<
>

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Meet the Philippine athletes competing in weightlifting, taekwondo, and swimming

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will run from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Nineteen Filipino athletes in competing in 11 sports will see action as the Philippines seeks to win its first official Olympic gold medal. In the lead-up to the opening of the Games, ESPN5 is producing a four-part series on all 19 athletes. This is the second part, featuring athletes competing in weightlifting, taekwondo, and aquatics.

Weightlifting

Hidilyn Diaz

Women's 55kg

Elreen Ando

Women's 64kg

Form heading into the Olympics

Diaz has been cooped in in Malaysia for much of the pandemic. Although she competed in various online tournaments, her only live event was the Asian Weightlifting Championship held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan last April.

She was not able to win a medal in the tourney although it was clear that she is still the country's best medal hope for the Tokyo Olympics.

However, this performance should be taken with a grain of salt. The top two lifters (Liao Qiuyun and Li Yajun) were from China and they had to push their performance as only the top bet will qualify for the Olympics. Diaz, one the other end, only needed to show up and perform a single lift to book her ticket to Tokyo.

Diaz immediately went back to training in Malaysia for her team's final preparations. This will most likely be the last Olympic competition that she'll join so expect Diaz to go all out.

The 22-year-old Elreen Ando qualified for the Tokyo Olympics through a continental allocation as the highest-ranked Asian athlete in the International Weightlifting Federation.

She's coming off a solid performance in the Asian Weightlifting Championships (AWC) as she finished with two silvers (Clean and Jerk and Total) and a bronze (Snatch).

How they stack up against the competition and medal chances

In terms of winning a medal, Diaz is as close as the Philippines can get to a guarantee.

China's bet Liao is still the odds-on favorite as she is the World Record holder for both Clean & Jerk (129 kg) and Total (227 kg) in the women's 55kg category. Diaz and Uzbekistan's Muattar Nabieva and the favorites to join her at the podium with Ukraine's 20-year-old athlete Kamila Konotop having an outside chance.

From the women's 53kg category, only Diaz will be returning among those who finished at the podium with gold medalist Hsu Shu-Ching of Chinese Taipei and bronze medalist Yoon Jin-Hee of Korea both retiring from the sport.

The biggest challenge for Diaz will be her performance in Snatch. With China's Liao being the World Record holder in Clean & Jerk, the Filipino lifter will have to stay within striking distance or even ahead after the first part of the competition even if it's not necessarily her favorite.

All eyes will be on Diaz as writers from the Southeast Asian region have even said she's the brightest bet to win a gold but she'll have to be at her very best to make this dream into a reality.

Ando's entry into the Tokyo Olympics is only the start of a very long process for her to get Olympic success. When Diaz first qualified, she was only 17 years old for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She won the silver medal eight years later in Rio.

The young Ando should be following a similar path.

Winning a medal will be a tough proposition for the 22-year-old Cebuana. She lifted a total of 213kg in the AWC, 15kg behind the winner Chen Wen-Huei (228kg) of Chinese Taipei.

Unlike the lighter weight divisions where Asian women can sweep the podium spots, 64kg also features strong competitors from the rest of the world. With 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist and World Record Deng Wei (Total personal best: 261kg) of China not competing due to an injury, Maude Charron of Canada (Total personal best: 240kg) and Mercedes Perez (Total personal best: 238kg) should be the favorites to claim the top prize in the weight category. - Carlo Pamintuan

Taekwondo

Kurt Bryan Barbosa

Men's -58kg

World or Olympic ranking - Senior Division, Olympic Kyorugi Ranking: 151

Form heading into the Olympics

The former UAAP Rookie MVP's chances of making the Olympics were already dead in the water with about 10 seconds left in the semifinals match of the Asian Qualification Tournament for Tokyo 2020 last May.

Barbosa trailed 41-26 with 1:19 left in the third and final round against Jordan's Zaid Al-Halawani, and it looked like all hope was lost, he eventually trimmed the gap to five, 49-44, when he launched two successive body hits to come within one, 49-48.

Just before the final buzzer, the student-athlete from National U successfully connected on a head kick to become the first male Filipino jin since Tshomlee Go in 2008 to qualify to the Summer Games. It is a testament of Barbosa's hard work, which stemmed from his early days aspiring as a basketball star in Bangued, Abra, that eventually shifted to the martial art.

The 22-year-old had been training at the INSPIRE Sports Academy in Laguna for months prior to the Asian OQT, and is in tip-top shape for competition.

How he stacks up against competition and medal chances

According to two-time taekwondo Olympian Stephen Fernandez, who won bronze in the 1992 Barcelona Games when the event was a demo sport, Barbosa will need to overcome powerhouse opponents to get a shot at an Olympic medal.

"The top three players in the world are from Korea, then Italy, and Iran," Fernandez told ESPN5.com over the phone.

There are 16 participants in the weight division, and if they lose their opening match, will be relegated to the repechage bracket, which opens up a chance to remain in the hunt for the gold. Only four wins are needed to win gold, relayed Fernandez.

However, considering Barbosa's unique journey to Tokyo, Fernandez believes that Barbosa could use his past experiences, coupled with his positive attitude, to score upsets.

"Given Kurt's disposition in the qualifiers, where he showed a lot of heart, he has a big chance. He has a big fighting heart. He has something that he can really depend upon in Tokyo," Fernandez added. - Philip Matel

Aquatics

Remedy Rule

Swimming - women's 100 m and 200m butterfly

Luke Gebbie

Swimming - men's 50m and 100m freestyle

Form heading into the Olympics

Rule, who won two silvers and two bronzes in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, will have two chances to vie for a medal in Tokyo after qualifying for two swimming events.

The 24-year-old swimmer first made the women's 200m butterfly event by garnering 830 FINA points after tallying a finish of 2:09:58 minutes -- a new national record -- at the TYR Pro Swim Series Des Moines, Iowa March last year.

She later booked a spot in the women's 100m butterfly by collecting another 808 FINA points clocking in at 59:55 seconds -- another Philippine record -- at the Longhorn Elite Invite in Austin, Texas last May.

Both records are within the Olympic Selection Times for each event.

Like Rule, Gebbie qualified for two events in Tokyo by clocking in at times that qualify for the Olympic Selection Times of both the 50m and 100m freestyle events.

Gebbie, a silver and bronze medalist in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, earned 828 FINA points by tallying a new national record of 49.94 seconds in the men's 100m freestyle event at the World Aquatics Championships held in Gwangju, South Korea two years ago.

The Melbourne-based swimmer also garnered 795 FINA points in the men's 50m freestyle event by setting another Philippine record of 22.57 seconds during the Australian Olympic Trials staged last month.

How they stack up against competition and medal chances

Only 17 tankers will compete this year in the women's 200m butterfly event compared to 27 in the 2016 edition of the Games. Interestingly, only three of the top eight swimmers in Brazil -- and none of the podium finishers -- are on hand for the event.

Expected to lead the pack here are 2016 Rio swimmers Zhang Yufei of China, Hali Flickinger of the United States, and Brianna Throssell of Australia, though a smaller field of competition could mean a better chance at vying for a medal for Rule.

The chances are a little smaller in the 100m butterfly event, where Rule will go up against 42 other competitors -- including defending medalist Sarah Sjöström, who currently holds the world record with a mark of 55:48.

As impressive as he was over the past two years, Gebbie will have to reset his Philippine records in a big way in order to give himself a shot at making the podium in both events.

Gebbie will take on 67 others in the 50m freestyle event, where the likes of 2016 silver medalist Florent Manaudou of France, as well as top-eight finishers Benjamin Proud of Great Britain, Bruno Fratus of Brazil, and South Africa's Brad Tandy.

Meanwhile, in the 100m event, 72 swimmers will be competing for a medal finish. That pool includes 2016 gold winner Kyle Chalmers of Australia, who reset the world junior record in Rio by finishing at 47:58 seconds. - Eros Villanueva