ALTHOUGH light-flyweight Mark Barriga was singing ‘’I’ll Do My Crying In The Rain’’ as he emerged from his room, he remains a picture of one who’s certainly not going to let Team Philippines cry when he climbs the ring next week in the 30th Olympic Games.
In his initial appearance in the biggest sports stage of all, the 19-year-old Barriga will fight Manuel Cappai, a young Italian champion who moves and fights like defending champion and top seed Zou Shiming of China.
But definitely he’s not as good as the Chinese ring wonder in the eyes of the coach Roel Velasco.
“Parang si Zou kung maglaro. Suntok, takbo, suntok, takbo . Counter-puncher. Pero hindi kasinggaling ni Zou. Kaya yung Italian,” said coach Roel Velasco after watching Cappai’s most recent bout on YouTube.
The 19-year-old Barriga, a native from Panabo City, Davao del Norte, has gone from the ends of the earth fighting in big and small tournaments in the course of his search for an Olympic slot, but hasn’t met Cappai in any of these.
He got a glimpse of the Italian for the first time during the general weigh-in ahead of the draw on Friday afternoon.
“Mataas . Ako naman talaga ang pinakamaliit sa grupo,” Barriga said, bursting into a loud laugh as Velasco and amateur boxing executive director Ed Picson looked animated. “Magalaw din ang kilos.Okay lang, handa din naman ako.”
Nothing much is known about Cappai, except that he won the bronze medal in the European Olympic qualifying event, losing to Bulgarian and eventual champion Aleksander Aleksandrov in the semifinals on points.
If Barriga gets past Cappai, the going gets tougher in the second round as he faces the winner of the bout betwen Kazakstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov and Jeremy Beccu.
If he gets lucky and makes it to the quarterfinals, guess who’s possibly waiting for him? Either Shiming or Cuban Sosbany Veitia Soto, another rated boxer in the upper half of the draw in the 26-man division.
The top four seeds—Shiming, No. 2 Shin Jonghun of South Korea, No. 3 David Ayrapetyan of Russia and No. 4 Serdamba Purevdorj of Mongolia—drew opening day byes in the lightest of the 10 classes in a sport which will see the debut of women’s boxing in the Olympics.
Picson acknowledged the toughness of Barriga’s group,but was quick to point out that the Filipino fighter will be up to the task given the kind of hard work made and the dedication shown as he takes a crack at the ultimate prize in his sport.
“He’s ready as can be. He had a good training. He had eight least eight sparring sessions. He’s in shape. Malaki ang tiwala ko,” said Picson of Barriga,who comes off a victory in the prestigious Sydney Jackson Memorial tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan a few months ago.
That victory somehow gave Barriga the boost and the good feeling that he can take on everyone since he outpointed no less than the veteran Ayrapetyan in the finals, 12-9, to win the division for the second straight year.
Even Team Philippines chef de mission Manny Lopez believes Barriga is one boxer who can do good in this Games nothwithstanding the tough opposition.
“Magaling yung bata. Hindi basta-basta tatalunin,” said Lopez, adding Barriga has indeed a mountain to climb as he goes for a podium finish in a sport which has been a source of medals before falling into a horrendous medal draught starting in the Sydney Olympics.
“Dadaaan sa butas ng karayom. But I know the boy. Matapang. Masipag sa training,” added Lopez.
The last boxer to deliver in the Olympics was Mansueto “Onyok Velasco, who won the silver medal in the same division in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, duplicating the feat of Anthony Villanueva in the 1960 Tokyo Games.
OLYMPIC NOTES—Arsenic Lacson, the hard-working administrative officer of team Philippines, beat a sportswriter in a raffle between them. The prize? A slot in the team parade during the opening ceremonies...The Philippine team is supported by ICTSI, Bank of Philippine Islands, Petron, Mizuno, Samsonite, Procter and Gamble, Smart Sports, TV5, PSC and Philracom...NBA stars Kevin Durant, Deron Williams and Kobe Bryant dropped by the Athletes Village on Friday, signing autographs and posing for pictures...The busiest section in the vast dining hall? No other than the McDonald’s outlet.