Saturday, November 27, 2010

Boxer, bowler, hustler stand tall for Philippines in 16th Asian Games

Boxer Rey Saludar (in photo), bowler Biboy Rivera, and billiards player Dennis Orcollo provided the Philippines’ brightest moments in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. (Photo by BOB DUNGO, JR.)
Boxer Rey Saludar (in photo), bowler Biboy Rivera, and billiards player Dennis Orcollo provided the Philippines’ brightest moments in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. (Photo by BOB DUNGO, JR.)
GUANGZHOU — The Yuppie, the Hustler and the Fighter.
Three athletes of varied backgrounds carried the day for the Philippines in the 16th Asian Games, the biggest sporting event in the region that drew lukewarm interest at home.
The 188-strong national contingent set off early this month to improve on its performance four years ago in Doha, Qatar amid growing excitement over Manny Pacquiao’s fight with Mexican Antonio Margarito in Dallas, Texas.
After Pacquiao pummelled Margarito for his eighth world title, the nation was busy celebrating, the Asiad looked like a mere footnote.
There was little to expect from the delegation anyway.
Despite the rigid selection criteria that were agreed upon, many athletes still made the team through sheer patronage and strong pressures from influential national sports associations.
Of the 188, only 20 will come home with medals, including five members of the men’s chess team that won the silver.
Three athletes stood out from the pack: Bowler Engelberto Rivera Jr., pool moneyman Dennis Orcollo and boxer Rey Saludar.
Rivera, fondly known by his nickname Biboy, won the country’s first gold medal at the start of the men’s singles competition.
The 36-year-old entrepreneur, a look-alike of the late “Superman” Christopher Reeves, rolled the best six-game series in the morning and waited anxiously in the players’ lounge as the second wave of participants tried to top it in the afternoon.
They all failed, including compatriot Frederick Ong who had a shot at the silver before settling for the bronze.
Nothing was heard of Filipino bowlers after that as South Korea went on to dominate the sport, taking eight gold medals, including a sweep of the Masters and the team events.
It took three days before the Philippines earned its second gold courtesy of Dennis Orcollo, son of a fisherman from Surigao who plays billiards for a living.
Orcollo, 31, complained of sitting idly for five days while waiting for his event to start. He’s one guy used to the thick smell of cigarette smoke while collecting other people’s money off the pool table every night in Manila.
When Orcollo finally got into action, the restlessness subsided and he went on to do what he does best – sinking the 9-ball.
His 9-7 win over teammate Warren Kiamco in the men’s 9-ball pool singles final is further proof that Filipinos remain on top of the food chain.
But the gap is closing following the shock early departure of pool icon Efren “Bata” Reyes in the men’s 8-ball pool singles and the failure of Rubilen Amit to reach the medal round in both the women’s 8-ball and 9-ball events.
Meanwhile, the six-man boxing team fought its way through the preliminaries and sent three fighters into the semifinals, but only Rey Saludar won the gold medal against a neophyte Chinese boxer with a chin made of granite.
Not willing to suffer the same fate that befell Annie Albania in the finals, Saludar rose from his stool in the second round and made sure that the ring judges would not deny him of victory. The 13-11 score did not truly reflect the damage Saludar inflicted to his game, but outclassed opponent.
Saludar is the older brother of Victorio, a bronze medallist. They were raised in Polomolok, South Cotabato by a father who worked in a pineapple plantation.
On neutral ground, Albania would have won the boring slugfest over the tall and rangy Chinese champion Ren Cancan.
Still, Albania looked impressive, timing her punches well while avoiding her opponent’s long reach.
The judges, however, were not impressed and were only too willing to press the button each time Cancan’s glove touched any part of the Filipino’s body.
“Even low blows were scored,” rued a veteran Filipino sportswriter.
Never mind. All three boxing medallists will be laughing their way to the bank when they reach home, billionaire sportsman Manny V. Pangilinan made sure of that.
Rey Saludar will receive P3 million for winning the gold, Albania will get P1 million while Victorio Saludar P500,000.
There were two silvers that shone like gold because they came unexpectedly.
Golfer Miguel Tabuena, who turned 16 only last month, became the country’s youngest Asiad medallist when he finished second in the men’s individual event. He actually led for two days before falling prey to a red-hot Korean who went eight-under in the last 36 holes.
The men’s chess team, led by Grandmasters Eugene Torre and Wesley So, beat powerhouse India twice before losing to top seed China in the final.
GM Joey Antonio, who played a key role in the team’s semifinal win over India, had to rush home for emergency surgical procedure and was unable to play in the final.
Despite the lopsided final loss, the team, also made up of John Paul Gomez and Darwin Laylo, comes home with a big accomplishment.
Among the numerous defeats suffered by the Filipinos, none brought more pain than the sixth place finish of the basketball squad and the shock failure of Asian champion Marestella Torres to win a medal in the women’s long jump.
Smart Gilas, a team formed to bring the Philippines back to Olympic basketball, was eliminated in the quarterfinals by old nemesis South Korea, 74-66.
Another defeat to Qatar, 71-61, Friday sent the Nationals to sixth place, matching their worst finish in 1966. Except in 2006 where the Philippines was under FIBA suspension, the national team had qualified in all semifinal round.
Torres, fresh from a six-month training in Germany, inexplicably failed to make a legal jump in the last five rounds of women’s long jump and ended up fourth in the event she was favored to dominate. She left home without a word, her future still uncertain.
Taekwondo would have to wait for the next Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea for another shot at the gold medal.
Tshomlee Go and Japoy Lizardo lost to Korean rivals in the semifinals and settled for the bronze medals along with Paul Romero and Kirstie Alaine Alora.
Dance sports, which made its Asiad debut, produced two bronzes courtesy of Ronnie Vergara and Charlea Lagaras who are engaged to marry next year.Decision Points
Wushu struck through sanshou fighter Mark Eddiva who lost in the semifinals to settle for the bronze medal.
The over-rated swimming team could not even send qualifiers to the evening finals except for Miguel Molina and its relay squads, extending its medal drought to 28 years.
The final count is: Three golds, four silvers and nine bronzes.The Gift
It’s worse than what the Nationals achieved in Doha, Qatar in 2006 (4-6-9) and in Busan, South Korea in 2002 (3-7-16).
If there’s one positive that could be derived from Guangzhou is the realization that it takes more than talent and hard work to contend in the Asian Games.
The Philippines has another four years to figure out the rest of the ingredients.

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