It’s been a tough road for boxer Mark Anthony Barriga to get into the 2012 London Olympics.
Though he was the first Filipino to earn a berth to the London Games, for a few tense moments, his Olympic fate lay in the hands of some other boxer.
In the 2011 AIBA World Championships, Barriga lost his round-of-16 matchup against China’s Zou Shiming. But with 10 Olympic slots up for grabs in the tournament, the two fighters eliminated by the eventual finalists in round-of-16 would also qualify for London.
Barriga knew that if his conqueror could make it all the way to the finals, he could still advance, but found it was hard to stay positive after crashing out of the qualifiers early in the tournament.
“Pagkatalo ko, nag-down yung katawan ko. ‘Ang hirap nito, wala tayong chance dito.’ Ganoon yung mga pumapasok sa isip ko,” shared the 18-year-old Barriga.
But Zou moved on to crush David Ayrapetyan of Russia, 15-8, in the semifinals to hand Barriga a ticket to London. Barriga says that critics have called his road a “backdoor” qualification, but insists he doesn’t let that bother him.
“Malaking pagpapasalamat ko na kahit natalo ako, kahit tinatawag nila na ‘backdoor’, nag-qualify pa rin ako,” he said. “Maraming nagsasabi na ‘backdoor’, pero binabale wala ko lang yun kasi masisira lang yung focus ko eh.”
“Hindi nila alam gaano kahirap mag-qualify, maging isang Olympian.”
And when Barriga steps into the ring in London, he’ll be carrying the hopes of many Filipinos as he tries to add another notch into the country’s storied history in the sport of boxing in the Olympics.
The Philippines hasn’t won many medals in the quadrennial meet, netting only nine in total since first participating in the Olympics in 1924. But out of those nine, five of those medals have come in boxing, including the only two silver medals in the country’s history.
Coincidentally, the last three medals have come not just from the same sport that Barriga will be competing in, but also the same weight class: light flyweight.
“Sana maging consistent tayo dun,” said ABAP executive director Ed Picson. “We’ve had some modest success in boxing in the Olympics. We’re hoping we can approximate that and improve on it. But it’s not going to be easy.”
Boxers Leopoldo Serantes and Roel Velasco won bronze medals in 1988 and 1992, while Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco won a silver in 1996 in Atlanta, in the 46-49-kg division where Barriga is set to compete in.
One of those medalists, Roel Velasco, is putting his Olympic experience to good use, serving as the youngster Barriga’s coach and has proved valuable to Barriga’s journey so far. “Lahat nung naranasan niya, nadaanan niya, sinasabi niya sa akin,” said Barriga of Velasco, who already has previous experience about the things Barriga now goes through.
Barriga will be familiar with some of the fighters he’ll face in London. He could be headed for a quarterfinal rematch against Zou, who earned a first-round bye in the tournament. Ayrapetyan is also a familiar foe, having been beaten by Barriga in the finals of the Sydney Jackson Memorial Tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan last May.
But Barriga refused to make predictions about how he’d fare against his Olympic foes. “Basta maipapangako ko na gagawin ko lahat ng makakaya ko sa ibabaw ng ring,” he promised instead.
Catch Mark Anthony Barriga’s opening match on Tuesday, July 31, 8 p.m. LIVE on AKTV. Check out the broadcast schedule of Filipino athletes competing in the Olympics.