RIO DE JANEIRO – Filipina taekwondo jin Kirstie Elaine Alora plunges into action Saturday morning (Sunday evening in Manila) confident of winning a medal and giving the Philippines its best finish ever in Olympics history.
Alora is the only remaining medal hope for the Philippines in the 2016 Rio Olympics. She will compete in the women’s +67 kg class and is out to follow the footsteps of silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting.
The 12 other Filipino athletes who qualified in six other sports to this Summer Games have already flown out of Rio de Janeiro, leaving Alora as the only one carrying the fight for the Philippines.
If she wins a medal of any color, the Philippines surpasses its previous best finish of three bronze medals in athletics, boxing and swimming in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
Alora’s match or matches come on the penultimate day of action here. On Sunday, the Rio Oympics will come to a close.
Diaz won the silver in the women’s 53 kg class in weightlifting last Aug. 7. She ended the country’s 20-year medal drought and became the first female athlete from the Philippines to win a medal in the Olympics.
Alora can rewrite history for the Philippines starting at 10:30 a.m. Rio time at the Olympic Park here. She needs to win three matches to reach the finals set at 10 p.m.
On the eve of the competition in her weight class, Alora welcomed her parents and elder sister to her living quarters inside the Athletes Village. She also spoke to sports officials led by Philippine Olympic Committee president Jose Cojuangco.
Alora will face 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalist Maria Espinoza of Mexico in her first match. She said it will be the toughest match of her taekwondo career.
“I feel this is the toughest match of my life,” said Alora, who has worked very hard in training since she qualified to the Rio Games last April and since she arrived here in Rio last July 23.
“I’m just ready to fight tomorrow. I’m very confident that I will do my best to win and deliver a medal,” said Alora, adding that she is focusing on one fight at a time.
For now, the only fighter in her mind is Espinoza, ranked No. 1 in their division. Aside from the gold in the Beijing Olympics, she also won the bronze in the 2012 London Games.
Alora has her eyes on Espinoza, two years older at 28. The two fighters stand close to 5’8” and are of the same build. In Friday’s weigh-in, Alora was near 75 kgs.
The Filipina is not looking ahead of Espinoza, also a gold medalist in the 2007 World Championships, and known for her powerful and aggressive style.
“Hindi ko iniisip na kung mananalo ako, sino ang sunod na kalaban. Focused lang sa unang laban. Kung mananalo at papalarin dun ko lang iisipin yung pangalawa,” she said.
Alora trained in Friday morning under her coach Kitoy Cruz then relaxed the rest of the day. Pinoy officials sought a special pass for her sister, Kathlyn, so she could have company in her room.
The two-time Asian Games champion is so focused on Espinoza that she’s not even thinking of winning a medal or giving the Philippines its best finish in the Olympics.
“Hindi din ako nag-iisip ng anything about winning a medal. Pressure lang yun. Bibigyan ko lang sarili ko ng added pressure. I just want to fight and perform very well,” she said.
Alora said she and her coach studied Espinoza’s style as hard as they could, and she said she finds some similarity in their fighting style.
“May similarities kami. Ngayon more on front legs ang laban. Kami meron kaming style na hindi pa kami umaangat sa uso ngayon. Yun lang comparison ko.
“Medyo parehas kami ng style. Pero meron din pagkakaiba. Bilang ko yung style niya na kaya kong pasukan. Kung ganun ang gagawin niya kaya ko anticipate. Kasi nga nakalaban ko na siya,” Alora said.
They’ve met once in 2009 and the Mexican won, 2-1.
“Alam ko yung galaw niya. Pinanood naman namin yung mga laban niya. May kaya ako gawin to counter her,” said the graduate of St. Benilde.
“Siguro yung experience lang sa Olympics and lamang niya,” said Alora, who added that when they fought the first time she didn’t knew that Espinoza just won the gold in the Beijing Olympics.
“Lumaban lang ako. Na-shock na lang ako nung sinabi ng coach ko na ‘Alam mo ba yung nakalaban mo Olympic champion?’ O talaga? Okay lang pala eh. Na-shock din ako. Siguro kulang lang ako.
“Wala naman yung ‘wow’ (factor). Siguro may kulang lang ako nung time na yun. Now siyempre I know her already. Nakalaban ko na siya. Na-experience ko na. Siguro okay ang match namin,” Alora said.
She doesn’t mind that she’s the only one left in contention and that her fellow Pinoy athletes who competed here are back home.
“I just stay focused. Hindi ko naman iniisip na buti pa sila tapos na at enjoying na. Ako focused lang. Basta I will do my best,” Alora said.