to fly back to Manila. She will be quarantined for seven days in a hotel before she flies to Zamboanga—the first time in a year-and-a-half that she will finally be home with her family.

Diaz took a Philippine Airlines (PR427) flight home along with weightlifting president Monico Puentevella, who rebooked his original return date to accompany Diaz to the Philippines. Elreen Ando, who finished seventh among 10 participants in the women’s 64 kg division late Tuesday night, also joined the flight home. Ando, who was originally programmed to qualify for the Paris Games in 2024, earned a late wild card ticket to the Olympics here.

Meanwhile, Juvic Pagunsan will start his chase for Olympic glory on Thursday against a field headed by the biggest names in golf. (Francis T.J. Ochoa/Inquirer Sports)

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