TOKYO—All it took was one gold medal to make Team Philippines believe it can dream big in the Olympics.
Take Eumir Marcial, for example.
Moments after a smashing knockout victory over his Armenian foe ensured he will leave this Japanese capital an Olympic medalist, the power-punching slugger picked a slice of his past and served up a reminder for everyone: He is not one to settle.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Marcial told a mix of foreign and Filipino journalists on Sunday, after he knocked out Arman Darchinyan in their quarterfinal bout of the men’s middleweight division of men’s boxing at Kokugikan Arena here.
“When I was young, we only talked about this (being in the Olympics) with my father while [on our way] to training. And now I’m here.”
The win guaranteed Marcial a bronze medal, but that is not what he is here for.
“I’m a medalist now. But I want the gold so I’ll do my best to give my best performance and leave the rest to God,” he said.
And why shouldn’t he be dreaming gold? Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz conquered the final sporting frontier for the country by ruling the 55-kilogram class of the women’s tournament for the first gold medal of the Philippines ever in the Olympics.
After Diaz’s triumph, Filipino athletes have shed their diminished stature in the Games. They walk proud now, armed with the confidence that as long as they are still in contention, they have a shot.
Marcial took another shot at his dream in the quarterfinals—a thundering one at that.
He capped a three-punch combination with a vicious right hook that caught Darchinyan at the jaw and sent the Armenian crashing to the canvas. The 25-year-old standout didn’t have to wait for the referee to make it official before jumping in triumph: one look at the dazed look of Darchinyan was enough to let anyone know the fight was over.
That newfound confidence might rub off on Carlos Yulo, who could find redemption on Monday when he participates in the vault final.
Yulo was one of those heavily counted to deliver a gold for the Philippines, courtesy of the floor exercise where he is the reigning world champion. But he failed to stick a landing early, crashed out in the preliminaries and sounded less than assured about being in the vault final.
“Malabo po (it’s bleak),” Yulo said, adding that this was the first time in his career that he has made the vault final.
Yulo scored 14.712 during the preliminaries last week to qualify as the sixth-ranked finalist in a field of eight. Yulo said it would take a score in the 15s to land a podium.
“There are a lot of great competitors” in vault, Yulo said.But he said he has a shot at increasing his score and that could put him in a position for an upset at Ariake Gymnastics Center.
Marcial wasn’t certainly leaving himself prone to any upset. For the second straight match, he kept his fate from going to the scorecards.
And it’s not like he’s doing this intentionally.
“I didn’t expect my punch [to end the fight],” Marcial said in Filipino. “I just kept throwing and throwing punches. That’s what we trained for, it is already muscle memory. My body just keeps throwing punches.”
Top-ranked foe next
But he delivered those punches within the framework of a strategy that kept him clear from potential counters.
“Throw a punch and then get out. That’s what I did,” Marcial said. “I was keeping an open guard so that I could see his punches.”
Marcial kept his face exposed to use “as bait so I could throw counters.”
“We knew he was always going to come in. With me keeping an open guard, I could see his punches.”
Marcial will face Ukranian top seed Oleksandr Khyzhniak in the semifinals on Aug. 5. Another victory there puts Marcial closer to the coveted gold and the Zamboanga-born standout believes he has the strength and the stout heart to achieve his goal.
“Because we come from a poor family,” he said. “My father, he trained a lot of boxers [so they can be] Olympians. This is his dream, to have his nephew or his son compete here in the Olympics. That dream is also my dream. I want to make my father proud, I want to make my country proud. That is where my strength came from.”
Meanwhile, Juvic Pagunsan closed out with a one-under 70 and finished 55th out of 60 participants in men’s individual golf at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The 43-year old finished with a four-day total of 285, a whopping 19 strokes behind American gold medalist Xander Shauffele. INQ
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