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SLIVER OF HOPE — Mandal’s silver pumps life into Filipinos’ campaign

ARNEL Mandal of the Philippines (red) battles Jiang Haidong of China (blue) in the final of the men’s 56-kilogram class sanda competition of the 19th Asian Games. Mandal settled for the silver medal after absorbing a 0-2 setback. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF PSC-POC MEDIA POOL

HANGZHOU, China — Sanda fighter Arnel Mandal delivered a silver medal — and a silver lining — for the Filipino squad that remains struggling to clinch its first gold medal in the 19th Asian Games here.

Mandal dropped his final match against a stronger, more experienced Jiang Haidong of China to settle for the silver medal in the men’s 56-kilogram sanda event in the wushu competition on Thursday at the Xiaoshan Guali Sports Centre.

Mandal, 27, started slow but picked up his pace as he unloaded heavy blows in the final stretch in a desperate attempt to shock the Chinese. Unfortunately, his punches failed to find their target, prompting the Iloilo City native to surrender a 0-2 decision for what could have been the country’s first gold medal in this prestigious quadrennial tournament.

“I tried my best but I wasn’t fortunate,” said Mandal, who had an impressive run to the finals as he beat Sunil Singh Mayanglambam of India in the Round of 16, Jamshidbek Guliboev of Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals and Avazbek Amanabekov in the semifinals to book a duel with the 30-year-old Chinese.

Mandal said facing the Chinese wasn’t easy.

Aside from wushu being a national sport here, Jiang is also a fighter known to compete in a heavier 60-kg division.

Mandal, on the other hand, has been campaigning in the lighter 52-kg category in the Southeast Asian Games but was forced to move up in the weight class after the organizers scratched his division.

“I am still super happy,” he added.

“It’s my first time to compete in the Asian Games and I am coming from a lighter weight category so winning a silver medal was really a major achievement. Every match was do-or-die. I gave everything I’ve got, that’s why I was hitting him hard so there will be no doubt if I ever win the gold medal.”

He said the Chinese fighter was really tough.

“He was really good, that’s why he beat me via takedown,” Mandal said.

Still, there’s no need to get disappointed as Mandal’s silver medal appears to be a sliver of hope in the days to come with heavyweights like EJ Obiena of athletics, Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting, and Eumir Marcial and Nesthy Petecio expected to contend for medals.

Aside from the silver medal from Mandal, the Filipinos won three more bronze medals to jack up their harvest to one silver and five bronze medals.

Another sanda bet in Gideon Padua ended his Asiad stint with a broken nose and a bronze medal in the men’s 60-kg event.

The 22-year-old Padua said his coaches decided to sit him out so that his injury will not get aggravated following his impressive wins overAusma Pengtha of Thailand in the quarterfinals and Agujumageldi Yazymov of Turkmenistan in the semifinals.

“Actually, I got my injury against Thailand. My nose got busted and the bleeding didn’t stop. It’s good that the medical staff didn’t stop the fight as I was able to proceed and clinch the victory,” said Padua, who sat out in the semifinals against Shoha Panahigelehkolaie of Iran.

“But against Turkmenistan, it got hit again. Although I won the match, the injury got worse. I stepped down from the ring, my nose started to swell and my face got deformed. It was so painful. That’s why we decided to go to the hospital and get a CT-Scan, where they saw that the bone got affected.”

“If we try to fight in the semifinals, I don’t know if I could still compete in the future. That’s why the team decided to yield our chance to win the gold.”

Also emerging with a bronze was Clemente Tabugara Jr., who dropped his semifinal encounter against Samiel Marbun of Indonesia, 0-2, in the men’s 65-kg bracket.

All in all, the national wushu bets took home a silver and three bronze medals — the other coming from Jones Inso, who came up with a third-place finish in the men’s taijiquan-taijijian all-around event.

Meanwhile, Alex Eala closed her semifinal campaign on a sorry note as she surrendered to Zheng Qinwen of China in a marathon 6-1, 5-7 (6-7), 6-3 duel over at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Tennis Center.

It was a sorry — but expected — loss for Eala as she was stacked against a taller, more skillful 20-year-old Chinese who ranks No. 23 in the Women’s Tennis Association.

Zheng, whose career high was No. 19, is a perennial qualifier in the main draw of Grand Slam events and even reached the quarterfinals of the US Open this year.

The 192nd-ranked Eala, however, is not yet done as she and Francis Casey Alcantara are still clashing with Luksika Kumkhum and Maximus Jones of Thailand at press time.

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