GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/3 Aug) – Ending a 16-year medal drought at the quadrennial sports event now lies heavily on the shoulders of boxer Mark Anthony Barriga, the tiniest in the 11-man delegation of Philippine athletes to the 2012 London Olympics after the rest of Filipino campaigners continue to fail to qualify and advance in other events.
Barriga will try to crash into the quarterfinals when he faces Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov tomorrow (Saturday) at 8:45 in the evening.
Barriga provided the only bright note in the Philippine campaign at the London Olympics by overwhelming Manuel Cappai of Italy in his opening bout by a lopsided score of 17-7.
But he faces an uphill battle to barge into the medal round.
Zhakypov is a 2010 Asian Games silver medalist and is a veteran campaigner at 28 years old. The Kazakh boxer was also formerly ranked No. 1 by the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) and won the gold in the 2012 AIBA Asian qualifying event.
The 19-year-old Barriga, however, said he is already familiar with Zhakypov with whom he had held at least two sparring sessions.
But the greater challenge if Barriga hurdles the Kazakh is a possible quarterfinal date against the winner of the Round of 16 fight of Shiming Zou of China and Cuba’s Yosbany Veitia Soto. A victory in the quarterfinal will assure Barriga of at least a bronze medal.
Shiming however already owns a victory over Barriga while Soto is one of the top favorites in the light flyweight class.
Shiming defeated Barriga (12-5) in the Round of 16 at the 2011 AIBA World Boxing Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. Shiming won the gold medal in the said tournament which also served as a qualifying event for the London Olympics.
The Philippines last won an Olympic medal (silver-light flyweight-boxing)) in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, courtesy of Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco. Velasco’s elder brother Roel also won boxing bronze in the same weight division at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Roel is now Barriga’s chief second and trainer at the London Games.
This year marked the first time since the Olympics games adopted qualifying events in boxing that the Philippines was able to send only one boxer.
Boxing has been the biggest contributor in the Philippines’ total medal count in the Olympics. Five of the nine medals won by Filipino athletes in the 19 Olympic Games they have participated came from boxing. Two of these boxing haul were silver medals.
The Philippines debuted at the 1924 Paris Games. It only skipped the Games once – in the 1980 Moscow Olympics when it joined the United States-led boycott in protest of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. No Games were held in 1940 and 1944 during World War II.
Barriga, who hails from Davao del Norte, needs to score five victories in order to win the light flyweight boxing gold medal.
He already had one. Four more to go. (Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)