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Filipino boxers Eumir Marcial, Irish Magno willing to wait for their Olympic dream

Photo by Ryan Songalia
25
Mar

When Irish Magno and Eumir Marcial returned home from Jordan on March 13 after qualifying for the Olympics, there was no confetti or parties awaiting them. Instead the whole team was told to head straight home for a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine, the standard rule the Philippines put in place for returning citizens as it deals with rising cases of the new coronavirus.

The Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers had originally been set for early February in Wuhan, China, which quickly became untenable, and it was postponed by a month and moved out of the country. But as cases of COVID-19 rose throughout the world, it became increasingly likely that the July start for the Olympic Games would be just as difficult to maintain.

After multiple countries began to call for the Games to be pushed back, the International Olympic Committee finally made the difficult decision to reschedule them “beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021,” according to a joint statement Tuesday from the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers. This is the first time the Olympics will be pushed back during peace times – the 1916, 1940 and 1944 Games were all skipped while the world was at war.

“It’s not a surprise,” said Ed Picson, executive director of ABAP, the Philippines’ Olympic-style boxing association. “So disheartening for those who already qualified and for those who felt they could qualify, but these are extraordinary times. We just hope IOC is able to come up with a viable option everyone can live with.”

An Agence France-Presse report Thursday cited an IOC source saying that those who had already qualified for the 2020 Games – about 57% of the 11,000 expected to compete – will retain their spots when the Olympics are finally rescheduled.

Marcial, the 24-year-old from Zamboanga City, accepts that the postponement was necessary.

“We have a crisis now and it’s hard to train, so it’s OK to postpone so we have time to prepare,” said Marcial, who is at his home in Cavite province with his girlfriend and his two brothers. Though he admits he’s “a little bit disappointed,” Marcial tries to look on the bright side. “It’s OK because I have time to train and work on my weaknesses.”

The delay comes just as Marcial, a hard-hitting southpaw, and a rare Filipino middleweight, was peaking as a fighter. Marcial lost in a box-off for the 2016 Olympics, and nearly won the AIBA world championship in 2019, losing a decision to the home country fighter in the finals to walk away with a silver. But Marcial had been particularly dominant in Jordan, defeating Kazakhstan’s Abilkhan Amankul in the gold medal match to send a message to the division.

“This Olympics is my greatest dream in life, also my dad’s [Eulalio] dream for me. I want to pursue that dream while he is still alive. I love him so much and that is my gift to him, because I know if I get that I will make him happy and I will be able to help my family,” said Marcial.

Magno, the women’s flyweight representative, had made history in Jordan as the first Filipina ever to qualify for the Olympics, which introduced women’s boxing as an event in 2012. After a rough 2019, where she lost on home turf in the gold medal match of the Southeast Asian Games, Magno made the most of her trip to Jordan, winning in the box-offs to earn a ticket to Tokyo.

“It’s a bit frustrating,” admitted Magno about the delay. “But at the same time the safety and health of every athlete is important for now.

Magno, too, is on her final day of mandated self-quarantine, and is training alone at her rented home up north in Baguio City.

Photo from Magno’s Facebook

“I’m really concerned, especially for all athletes because it’s very hard for us to train and stay focused because of this coronavirus,” said Magno, an Iloilo City native who got into boxing at age 16 as a way to help her family out of poverty.

Marcial says he’s taking vitamin C and working out at home, but worries that some of his countrymen are not heeding the call for “enhanced community quarantine” in the Luzon region, which is under a stay-at-home order where only one person per household can leave for essential errands. COVID-19 cases have surpassed 600 in the Philippines, including three senators not named Manny Pacquiao. As of Tuesday, fewer than 2,000 people in the country had been tested, according to the Department of Health.

“I’m afraid because I hear in the news that some Filipinos are still going out. They are not really serious about the virus, but I understand them, especially the people that are leaving everyday. That’s why we need to help each other, especially the government, so they can buy food so they stay at home,” said Marcial, a 2011 AIBA Youth world champion and three-time SEA Games gold medalist.

So far, the Asia, Africa and Europe qualifiers have taken place, while the Americas qualifier, which were to take place from March 26-April 3 in Argentina, and the World “last chance” qualifier, scheduled for Paris, were postponed.

The Philippines has never won a gold medal at the Olympics, though boxing has accounted for half of their total medals, including two of their three silver medals.

Both Marcial and Magno are hoping to end that drought, when the Olympics are finally rescheduled.

“The Philippines has how many world champions already…but we don’t have a gold medal yet. I love dreaming for the gold because until now no one was able to get it,” said Marcial.

“I will train hard to win the gold for Olympics, especially now we have more time to prepare,” Magno said.

“Eumir and Irish are two of the most disciplined, grounded and coachable boxers we have in the team,” added Picson. “They have their eyes set on an Olympic medal and they’re going to work on it tirelessly as soon as the air clears. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come through.”

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected]