Medal rush looms as Marcial makes semis

Philippines' Eumir Marcial (blue) and Armenia's Arman Darchinyan hug after their men's middle (69-75kg) quarter-final boxing match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo on August 1, 2021. (Photo by THEMBA HADEBE / POOL / AFP)

TOKYO — The swiftness with which Eumir Felix Marcial disposed of his quarterfinal opponent in the boxing competition at the XXXII Olympiad Sunday has underscored the speed Philippine athletes had been pushing for podium finishes following Hidilyn Diaz’s historic gold medal conquest in weightlifting.

Marcial, who scored a first round Referee-Stopped-Contest 1 decision Thursday, turned his quarterfinal bout against fancied Armenian Arman Darchinyan into a virtual workout with a first round knockout at the Kokugikan Arena.

The stoppage came down as the quickest of three KOs so far in Olympic boxing, and Marcial’s RSC-1 victory over Algeria's Younes Nemouchi, also in the first round, was one of eight.

“Noong una, medyo tinatantsa ko pa pero noong mga late minute na ng round, nakukuha ko na ‘yung game nya,” said Marcial.

“Suntok, then alis lang ako. Medyo open guard lang ako para mas makita ko ‘yung suntok n’ya. ‘Yung plan ko talaga na ipapain ko ‘yung mukha ko para ma-counter ko ‘yung attack nya kaya naka-open guard po ako. 

‘Yun din po ‘yung instructions ng coach ko, na tignan ko lang ‘yung suntok nya.”

Already assured of the bronze medal, Marcial advanced to the semifinals against top seed Oleksandr Khyzniak of Ukraine, a 4-1 split decision winner over Euri Cedeno Martinez of the Dominican Republic, for a seat in the gold medal bout on August 5, Thursday.

A victory by Marcial will put a second Filipino boxer in the final after Nesthy Petecio had shocked 5-foot-8 Italian Irma Testa in the semifinals of the featherweight 54-57kg division Saturday to gain a shot at the country’s second gold medal in Tokyo.

Petecio faces Japan’s Sena Irie for the gold medal on August 3, Tuesday at 12 noon (Manila time).

Still in the hunt for a higher podium finish is flyweight Carlo Paalam, who goes for the bronze medal in the quarterfinals of the 48-52kg division on Tuesday at 10:15 a.m.

Athletics’ Ernest John Obiena has qualified in the eight-man final of the men’s pole vault after clearing 5.78 meters at the National Olympic Stadium during the elimination round, while gymnastics hope Carlos Yulo will compete on August 2, Monday in the men’s vault final starting at 5:51 p.m., hoping to redeem himself after pressure got to him the classification round of the floor exercise and parallel bars at the Ariake Gymnastics Center.

Trackster Kristina Knott, meanwhile, will be in heat no. 7 of the women’s 200m run at the National Olympic Stadium Monday, looking for a breakthrough sprint to reach the final at 10:18 a.m.

Amid the remaining action in boxing, athetics and gymnastics for Team Philippines, as the Tokyo Games wind down to its final week with China, United States, Japan, Australia and Russia, represented by the name Russian Olympic Committee, slugging it out for gold medal honor, the national golf team fires off its own bid on August 4.

Reigning US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan, ninth-ranked in the LPGA Championship at Newtown Square in Pennsylvania last year, hope to make up for Juvic Pagunsan’s misadventure at the Kasumigaseki Country Club when the women’s individual stroke play unfolds.

Inclement weather, pandemic restrictions and world class competition may have combined to throw Pagunsan off his usual game as the Filipino golfer failed to sustain a hot start in wrapping up the four-day men’s individual stroke play at 55th place with a 285 total, 19 shots behind gold medal winner Xander Schauffele of the United Sates, who finished at 18 under to edge Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini by 1 stroke.

Pagunsan was at 5-under par after the first 18 holes, but shot a 73, 76 and 70 in the succeeding rounds to finish at one over.

For Paalam, 23, the fight will assume the nature of a gold medal bout as he takes on 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics gold medalist Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan, who defeated Daniel David Varela de Pina Cape Verde 5-0 in the Round of 16.

The product of Cagayan de Oro Mayor Oscar Moreno’s Boxing in the Park and the national government’s Palarong Pambansa, Batang Pinoy and Philippine National Games programs will have his hands full against Zoirov, 28, also the champion in the 2019 World Championship at Yekaterinburg in Russia.