Pauline Louse Lopez fell one win short of her Olympic dream, absorbing a 2-5 setback in the women's -57-kilogram semifinals to Thailand's Phanappa Harnsujin in the Asian Taekwondo Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Manila Marriott Hotel Grand ballroom in Pasay City yesterday.
Aiming to follow in the footsteps of teammate Kirstie Elaine Allora, who earned a ticket to the Rio Olympics in placing second the women's +87-kilogram event last Saturday, Lopez found herself behind 0-3 after the first round after being hit from an axe kick to the head by the Thai.
National coach Japoy Lizardo questioned the judges' decision since the hit failed to register on the electronic sensor, but the referee sustained the call and it was catch-up for the Pinay jin the rest of the way.
"We were right to question the call because the hit on top of the head did not register in the electronic headgear," noted former national coach Jess Morales. "It would have counted for three points if the hit was in the face but it did not."
Lopez herself doubted the call, saying: "I also felt that it was not a valid but the referee didn't see it my way. But it didn't discourage me because I felt I could come back, which was what I was doing the rest of the way."
Indeed, the 19-year-old former 2013 Nanjing Asian Games gold medalist went for broke in the succeeding two rounds, narrowing the deficit 2-4 in the third against the evasive Harnsujin, who gained another point in the waning seconds when Louise was penalized.
"How do you say it in Filipino? Naunahan niya ako," said the pretty Filipino-American, her eyes still moist in tears, after seeing her Olympic bid dashed. "But this (setback) ignited a new fire in me to keep on pursuing my Olympic dream."
Only the gold and silver medalist in this continental Olympic qualifying competition earn slots to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in August.
Lopez said that she hoped to redeem herself when she sees action in the Asian Taekwondo Championships starting tomorrow.
Earlier, she advanced to the semifinals with a tense 3-1 victory over Malaysia's Nurul Farah Alisa Roslan in the event sponsored by Smart, PLDT, Meralco, Resorts World Manila and the Philippine Sports Commission and organized by Philippine Taekwondo Association.
Feeling early jitters despite the support of the hometown crowd, Lopez trailed Roslan, 0-1, after the first round when the Filipina jin was penalized a point for going out of the octagon twice.
But the 2013 Nanjing Asian Youth Games gold medalist regained her poise in the second round, retaliating with a punch and kick to wrest the lead, 2-1, entering the third and final round.
With the Pinoy gallery rallying behind her, Lopez struck hard and fast with a hit to Roslan's chest then gained another point when the Malaysian was penalized after being warned for the second time, giving the pretty Filipina a 4-2 edge.
Roslan desperately tried to rally but Lopez wisely evaded her in the waning seconds to secure the quarterfinal win.
Taekwondo hostilities resume today with the Asian Poomsae and Asian Para-Taekwondo Open.
Spearheading the local drive is the trio of siblings Dustin Mella, Raphael Enrico Mella and Rodolfo Reyes Jr, who captured the men's poomsae team gold in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games.
Also seeing action is SEA Games silver medalist Rinna Babanto and teammates Juvenile Faye Crisostomo and Jocelyn Ninobla, who, together with Babanto, took the women's team bronze in Singapore.
Allain Keanu Ganapin is the lone Filipino entry in the Asian Para-Taekwondo Open and will see action in the men's -75-kg class.