Carlo Paalam: Fist of glory

Published August 8, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Through the course of his journey in Tokyo, Carlo Paalam showed us the image of what Filipinos needed to see. He is a portrayal of resilience amid adversity, the icon of hope and faith for the people in despair. No stage bigger than the Summer Games could fittingly narrate the story of a man who was a scavenger before but now a proud Olympic silver medalist.

Paalam, bringing with him the lessons of life at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, put the flyweight competition ablaze with his style of fighting that is reminiscent of a young Manny Pacquiao.

He packed the power and was never afraid or tentative against heftier foes. His blinding speed was a headache, with the footwork making it hard for opponents to catch the 5-foot-4 warrior on the ring. All these were part of the recipe for the making of a future king of the sport, the next Pacman, or Nonito Donaire, the son of Cagayan de Oro who will soon be the hero of the masses.

After he earned his way for a finals spot via a dominating win against Ryomei Tanaka of Japan in the semifinals, Paalam, all prepared for the time of his life, met Galal Yafai of Great Britain — a rival who is as agile and hard-punching, with his brothers, both professional boxers, for sure giving him the notes to ponder and execute against the smaller Filipino.

The gold-medal match was nothing short of a boxing spectacle. Back-and-forth action was displayed all throughout three rounds, visible on both fighters’ eyes the fire and eagerness of proving their worth for Olympic glory.

The Filipinos, glued at the television or mobile phones to watch the battle at noontime, were sitting on the edge of their seats as the ring announcer calls the result of the thrilling match. Seconds later, the victor was the blue corner via split decision, the Briton who dreamed as hard as Paalam when he was still working as a factory worker in Birmingham.

It wasn’t the decision that most of us wanted. Most of us wished for a repeat of Hidilyn Diaz’s victory in weightlifting, which punctuated the agonizing wait of 97 years for an Olympic gold.

But Paalam’ silver should still serve as a symbol of victory for the country that badly needs inspiration amid the rage of coronavirus. His performance in Tokyo was just the culmination of years of hardships and the beginning of something bigger for the boxer that used to earn meager amount of money from scavenging a sanitary landfill in Cagayan de Oro.

The challenges in life were abundant but Paalam never turned his back. He did pick up trash for a living, but he also found gold: valuable lessons that made him a true champion today.

Paalam may have ended up with the silver, but he won the hearts of millions.