Bare-bones gym breeds Olympians in Philippines’ boxing capital Bago

Bare-bones gym breeds Olympians in Philippines’ boxing capital Bago
This photo taken on June 5, 2024 shows Prystine Niche Cantancio (L) sparring during training at a boxing gym in Bago City, Negros Occidental province. (AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2024
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Bare-bones gym breeds Olympians in Philippines’ boxing capital Bago

Bare-bones gym breeds Olympians in Philippines’ boxing capital Bago
  • Eight of the 70 Filipino boxers to have made it to the Olympics got their start at the Bago City gym
  • The most recent Bago Olympian, Rio 2016 light-flyweight Roger Ladon, failed to qualify for Paris leaving the city pining for a new poster boy

BAGO CITY: At a bare-bones gym in the central Philippines, children from poor families in torn shoes put on frayed head guards and get to work in pursuit of their Olympic boxing dream — and a way out of poverty.

Aged 10-18, the young boxers spar in the Bago city gymnasium after school before sleeping under the ring’s canvas at night.

Located on the island of Negros, in the sugar-growing region which has some of the country’s starkest rich-poor divides, the city of 200,000 calls itself the Philippines’ “boxing capital.”

Eight of the 70 Filipino boxers to have made it to the Olympics got their start at the Bago City gym.

Boxers there work out on peeling punching bags under the buzz of giant old electric fans straining to give some relief from the oppressive tropical heat.

The most recent Bago Olympian, Rio 2016 light-flyweight Roger Ladon, failed to qualify for Paris leaving the city pining for a new poster boy.

“Life is hard here. Job opportunities are limited,” said coach Larry Semillano, a Bago native who fought at lightweight in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

His 17 wards are mostly children of farmers, construction workers and tricycle drivers.

“To them, if they excel in it they believe they will have a better life,” said Ignacio Denila, the city government’s executive assistant for sports.

“All of them idolize (Manny) Pacquiao,” Denila told AFP, referring to the eight-weight world champion, who was also born in poverty, on the southern island of Mindanao.

“I hope to be recruited into the national team in order to join competitions and win medals abroad,” AJ Vicente, 17, one of Semillano’s current hopefuls, told AFP.

Bago lightweight Leopoldo Cantancio blazed the Olympic trail when he made it to the 1984 Los Angeles Games, reaching the round of 16. He also fought at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Bago fighters have since won one Olympic silver medal and one bronze.

Though Filipino boxers have yet to win gold, eight of the country’s 14 Olympic medals so far came from boxing — three silvers and five bronze.

Semillano believes Vicente, a right-handed flyweight who won a bronze at the Philippine national games last year, has a “70 percent” chance of eventually making it to the national team.

But “he needs to consume a lot more rice” before he can be considered for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics or Brisbane in 2032, the coach added.

“The skill is there. What we’re trying to develop now is his power,” Semillano told AFP.

AJ’s father Jose Vicente, 50, brawled for meagre prize money at village-level Bago tournaments in his youth when he was not cutting and hauling sugar cane for 10 pesos a day (17 US cents).

“Farm work is backbreaking. I do not want my son to go through the same thing,” Jose, now a handyman at a provincial hospital, told AFP at the family’s small wood and bamboo home among sugar cane fields on the city’s outskirts.

“Dad wanted to become a boxer himself. I have decided to fulfil that dream for him,” said his son, whose more than a dozen boxing medals hang proudly on the living room wall.

From the age of seven children are welcome to join the training program, said coach Semillano, who cooks for them while minding his two-year-old daughter Sydney as the young boxers do their laundry in the yard.

Last year, three Bago minors trained by Semillano qualified for the national government’s amateur boxing pool, an important next step for their Olympic ambitions.

The Bago city government-funded program was launched in the mid-1960s by a sports-oriented mayor, Ramon Torres, and bore fruit in 1992 when light-flyweight Roel Velasco won a bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

His younger brother Mansueto Velasco went one better with a light-flyweight silver in Atlanta in 1996.

Schoolgirl Prystine Niche Cantancio is 11 years old, nicknamed Junela and a distant relative of Bago’s first Olympic boxer. She also trains at the gym, sparring against 10-year-old boys.

“I want to make my papa proud by following in his boxing footsteps,” she told AFP, referring to Junel Cantancio, a Philippines team boxer who did not make it to the Olympics.

Junela was seven when she put her collection of teddy bears in a cabinet and first pulled on boxing gloves, said her mother Lovely Christine Cantancio, who takes her daughter to practice sessions.

“She looks happy, except there are no other girls to fight,” Lovely said.

Her father retired from boxing and became a full-time soldier following a fight-related injury.

“Not all of them will be Olympians or make the national team,” said city sports official Denila.

“For me, what is important is they develop discipline, even if they do not achieve success in life.

“That’s really the purpose of sports — to develop you morally and spiritually.”


Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row
Updated 29 sec ago
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Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row
BUDAPEST: Lando Norris grabbed pole position ahead of his team-mate Oscar Piastri for the Hungarian Grand Prx on Saturday as McLaren locked out the front row of the grid for the first time since 2012.
Red Bull’s three-time champion Max Verstappen had to settle for third and the second row in the tense wet-dry qualifying
The 24-year-old Briton, who is 84 points behind Verstappen in this year’s title race, clocked a best lap in one minute and 15.227 seconds to outpace the Australian by 0.022 seconds.
Verstappen was three-hundredths of a second adrift in third ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who leaves the team at the end of the year, and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who will replace him.
Charles Leclerc, in the second Ferrari was sixth ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll and the RBs of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, who had survived a high-speed crash earlier in Q3.
It was Norris’s second pole in four races and the third of his burgeoning career as he gains front-running experience in his bid to challenge Verstappen who, on Sunday bids to complete a hat-trick of Hungarian wins.
“I’m very happy with that and it wasn’t easy at all in difficult conditions so ending up on top is the best for us all and a great result for the team,” said Norris.
“We have come into this weekend confident we can do a good job so to be on pole is sweet.”
“It’s the first 1-2 for McLaren for a long time and an amazing result for us,” said Piastri. “I had a tricky day yesterday so for me it is nice to bounce back.”
Verstappen said: “I tried. We have been behind the whole weekend and I tried to make it as close as possible, but it wasn’t enough. I would have liked a bit more grip...”
After Friday’s sweltering conditions for practice, qualifying began in much cooler weather with temperatures and light rain falling.
The McLaren pair were first out on soft slick tires along with Kevin Magnussen in his Haas.
George Russell was also struggling before the session was red-flagged when Sergio Perez smacked the wall at Turn Eight, having lost control and made a sideways slide into the barriers in the second Red Bull.
For the under-pressure Mexican driver, it was another Q1 setback in a sequence of bad qualifying outings and came just seconds after Russell had saved his car sliding off at the same place as the rain intensified.
After a 12-minute break, the action resumed with Perez hanging on in ninth from his earlier efforts, before he suffered his fourth Q1 exit in six outings as he embarked on two racing weekends that many observers believe offer him a last chance to save his seat at Red Bull.
In a frantic finale to Q1, on a damp circuit, Russell managed to jump from 14th to 10th but it was not enough as others improved to leave him 17th and out, taking an early exit for the second year running at the Hungaroring along with Perez, 16th, Zhou Guanyu of Sauber and the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly who stayed in the pits.
Unexpectedly, Daniel Ricciardo was fastest for RB in the changing conditions while Norris was only 13th.
“I’m sorry about this session guys,” said Russell, who had asked for more fuel to prolong his running to three laps. “That one is on me.”
The Q2 segment started with Sainz on top, until Hamilton and then Verstappen took over, the Dutchman in 1:15.770, nine-tenths faster than Hamilton’s pole in 2023. Piastri went second only 0.015 off the pace.
On his second run, Norris took command in 1:15.540 while Hamilton struggled to survive in 10th and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas of Sauber, Williams’ Alex Albon, Sargeant and Magnussen missed the cut to the top-ten shootout.
All this left Norris and Verstappen to scrap for pole, as rain was forecast, and the Dutchman led them out to clock 1:15.555 before Norris cut that time by 0.328 with his lap in 1:15.227. It was provisional pole, as rain began to fall.
The world champion pushed to improve but stayed third as Yuki Tsunoda crashed at Turn Five in his RB to prompt a red-flag stoppage. It was a big accident, but the Japanese driver was unhurt.
Two minutes and 13 seconds remained, enough time for one more flying run as the marshals cleared the debris. In the event, as it drizzled, only Ricciardo improved his time to take ninth from his team-mate.

‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date
Updated 15 min 34 sec ago
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‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date
  • The rampant Dagestani’s climb up the rankings has caught many fans and fighters off guard. He speaks to Arab News about the UFC, his future and his single-minded approach to his career

DUBAI: Umar Nurmagomedov’s meteoric rise through the UFC is unprecedented. The unbeaten (17-0) Dagestani fighter is 10th in the bantamweight division without ever touching gloves with a ranked opponent.

On Aug. 3 at UFC Abu Dhabi, in front of 18,000 fans at the Etihad Arena, Yas Island, Nurmagomedov will finally face someone with a number next to their name. Not just anyone either; the number two ranked bantamweight, Cory Sandhagen. The winner is expected to be next in line for a shot at the belt, once the number one contender, Merab Dvalishvili and current champ Sean O’Malley, have also fought.

His fellow bantamweights will no doubt be hurt in this scenario, but finding a ranked opponent for the surging Nurmagomedov has been difficult. “Nobody wants to take that risk on a guy that isn’t ranked,” the UFC ‘s president, Dana White, confirmed at UFC288’s post-fight press conference, “Those are the fights that publicly everybody says they’ll take, but privately nobody wants to take them.”

UFC champions get special dispensation to wait for the right time to return, but if those below want to stay near the top of the ladder, they must stay active.

So, does Nurmagomedov feel he has earned the right to be so close to a title shot?

“Yes. Who else has a good win streak and position in the ranking?” he says.

Dagestani fighters are focused on fighting. They rarely get caught up in social media spats with rivals. They prefer to settle their differences in the octagon, and Nurmagomedov is no different. “I’m excited,” he says about his upcoming bout in a matter-of-fact style, “I just want to fight.”

Nurmagomedov is a picture of calm and determination. He is all business inside and outside the octagon. His straight-talking speaks of a man who would likely run intense sambo drills in the minutes between his obligated media interviews to stay in peak condition.

The fight against Sandhagen has been 12 months in the making, as Nurmagomedov was scratched from the original date due to a shoulder injury. Both men have since fought and won. Although typically an elite striker, Sandhagen opted to wrestle Font for five rounds — perhaps using the training camp tactics he had been honing in anticipation of Nurmagomedov. 

How did Nurmagomedov view this? “I was surprised. I thought he (Sandhagen) would stand and strike, but he took him (Font) down and beat him on the ground,” he confirms. “He had good takedowns, but Rob Font isn’t a high-level wrestler and doesn’t have any defence or know how to get up.”

Nurmagomedov does not feel the need to adapt his game plan after what he saw from Sandhagen’s last fight and is confident of victory. “The plan is going to be the same. In every fight, I will use whatever I can do better (than his opponent). If it’s striking, I will strike. If I can take him down and choke him, I will do it. Why not? It’ll be an easy win.”

With a title fight between current bantamweight champ O’Malley and number one contender Dvalishvili still to be booked, talk comes back around to champions holding up divisions. O’Malley is on record saying he “doesn’t want to fight outside of the US” and with main events pencilled in until September, it could mean a long wait for the winner of Nurmagomedov and Sandhagen.

Nurmagomedov is clear on what he thinks should happen: “It doesn’t matter where O’Malley wants to fight; he should just keep fighting. I can fight anywhere; it doesn’t matter.”

He goes on to say that ideally, he would like to be in the octagon — for the belt — in December or January and does not care if it is Dvalishvili or O’Malley standing across from him. But Nurmagomedov is so committed to the fight game that he does not even care if his next bout is for the championship, an interim belt, or nothing.

“It doesn’t matter if they give me a title shot or a fight against someone else; I will not say ‘no,’ I will just keep fighting.”


Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games

Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games
Updated 47 min 49 sec ago
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Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games

Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games
  • Officials claim judo competitor signed a missile while visiting Israel Defense Forces soldiers 

LONDON: The Palestine Olympic Committee has urged Olympics authorities to ban Israeli athletes from taking part in the upcoming Paris Games.

According to a report in The Telegraph, POC officials on Friday presented evidence to the IOC allegedly showing Israeli Olympians visiting Israel Defense Forces soldiers and one, a judo athlete, even signing a missile.

Nader Jayousi, deputy secretary-general of the POC, said lsrael was solely responsible “for the human rights violations happening in Gaza, and the killings and murders of every single person.”

Jayousi added that if found to have signed missiles being fired at Palestinian civilians in Gaza, athletes will not have behaved in the “Olympic spirit.”

The Israel Judo Association issued a statement saying its athlete did not sign a missile himself.

Calls to ban Israeli athletes from the Paris Games have increased since the IDF retaliation in Gaza for an attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 in which around 1,200 people were killed.

Since October, Israeli forces have killed more than 38,900 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

In February, French lawmakers asked the IOC to sanction Israeli athletes, while a second online petition to the same effect garnered over 640,000 signatures.

Protesters have demonstrated outside the IOC headquarters in Switzerland, and Palestinian officials have also called for the Israeli FA to be banned from FIFA.

It is unlikely that the IOC will ban Israeli athletes from the Games, which get underway next week, the Telegraph reported.


From Sara Samir to Dunya Aboutaleb: Five Arab women to watch at the Paris Olympics

From Sara Samir to Dunya Aboutaleb: Five Arab women to watch at the Paris Olympics
Updated 20 July 2024
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From Sara Samir to Dunya Aboutaleb: Five Arab women to watch at the Paris Olympics

From Sara Samir to Dunya Aboutaleb: Five Arab women to watch at the Paris Olympics
  • Four women representing Arab countries managed to scoop medals in Tokyo 2020

PARIS: The Paris 2024 Olympics are just around the corner and there is plenty to look forward to when it comes to Arab athletes at these games.

Four women representing Arab countries managed to scoop medals in Tokyo 2020 — the Egyptian trio Feryal Abdelaziz (karate gold), Hedaya Malak (taekwondo bronze) and Giana Farouk (karate bronze), along with Kalkidan Gezahegne of Bahrain (athletics silver) — and there could be more in store in Paris.

Here are five Arab women to look out for at these Olympic Games:

Sara Samir (Egypt) — Weightlifting

Weightlifter Sara Samir etched her name in the history books when she clinched bronze in the 69kg event at the Rio 2016 Olympics, to become Egypt’s first-ever female medalist. She was just 18 at the time, and had to skip her high school exams in order to compete.

A gold medalist at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships in the -76kg weight class, Samir heads to Paris as a strong medal contender in the ultra-competitive 81kg event, where she will be looking to challenge the likes of Tokyo Olympics -76kg gold medalist Neisi Dajomes of Ecuador, Norway’s Solfrid Koanda, and Australia’s Eileen Cikamatana.

The 26-year-old Samir has been selected as one of two flagbearers for Egypt in the opening ceremony — alongside modern pentathlete Olympic silver medalist Ahmed Elgendy — and is targeting the top step on the podium in Paris, after being forced to miss the Tokyo 2020 Olympics due to the suspension of her country’s weightlifting federation.

“I’m undergoing rigorous training for Paris. I'm technically and physically prepared to compete. My goal is to win gold despite the strong competition. I won’t give up on my dream, no matter what,” Samir told AFP.

Samir’s weightlifting competition in Paris will take place on Aug. 10.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sara Samir (@sarasamir76kg)

Kaylia Nemour (Algeria) — Artistic gymnastics

At 17 years of age, Kaylia Nemour is already a history-maker.

With a stunning uneven bars routine that draws gasps anytime she performs it, Nemour became the first gymnast representing an African country to clinch a medal at a World Championships when she snatched silver on her signature apparatus in Antwerp last fall.

The France-born Algerian kept up her form this year, sweeping gold in three of the four World Cup events (in Cottbus, Baku, and Doha), and heads to her first Olympics as the favorite for the uneven bars title.

Should she make the podium in Paris, she would become the first African or Arab gymnast to secure an Olympic medal in gymnastics.

“It’s beautiful what she does,” the reigning Olympic uneven bars champion, Nina Derwael, was quoted as saying by sporza.be. “I don’t think anyone will take the gold from her in Paris.”

Women’s qualification in artistic gymnastics commences in Paris on July 28 with the uneven bars final scheduled for Aug. 4.

Dunya Aboutaleb (Saudi Arabia) — Taekwondo

The first Saudi Arabian woman to qualify outright for the Olympics — without the need of a special invitation or wildcard — is looking to further cement her name in the history books by making the podium in the -49kg taekwondo event in Paris this summer.

Dunya Aboutaleb exploded onto the scene when she clinched bronze at the World Taekwondo Championships in Guadalajara in 2022.

She grew up training with boys because there were no girls training in taekwondo in Saudi Arabia and used to cover her hair with a scarf or a hat to blend in with the opposite gender.

Now aged 27 and coached by Kurban Bogdaev, who helped guide Tunisia’s Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi to a silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Aboutaleb has high hopes for Paris.

“As the first Saudi woman to qualify for the Olympics, I have reached the stage of kill or be killed,” Aboutaleb told AFP. “I have reached a place where I must achieve something.”

Aboutaleb’s -49kg competition at the Olympics will take place on Aug. 7.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Vogue Arabia (@voguearabia)

Ray Bassil (Lebanon) — Shooting

A former world No.1 trap shooter and the reigning Asian champion, Ray Bassil is heading to her fourth Olympics this month with her eyes fixed firmly on the podium.

The 35-year-old Bassil took gold at the World Cup in Baku two months ago, which was a welcome boost to her confidence ahead of the action in Paris.

“For me, it is special because it’s bringing back a lot of confidence. And just to assess my whole training from the beginning of the year until today. I’m super happy that my work is paying off,” she said in an interview with the International Shooting Sport Federation.

“I really hope it’s going to be a good kick-off for the Olympics. It’s just a step forward.”

Women’s trap qualification at the Olympics begins on July 30.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ray Bassil (@rayjbassil)

Fatima Ezzahra Gardadi (Morocco) — Athletics

The fast rise of Fatima Ezzahra Gardadi in the marathon world has been nothing short of remarkable.

The 32-year-old Moroccan was originally a runner over the 5 kilometer, 10 kilometer and half-marathon distances but switched to the full marathon in 2019.

She won her debut marathon in Marrakesh in 2022, smashing the course record along the way.

Gardadi then made history at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year by clinching bronze to become the first Moroccan or Arab woman to win a World Championship medal in the marathon. That secured her qualification for the Paris Olympics.

This year, Gardadi has not slowed down. She ran a personal-best of 2:24:12 at the Xiamen Marathon in China in January before placing eighth with a 2:24:53 amongst an elite field at the prestigious Boston marathon in April.

Gardadi will be making her Olympics debut in Paris, where she hopes to become Morocco’s first female medalist since 2008.

The women’s marathon at the Paris Olympics is scheduled for Aug. 11.


PUBG Mobile makes highly anticipated Esports World Cup debut

PUBG Mobile makes highly anticipated Esports World Cup debut
Updated 20 July 2024
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PUBG Mobile makes highly anticipated Esports World Cup debut

PUBG Mobile makes highly anticipated Esports World Cup debut
  • The $3m PUBG Mobile World Cup 2024 in Riyadh will run until August 28

RIYADH: The wait for the highly anticipated PUBG Mobile World Cup 2024 is finally over after the 24-team, $3 million tournament kicked off at the Esports World Cup in Riyadh on Friday.

Running from July 19-28 live from Boulevard Riyadh City, the objective for those competing is to parachute onto the remote island below and remain as the last player or team standing in epic battle royale format.

Faisal bin Homran, chief product officer at the Esports World Cup Foundation, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled that the time has come for PUBG Mobile to headline here at the Esports World Cup — the PUBG Mobile World Cup is going to be incredible. It’s a competition that promises nothing but non-stop action, drama, and excitement — and we’re sure this will go down as one of the very best we see this summer.”

Given PUBG Mobile’s global following and popularity, anticipation at home and abroad has been growing ever since the official Esports World Cup schedule was announced. Now, the PUBG Mobile World Cup 2024 co-headlines at the Esports World Cup — the pinnacle of gaming and esports.

The PUBG Mobile World Cup group stage will see clubs compete from July 19-21 and includes 18 matches with 12 teams assured of qualification to the main tournament (July 26-28). The 12 that fail to qualify will enter the survival stage (July 23-24), where they will have another opportunity to progress with four teams assured of advancement to the main tournament.

Saudi Arabia’s hopes of a PUBG Mobile World Cup win on home soil rest with POWR Esports, making their Esports World Cup debut; Falcons Force, Team Falcons’ PUBG Mobile team; and Twisted Minds. They face off against formidable opposition from Brazil, Mongolia, South Korea, Turkey, and more.