RIO DE JANEIRO—We are ready.
This was the declaration of two Filipino boxers with equal chances of winning a medal in this Rio Olympics when they arrived Thursday afternoon from a one-month training in the United States.
Light-flyweight Rogen Ladon and lightweight Charly Suarez flew in from Las Vegas via Houston accompanied by a lone coach, Nolito “Boy” Velasco. They arrived here eight days before the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.
For both boxers, it’s their first Olympics.
“First time,” said the 22-year-old Ladon of Bago City in Negros Occidental, the birthplace of Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco, a silver medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and brother Roel Velasco, bronze winner in 1992 in Barcelona.
Mansueto’s silver in the light-flyweight class was the last medal in the Olympics for the Philippines, which is fielding 12 athletes in seven sports and hoping to finally end the 20-year medal drought in the Summer Games.
Ladon is aware that the country of more than 100 million has long been searching for an Olympic hero. Under this circumstance, Filipinos, known as die-hard boxing and basketball fans, will settle for a medal of any color.
Ladon said he wants to win the gold.
“Go for gold tayo,” said Ladon, borrowing the slogan of the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines, headed by Ricky Vargas.
Ladon said it’s been his lifelong dream to make it to the Olympics, and follow the footsteps of the Velasco brothers. He said he did everything in training the past two years as he hoped that someday he will win an Olympic medal.
“Every athlete dreams of being in the Olympics,” said Ladon as he walked with some members of the Philippine delegation, including chef-de-mission Jose Romasanta, from the Pinoy quarters to the main dining hall of the Athletes Village.
“Step by step,” said Suarez, who will turn 28 on Aug. 14. If he gets the breaks, the bible-preaching native of Sawata in Davao del Norte will be fighting in the semifinals of the 60 kg weight class on his birthday, assured of a bronze.
Suarez is a two-time gold medalist in the Southeast Asian Games (2009 in Laos and 2011 in Jakarta) and silver medalist in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
“I think this my best chance to win a medal in the Olympics,” he said, adding that he was very satisfied with the training he and Ladon went through in Las Vegas and Washington.
“Boxing has always been a medal hope in the Olympics for our country,” said Romasanta, who said he could not understand why there’s only one coach to handle the two boxers in this Games that will run from Aug. 5 to 21.
The Philippines tried to have another coach accredited for the Games but could not get what it wanted. Having a single coach to handle two boxers in a tournament of this magnitude is not the ideal situation for any team.
Romasanta is also concerned who would serve as cutman for the Filipino boxers – if needed. He joined the boxing team for lunch Thursday and offered the services of the Philippine team physican, Dr. Ferdinand Brawner, as cutman.
“With no head gears, there’s the possibility for any of our boxers to suffer a cut, considering that they have to fight as many as six bouts to get to the finals. I don’t think our coach, being alone, can perform both duties during the fight,” said Romasanta.
Under the Philippine Incentives Act, a gold medal in the Olympics is worth P10 million in cash incentives, a silver medal P5 million and a bronze P2 million.
“It can serve as a motivation,” said Ladon, who has made some heads turn during the last Asian Championships and World Chamoionships. With his relentless style, he has drawn the attention of his top rivals.
“But you need to focus on the fights. The medal and incentives will come afterwards,” said Ladon in Filipino.
With the arrival of the two boxers, only three members of the Philippine team haven’t checked in here. They are hurdler Eric Cray who will fly in from Houston, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal who will come in from Japan and golfer Miguel Tabuena, still in Thailand competing in the King’s Cup.
The seven Pinoy athletes who are in Rio since last Sunday are just making sure that stay in tip-top shape – from swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie King Lacuna, weightlfters Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia, taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora, long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang and table tennis’ Ian Lariba, the flag bearer.
Looking over the athletes here in Rio are Philippine Olympic Committee officials Col. Jeff Tamayo and Julian Camacho, and administrative offers Liza Ner of the POC and Merly Ibay of the Philippine Sports Commission.