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‘We said before that on our fourth Olympic cycle, we would win a gold.’

CARLO Paalam is one of those counted upon for that elusive boxing gold. | Buda Mendes/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The clock is ticking for the Association of Boxing Alliances of the Philippines.

ABAP chairperson Ricky Vargas admitted that there is pressure for them to win a gold medal when the Olympics returns to Paris for the first time in 100 years in 2024.

Vargas revealed that when he and industrialist Manny Pangilinan took over the federation from longtime boxing chief Manny Lopez in 2009, they predicted that they would strike an Olympic gold medal on their “fourth Olympic cycle.”

The Olympic gold medal has been very elusive to Vargas and the ABAP leadership.

In their first Olympic stint in London, they were able to deploy Mark Anthony Barriga, who suffered a heartbreaking loss to Birzhan Zhakypov of Kazakhstan in the Round of 16 of the men’s light flyweight division.

But Barriga, who was very promising at 19 years old during the London Games, walked away from the federation the following year to launch a professional career via the World Series of Boxing.
Still, ABAP soldiered on.

The federation was able to send two representatives to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016 in light flyweight Rogen Ladon and lightweight Charly Suarez.

Ladon drew a bye in the Round of 32 before bowing to Yuberjen Martinez of Colombia in the Round of 16 via unanimous decision while Suarez made an early exit after losing to Joe Cordina of Great Britain in the opening round.

ABAP finally scored a breakthrough in the pandemic-delated Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when three out of its four boxers emerged with an Olympic medal — the first time since Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco grabbed the silver medal in the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio struck silver medals in the men’s flyweight and women’s featherweight classes, respectively, while Eumir Marcial settled for the bronze medal in the men’s middleweight division.

The federation’s other representative — Irish Magno — won her opening bout over Christine Ongare of Kenya before falling prey to Southeast Asian rival Jutamas Jitpong of Thailand in the Round of 16 of the women’s flyweight division.

Vargas said it’s about time for them to finally strike an Olympic gold.

“We said before that on our fourth Olympic cycle, we would win a gold,” said Vargas in Filipino before the national boxers in their training camp in Baguio City.

“That cycle is the most important — and that cycle is now. That’s why the Asian Games in September is very important because it also serves as a qualifier (for the Olympics). I believe we can do it.”

Leading the federation in realizing its Olympic dream is a pair of fresh faces.

Robbie Puno had taken over as ABAP chief following the demise of former president Ed Picson while sports psychologist Marcus Jarwin Manalo was given a more active role after being appointed as secretary general two years ago.

Puno, a lawmaker from Antipolo City who was instrumental in the naturalization of basketball players Marcus Douthit, Andray Blatche, Ange Kouame and Justin Brownlee, acknowledged the need for an Olympic gold medal.

He said it’s going to be very challenging, especially with one of their brightest bets in Eumir Marcial torn between competing in the professional and amateur ranks, but they have to do everything to realize the goal they set 14 years ago.

“Our goal is to make it to the Olympics via the Asian qualifying events, and win the gold in Paris,” Puno said, adding that they also have to improve the quality of living of the boxers and their respective families.

“And included in the goal of winning an Olympic goal is our objective of improving the lives of our boxers and their respective families.”

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