Filipino Mary Antoinette Rivero has very good chance to bag an Olympic gold in taekwondo in Beijing this August, her coach told Xinhua in a recent interview at the national taekwondo training center in downtown Manila.
In the Philippines, where for decades the locals have been obsessed with boxing and basketball, taekwondo is largely ignored as a minor game.
But the next month in Beijing, this oriental sport might turn out to be the one that gives the archipelago its first Olympic gold in history.
Rocky Samson, the coach for the Philippine women's national team, said a two-month training in South Korea has tuned the 20-year-old into better conditions for the Olympics.
In the under 67-kilogram division, Rivero is not the best player but she still has good chance to champion, Samson told Xinhua upon the return of two Filipino Olympians from South Korea.
"No doubt, Hwang Kyung Seon of South Korea remains No.1. We just hope Rivero won't have to fight her in the first round," Samson said.
Rivero lost in both of her meet with the South Korean taekwondo legend and they were not able to spar during Riveroi's pre-Olympic training, Samson said.
He said Rivero needs four consecutive wins to secure the gold, three for the silver.
Rivero was the best performing Filipino athlete at the Athens Games four years ago. At the age of 16, Rivero managed to fight her way into the semifinal before losing to Greece's Elisavet Mystakidou, who finally won a silver.
"It was a very close game. We lost by only small margins," Samson said. "Compared to then, Rivero is more mature now and her techniques are getting better."
Rivero won her ticket to Beijing by finishing at the second place in last October's Vietnam qualifier.
She went to South Korea for training with Tshomlee Go, the other Filipino taekwondo athlete qualified for Beijing, in late May and is expected to return on July 19.
The Philippines will send a squad of 15 athletes to compete at Beijing Olympics in boxing, taekwondo, shooting, archery, diving, swimming and weightlifting. The two taekwondo players, together with ace boxer Harry Tanamor, have been considered the country's best chances to bring back Olympic medals.
The Philippines has not yet won an Olympic gold during its participation in the Games since 1924. The last time the Philippines got a medal was in 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
"To fight for a country's honor is both pressure and excitement. I think Rivero can handle it well," Samson said.
(Xinhua News Agency July 12, 2008)