Paalam fights for gold


TOKYO—Carlo Paalam put on a dominant performance in a men’s featherweight semifinal clash against Japan’s Ryomei Tanaka on Thursday to prime himself up for the country’s second gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics that looks bound to survive the Covid-19 pandemic in three days.

Paalam mauled Tanaka for an emphatic unanimous decision victory at the Kokugikan Arena where he returns to fight for the gold medal on Saturday against Great Britain’s Galal Yafai.

Using speed, strength and ring smarts, Paalam turned Tanaka’s head into a target, continuously landing 1-2 combinations and darting away from trouble to fashion out an imposing 5-0 victory, his fourth impressive win in the Olympics.

“We used speed, that’s the strategy. I made sure I fought my style, my game,” Paalam said. “On the ring, you have to evaluate every move and trust each one of them.”

The 23-year-old Cagayan de Oro pride made the Japanese look overmatched to the delight of Philippine Olympic Committee President Rep. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and his secretary general, Atty. Ed Gastanes, who wildly cheered from the Olympic Family VIP box at ringside.

Paalam was the smarter boxer throughout, nailing the Japanese—as his coaches Elmer Pamisa and Don Abnett instructed him to do—with 1-2 solid combinations before sliding out of trouble.

The Japanese was stunned several times as he absorbed Paalam’s left straights that appeared to have come from nowhere.

Already desperate to turn things around even in the second round, Tanaka hit Paalam on the back of the head, dazing him.

“He his me at the back of the head in the second round and it hurt me,” he said. “I was dazed and I lost air.”

“I went down low on him to recover, and I held on to his legs to catch my breath,” he said. “The referee may have not seen the illegal strike because of the swift exchanges.”

Tanaka was humble in defeat.

“I played the best match ever so I didn’t regret anything,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “I don’t feel that I lost because my opponent was very good—sI just lost to myself.”

With Paalam in the finals, Team Philippines could aim for a second gold medal after Hidilyn Diaz’s dominant performance in women’s -55 kgs of weightlifting.

The Philippines will also mark the Tokyo Games with a bountiful haul of four medals—including Nesthy Petecio’s women’s featherweight mint and Eumir Felix Marcial’s bronze, both in boxing.

Marcial climbed the ring half an hour after Paalam fought and took a close split decision loss to Oleksandr Khyzhniak of Ukraine to settle for the bronze medal.

Yafai edged Paalam’s 2020 Asia and Oceania Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament tormentor Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan in a close 3-2 split decision win in the other flyweight semifinal.

Paalam knew the weight he has to carry as he bids for the gold medal this weekend.

“I ask everyone to please pray for me as I do my best in the final,” said Paalam, as he thanked Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno, one of his biggest supporters.

“I don’t hold the key to whatever the decision would be on Saturday, because I know all of my opponents here trained hard for the Olympics,” he said. “But I hope God gives me the confidence and trust to succeed.”

Image courtesy of AP

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