TOKYO—For Nesthy Petecio, all roads lead to the fabled Kokugikan Arena as she steps atop the ring for the biggest fight of her life on Tuesday.
That’s extremely strange.
Never in Philippine history has its great sportswriters written about the nation seeking a second Olympic gold medal. Never.
But because of weightlifter Hidilyan Diaz who won the country’s very first Olympic gold medal two Mondays ago and Petecio going unscathed in four fights in these Games, Filipinos back home will be glued to their television sets starting at 12:05 p.m. (Manila time) to witness Petecio fight for sports immortality.
Standing between a gold medal—and the windfall of incentives that comes with it—is a young Japanese, 20-year-old Sena Irie, who, like Petecio, 29, would be fighting for her flag and country in the women’s featherweight final.
Irie is a familiar for Petecio. The Japanese beat the Filipina in the Asia and Oceania Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in Amman, Jordan, early in 2020, denying Petecio of an Olympic berth.
Petecio, however, earned her ticket to Tokyo by virtue of her ranking in the Olympic Task Force Ranking of the International Olympic Committee.
But Petecio will be a prepared and inspired boxer on Irie’s home soil.
“This means a lot to me, it’s my dream and this as importantly my father’s dream,” Petecio said. Petecio comes from a poor family in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur. Her father Teodoro toils a small piece of land while her mother Prescilla tends to the family.
“A victory will not only be for me but for my family, and to Filipinos who pray for me,” said Petecio, whose Japanese rival won’t have the hometown advantage because fans are not allowed in all competitions in these pandemic Olympics.
Petecio stitched together close to convincing victories in these Olympics where the boxing competitions are supervised by a special International Olympic Committee body and not the controversy-marred International Boxing Associaton or AIBA.
She had a rousing Olympic debut by overwhelming the Republic of the Congo’s Marcelat Sakobi Matshu, 5-0.
Petecio then booted out the biggest thorn in her weight category, using cunning speed and talent to beat Olympic top seed and world No. 1 Lin Yu-Ting, by a close 3-2 score. At 5-foot-2, Petecio used her quickness in toppling the 5-foot-8 Taiwanese.
In her third fight, Colombian Yeni Marceloa Arias Castaneda found the Filipino one tough nut to crack, giving Petecio a ticker to the medal round where another taller opponent waited for her.
Last Saturday, Petecio again had to contend with a for six inches taller than she is. After giving away the first round to measure her opponent, Petecio cracked the whip and again with her speed and relentless punching, beat Italy’s Irma Testa, 4-1, to advance to the gold medal play.
That alone was already history as it marked the first time since Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco settled for a silver medal also in boxing at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
“I’ll go for the gold with everything I’ve got, and I know that if I follow my coaches, I won’t go wrong,” she said, referring to Nolito “Boy” Velasco as well as Australian Consultant Don Abnett, Ronald Chavez, Reynaldo Galido and Elmer Pamisa.
“If we boxers are working hard, the more are out coaches working hard,” said Petecio, one of three boxers from Mindanao who are championing the country’s bid for gold medals in boxing.
The other two are Eumir Felix Marcial, who advanced to the men’s middleweight final, and Carlo Paalam, who is also on boxing’s schedule on Tuesday.
Paalam will go for the men’s flyweight medal round when he battles Olympic and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan at 11:15 a.m. (Tokyo time).