MANILA, Philippines – Four Filipino teeners are on a mission to deliver the country’s first-ever gold medal in the 15-16 age category at the Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) Junior Championships which reeled off yesterday at the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa.
ABAP president Ricky Vargas said while the simonpures may be short in experience, they’re long in spirit. The Filipino contenders are pinweight (44-46 kg) Kenneth de la Pena of Cagayan de Oro, lightflyweight (48 kg) Criz Russo Laurente of General Santos City, flyweight (50 kg) James Ian Pangga of Cagayan de Oro and lightweight (60 kg) Norlan Petecio of Davao. “They’re talented first-timers who were discovered in our grassroots program,” said Vargas who will fly to Puerto Princesa on Sunday to attend the semifinals and finals with ABAP vice president Patrick Gregorio. “They may be inexperienced but we can assure you they will give it their all for flag and country, the same way ABAP is focused on giving our guests the best of Philippine hospitality.”
There are 142 fighters from 18 countries participating in the competition up to Aug. 7. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and India are the only countries with fighters in each of the 13 weight divisions. China has seven. South and North Korea are both represented in the tournament which the Philippines is hosting for the first time. In 2013, Subic hosted the ASBC Youth (17-18) Championships with four Filipinos claiming gold medals – Eumir Marcial, James Palicte, Ian Clark Bautista and Jade Bornea.
ABAP executive director Ed Picson said the Philippines came close to striking gold in the last ASBC junior tournament two years ago in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, with Criz Sander Laurente settling for the silver in the 48-kilogram class. Laurente made it all the way to the final but withdrew on doctors’ orders because of dehydration caused by a severe case of diarrhea. Now, his younger brother Criz Russo has a chance to deliver what he failed to capture. Criz Russo won the Batang Pinoy gold in Tagum last year and the Palarong Pambansa gold in Antique last April. The other Filipino bets are also decorated champions. Pangga is a Palaro gold medalist while De la Pena is a Batang Pinoy winner. Petecio, whose older sister Nesthy is in the ABAP pool, topped the 60-kilogram class at the PSC-ABAP Junior Championships in Cebu last May.
Picson said because of the age classification, ABAP took in the four fighters for training only a few months back. “It was when they turned 15 that we started their training,” he said. “They’re all potential Asian gold medalists. We discovered them through our nation-wide grassroots program. It’s difficult to bring out 14-year-old kids from their homes to the ABAP camp so we basically begin our training with 15-year-olds in time for the regional junior championships.”
Picson said Palawan Gov. Jose Ch. Alvarez and Puerto Princesa City Mayor Lucilo Bayron are laying out the red carpet for the visitors, including 22 officials from various countries. ASBC executive director Bagdaulet Turekhanov of Kazakhstan is in Puerto Princesa with tournament supervisor Mohamed Kamel Shbib of Syria. Competition manager Karina Picson of host Philippines was designated by ASBC to take care of the schedules, physical arrangements and logistics of the six-day tournament.
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Two Filipino fighters, De la Peña and Petecio, drew byes so they’ll need only three straight wins to claim the throne. It will take four wins for Laurente and Pangga to hit paydirt. Last night, Laurente took on China’s Cai Yujun and Pangga faced Uzbekistan’s Amirbek Ibodulloev in their opening bouts. De la Pena and Petecio are set to see action tomorrow. De la Peña will battle the survivor of today’s match between India’s Soy Selay and Japan’s Ruka Tagawa. Petecio will meet the winner of the bout between Iraq’s Alhasan Al-Dhuwayhir and Uzbekistan’s Sherzod Kodirboev.
“We’ve never won a gold at the Asian junior level although in 2011, Eumir took the gold at the world junior championships,” said Picson. “We’re excited to showcase the skills of our young fighters, the hospitality of our kababayan in Palawan and the beauty of Puerto Princesa. We’re looking forward to making wonderful memories for our visiting guests.” The competition is sponsored by the PSC, MVP Sports Foundation, Smart and Maynilad.