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Barriga, PHL’s lone hope for Olympic medal

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Light-flyweight Mark Anthony Barriga (right) delivers a solid right hook to Italy's Manuel Cappai on his way to a 17-7 routing of the Italian slugger to advance in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Barriga is the Philippines' only hope for a medal in the quadrennial meet.

Light-flyweight boxer Mark Anthony Barriga, the Philippines’ main hope for gold at the London Games, started his medal campaign on a very bright note by beating Italy’s Manuel Cappai 17-7.

The 19-year-old, a quarter-finalist at the world championships in Azerbaijan last year, who was facing tough odds, humbled the taller Italian in a dominating feat, which included a moment when he floored Cappai during the bout though called a slip by the official.

Barriga’s next fight will on August 4 (Saturday, London time) and he will face Kazakhstan Boxer Birzhan Zhakypov, 28 years old.

Barriga is set to follow the footsteps of the great boxers from the Philippines, which at the moment is enjoying an impressive record in professional boxing, with two current world champions – Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire.

And Barriga also has a good record, with wins at the annual Sydney Jackson Memorial Tournament in Uzbekistan in 2011 and 2012.

The head of the Philippine Sports Commission, Richie Garcia, said: “He has a very good chance of winning in his weight category. He seems to have the spirit and determination to win.

“He is not somebody who came out of nowhere. He has a track record and he can win.”

The Philippines fielded a small squad of 11 athletes in London after many promising contenders failed to qualify in their respective sports.

The country has suffered a long medal drought, with its last podium finish – a silver in boxing – coming in the Atlanta games in 1996. It has never won gold but did bag bronze medals, also in boxing, in 1992 and 1988.

Garcia, whose agency is in charge of funding national athletics programs, said he favored a proposal to bring in more foreign coaches.

The boxing association is considering hiring a “consultant”, possibly from Kazakhstan, the United States or Britain to help upgrade its program, Picson said.

Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines executive director Ed said “We think “Barriga has a decent chance of winning. That is why he is there. If we did not think he had a chance, we would not send him.”

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