RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug. 21 — The Philippine campaign in the 2016 Rio Olympics came to a close Saturday evening with taekwondo’s Kirstie Elaine Alora breaking down in tears after absorbing two bitter defeats at the Carioca 3 of the Olympic Park here.
Alora, the last Filipino athlete to vie for a medal here, bowed to Olympic champion Maria Espinoza of Mexico, 4-1, in her opening match. Then she blew her chance to salvage at least a bronze when she lost to Wiam Dislam of Morocco, 7-5.
The loss to Espinoza, gold medal winner in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bronze medalist in London four years ago, left Alora figuring in the repechage (losers round). She needed two wins to get the bronze but could not get past the first challenge.
Dislam stood 5-foot-11 and was easily three inches taller than Alora. But it didn’t turn out to be a breeze for the flag-bearer of the Moroccan delegation to the 2012 London Olympics. She trailed Alora in the third round, and was down, 5-4, with only 20 seconds left.
Alora lowered her guard and got caught with the equalizer, and then with two more quick points to the body. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the 26-year-old Alora had lost a won match, and kissed her Olympic medal hopes in the +67 kg class goodbye.
Alora was in tears as she spoke to reporters.
“Another sad moment because it was my second chance. But I was denied. I think I should continue fighting in this sport because if I won a medal here I might end up saying, ‘This is my last,’” said the heavy 26-year-old after losing to Dislam.
“The Lord has plans for me to continue fighting. I’m happy with the results here but I was not fortunate enough. It’s God’s will. Maybe he wants me to win in the Asian Championships or the World Championships before I become an Olympic champion,” said Alora.
With her loss, the Philippines will close the book on this campaign with a silver medal courtesy of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz in the women’s 53 kg division. It’s a historic win for Diaz because she became the country’s first female athlete to win a medal in the Olympics.
It was also the country’s first medal in 20 years.
“It was a good historic run. Our gallant thirteen athletes have made our country proud. All went fighting and doing everything they can and they are the best we have,” said chef-de-mission Jose Romasanta.
Up 5-4 lead, she suddenly trailed 7-5 in the closing seconds. She launched a last-ditch effort and could have turned things around. However, a head kick that could have netted her three points did not register on the sensor, allowing Dislam to go on with the win.
Alora’s coach, Roberto “Kitoy” Cruz, raised a challenge. Still, there was nothing to reverse the outcome as Alora’s kick touched Dislam’s head gear instead of the face.
“I really thought Elaine hit the face and not the head gear. That was worth three points. From 5-7 we could have won the fight 8-7. At least, she fought better in the repechage than in her first fight,” said Cruz as he waited for Alora to face reporters.
Cruz said Alora looked better facing a taller opponent like Dislam than Espinoza.
“Kung saan pa mas-matangkad ang kalaban,” said the six-time finweight champion in the SEA Games of Alora, who tried hard against Espinoza but trailed majority of the fight.
The 26-year-old Alora failed to establish her distance against the gold medalist in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics.
The Filipina trailed after the first round, 1-0, equalized early in the second but faced a 3-1 deficit entering the third and final round. The Mexican took a 4-1 lead with under a minute left. Alora launched desperate moves in the closing seconds but could not land any solid shot.
Espinoza scored mostly on kicks to the body. Alora said she was wary of the Mexican’s head kicks.
“I could not anticipate what she was going to do to me. Each time she engages, she breaks out quickly. That made it very difficult for me,” said Alora, who still has a chance at the repechage and a crack at the bronze medal if Espinoza goes straight to the finals.
“Nahirapan ako sa stepping niya (I had difficulty with her stepping),” she said.
Espinoza, the top rank, went on to face China’s Shuyin Zheng in the gold medal match. This time, it was the Mexican who did not have the answer to Zheng’s tremendous height advantage, and she lost, 5-1.
Zheng, who stands 6’2”, won her first Olympic gold.
“I am taller so I tried to keep my distance. If she is close to me she is faster than me, so I kept her away. I feel very happy and excited with the win,” said the Chinese fighter.
Bianca Waalkden of Great Britain and Jackie Galloway of the United States, the losing semifinalists, eventually bagged the two bronze medals stakes in the +67 kg division won by a Serbian in 2012. (PNA)