Back To The Drawing Board

MANILA, Philippines - I can imagine Atlanta Olympic boxing silver medalist Mansueto ''Onyok'' Velasco, sitting in the middle of two other ''analysts,'' falling from his chair when the referee announced a one-point deduction on Mark Barriga during the third and final round of the 49-kg round of 16 in the London Olympics Saturday night.

''Naku, na deduct tayo ng one-point,'' he said, his agitated voice surprising his fellow panelists.

His voice had all the manifestation of dread, the sound coming from one who perhaps had just seen a car accident and realized the occupant would probably not come out of it in one piece.

The one-point deduction, he said, could be decisive in a close bout. More painful, he explained, was that Barriga was assessed minus one and his opponent was given plus one, a two-point swing.

Like a sage, or, speaking like a former Olympian who has seen it all, Onyok's fears proved correct. Barriga lost by one point, his two-point advantage after the second round which he took after a masterful attack, was swallowed by the referee and by his opponent Birzhan Zhakhypov of Kazakhstan who rallied in the third round to win by the skin of his gloves.

Without the deduction, Barriga would have won by one. Here's how the scoring went: First round 5-4, Zakhypov; second round 6-3, Barriga; third round 9-6, Zakhypov. Total 17-16, Zakhypov.

The Philippine boxing team immediately filed a protest regarding the two-point swing deduction. But this was denied, (Ref's decision was subjective, not a technicality, said the jurors) adding one more painful blow to the gut of the battered Philippine team.

Losses in the earlier days of the Olympics posted by swimmers, archers, a shooter, a weightlifter and a judoka hardly raised despair or disappointment, just acceptance.

The team knew our athletes were out of their league. They were there for the experience, although this was a costly way to gain it.

But Barriga was different. He carried on his firm shoulders the dream and aspirations of the whole nation. He was projected as the savior, the best bet, the medal hope. He won his first bout, and it was page 1 story in a nation thirsty for Olympic glory.

But in his second bout, he was outgunned by a taller, more poised, more determined and more clever rival who employed everything to beat the Filipino, including some wrestling techniques.

The ''analysts'' could not fathom the style of both fighters. But they had plenty of advice: Barriga should not be counterpunching, he should be attacking. He should hit the stomach, he should not be standing still, he should move around, he should follow up every hit, he should not let up. Which basically, was probably the same advice being given to his Kazakh foe.

After two rounds, Barriga led, 10-8, surprising the ''panelists.'' They advanced the theory that he should protect his lead but to be careful; and to punch when the opportunity arises.

But Zakhypov had only one goal: He was behind and he needed to overcome the deficit. So he brought the fight to Barriga and was energized when the Filipino got a deduction. On the other hand, Barriga claimed he lost some of his desire after the deduction, which was crazy. That should have motivated him to fight harder.

This seeming act of slowing down prompted the TV panel to conclude that Barriga was tired, that he was losing steam. ''Yan ang napansin ko sa kanya nuon pa,'' said Onyok.

That perhaps was the most stupid suggestion we could imagine.

How can a fighter who has been training the past two years, given all the support money can buy, taking the best nutrition, has adequate coaching and was declared fit as an Olympian on the eve of the contest be tired in the final round of a three-round contest, which is all of nine minutes, or 11, counting the two-minute rest in between?

If Barriga says he was tired during the third round, then he should not be allowed to fight another round, ever.

But by admitting he was outfought and will try to be better next time, then the London experience will put him in good stead. He is young, he appears to have the potential. What he needs is good guidance and good coaching.

Also, the boxing association should try to overhaul its program, whatever it is. Traveling all over the world appears not to be the only solution, think golf whose young players, particularly the women, has not had an impact on the game despite filling their bloated passports with exotic locations and circling the globe like astronauts on a marathon mission.

Having just one boxer in the Olympics is not only an embarrassment but an aberration in a country which produced Manny Pacquiao and prides itself of having four world champions.

Having said this, our sports officials should also feel that they have contributed to the overall decline of Philippine sports.

It's not enough that they can offer millions of pesos to medalists, it is also important to have the kind of athletes who can realistically bring home the reward.

And they should stop complaining about lack of money. North Korea is starving but it has four gold medals already.


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