HOLLYWOOD – Former Asian Games gold medal winner Roberto Jalnaiz was so eager to know how the campaign of the Philippine men’s boxing team in the Asian-Oceania Olympic Qualifier in China went that it was the first thing he asked about when a group of Filipinos arrived at the Wild Card gym on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time).
From the six-man national team, only Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez earned a berth in the Rio De Janeiro Games this July.
Informed about it, Jalnaiz couldn’t help but reminisce about the past. Twenty four years ago to be exact.
“Ako na sana (unang naka-gold),” recalled Jalnaiz, who acts as one of the leaders of the so-called “Kayote Boyz,’ a group of US-based former boxers who assist boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao every time he fights here, beginning with the Filipino’s devastating loss to Juan Manuel Marquez four years ago.
Two years after winning the gold in the Beijing Asian Games, Jalnaiz loomed as one of the country’s top prospects for a medal of any color during the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Living up to the billing, the 39-year-old Jalnaiz opened his campaign on a fiery note, winning his first two preliminary matches via first round knockouts against Agustin Castillo of the Dominican Republic and Philippe Wartelle of France to advance to the quarterfinals.
Joel Casamayor of Cuba was up next for Jalnaiz in the quarterfinal round.
Although Casamayor was fancied to handily beat his Filipino opponent, Jalnaiz surprisingly led the highly-favored Cuban in the first round, holding a 5-2 edge halfway through the round.
Then disaster struck.
“Leading ako. Pero off the break, pag-atras niya, dale agad ako ng kaliwa. Bagsak ako,” said Jalnaiz of the fateful moment.
“Pinilit kong tumayo, pero groggy ako. Nabilangan na ako.”
Casamayor went on to beat Wayne McCullough in the gold medal play. The 44-year-old Cuban later became world super-featherweight, featherweight, and lightweight champion, before retiring in 2012 after losing an eight-round technical knockout against Tim Bradley for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) light-welterweight crown.
Jalnaiz admitted he can’t help but lament what happened to him on that night in Barcelona when he seemed to be on track to giving the Philippines a historic Olympic gold medal.
“Kapag nakikita ko nga si Casamyor, nanghihinayang ako,” said Jalnaiz. “Sabi ko sana ako na 'yung first gold.”
Taking a look at the current national boxing team, Jalnaiz stressed the Philippines always has that tradition of sending a strong squad to any major international tournament.
There’s one factor that hinders its campaign, though, according to Jalnaiz.
“Ang boxing team natin malakas naman dati pa,” he stressed. “Pero ang Olympic tournament, tsambahan lang 'yan especially sa bracketing.”
Just like what happened to him 24 years ago.