BEIJING—After six days here of cheering for athletes from Sweden and Argentina and Indonesia and Australia and Serbia and dozens more, it was a welcome sight to see a familiar nation: Philippines.
YES! we can finally proclaim, we’re part of the XXIX Olympiad. You see, around this sprawling city of 15 million residents, you will observe one common scene in each of the 31 Olympic venues: the national flags. And only those athletes competing in that event will have their country’s flag hoisted.
In tennis, obviously, the RP flag was nowhere inside the Olympic Green Tennis Center. Same with badminton where the Asuncion siblings from Manila missed the cut.
In boxing, it was different. As soon as we entered the venue last Wednesday and found our blue-red-yellow-and-white RP flag proudly displayed above the rafters—that was moment to cherish.
Thanks to Monico Puentevella, the Bacolod congressman and head of the RP Olympic delegation as chef de mission, my wife Jasmin and I secured tickets to the one event that we relished to watch: Boxing.
The Beijing Workers Gymnasium looked old and faded on the outside but, once you step inside, you’ll notice it transform into a sparkling arena. Formed like a circle just like our Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, it housed, for the spectators, thousands of orange plastic chairs. Down below was blue carpet laid on the floor. Flood lights beamed from the ceiling. Flags hung from sides and rounded the complex. Then, down below at the center, loomed a solitary figure: the boxing ring.
When we arrived at 7 p.m. the other day, the rafters were crowded with on-lookers. It was Bout 111 of the Light Flyweight division (48 kg.) and two adversaries faced each other: US vs. Spain. Luis Yanez donned the blue colors for America; Jose De La Nieve wore red for España. Too fast for the Spaniard, the American won, 12-9. Next, two more fights ensued before RP’s main event….
Harry Tañamor first emerged. He’s our lone boxing ranger in this sport that nearly gave us a gold medal when Onyok Velasco snatched the silver 12 years ago in Atlanta. Wearing a red jacket as he hopped from the dugout to the ring, he uncovered it to reveal a blue Nike uniform with an RP flag plastered on his left breast.
By now—as you read this—the result is old, forgotten and rotten bad news: Harry lost, 3-6. From my viewpoint at Row 21 (midway from the top of the stands), it was obvious he didn’t win. Sure, there were moments when his fist would cleanly land his opponent’s chest. But, to our eyes (though, watching from TV, you’d have a closer look) and compared to his opponent from Ghana, Manyo Plange, he was less combative, less offensive, less aggressive. Thus, he scored less points.
Before the fight, at the far end of the stadium we could see our Philippine officials. Borrowing a pair of binoculars, I saw POC president Peping Cojuangco, PSC Chairman Butch Ramirez, our amateur boxing head Manny Lopez and Monico Puentevella.
Prior to Tañamor’s fight, they looked animated, mixing with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials near the VIP section (which included, earlier that night, the IOC President from 1980 to 2001, Juan Antonio Samaranch). But as Harry’s fight wore on and his scoring lagged behind, I noticed them slumped. When the bout finished, they nearly disappeared to hide under the seats.
For this is the reality—and brutality—of sports: You train feverishly for four years in-between Olympics only to lose in less time than it takes to munch a McDonald’s burger.
Jasmin and I felt deflated, wretched and hapless. Never mind the sight of Kobe Bryant and his Redeem Team teammates who watched, sitting inside the same stadium where our one best chance for that elusive gold remains that—elusive—our cheers and smiles turned dour.
And I thought I carried good luck: I purposely wore the red-and-white “MP” shirt of our boxing hero. But, nah….. this time, with Harry, we didn’t even get past Round 1.
Our only chance for gold?
If professionals are allowed—like they are in almost every one of the 28 Olympic sports here—then our man will claim that golden glove: Manny Pacquiao.