AGE: 20 years old
SPORT: Women’s 68kg, taekwondo
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: Two-time OlympianMEDALS: Gold medalist, Southeast Asian Games 2005 and ’03 Silver medal, Asian Games 2006
She was just four years old, watching her two older brothers in the sidelines while they did their ‘poomsae’ (or forms) and sparring during their Taekwondo training. Today at 20, Mary Antoinette Rivero or Toni as she is called, is no longer a mere spectator. She is now at the center of all the action. All eyes will be on Toni at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, her second stint at the most-awaited Summer Games, having participated as the youngest competitor in Athens last 2004.
Toni is determined to do the best she can in the upcoming Olympics. “This year, being my second time at the Olympic games, I plan to surpass what I reached in Athens and to do this, it’s important to be positive, determined, focused and patient.” Toni made it into the finals in the 2004 Olympic games when she was just 16 years old.
The 5 foot 8 Olympian has conditioned her mind into winning. “One of the best attitudes of Filipino athletes that I’ve observed is the fact that we won’t leave without putting up a good fight. Filipinos are also known for being brave and driven with an unmatched fighting spirit.”
Toni’s positive disposition most probably comes from the unwavering support she gets from her family. She adds, “Knowing that my parents and family support me is really a big factor in my performance.”
Athleticism definitely runs in the Rivero family. Toni’s mom and dad were both into martial arts while her two older brothers are national Taekwondo team members as well. “I love Taekwondo especially with my family’s influence. If my sport wasn’t Taekwondo, I’d still stick with martial arts,” said Toni with conviction.
Having siblings who are also part of the national team proved to be an advantage for Toni. “My brothers share their techniques and help me in my training.” The normal training schedule for Toni consists of three sparring trainings per day, one in the morning, one before lunch and one at night. She also lifts weights and runs for added strength and agility.
The support of the Filipino people is an added motivation for our athletes as attested by Toni. During the Manila SEA Games in 2005, Toni felt the added boost when she felt the support from her countrymen. “Iba pag nagko-compete ka sa home country mo, hindi lang yung athletes yung sumusuporta, pati yung Filipino people,” she enthused in the vernacular. “It’s really different when you have everybody’s support.”
At her young age, Toni has proven that one can live her dream as long as she sets her mind into it and imbibe values such as respect, patience and determination. Having mastered the way of the foot and the fist, with Toni, nothing is impossible.
ALL the hype and all the stratospheric expectations.
All the pent-up feelings of vengeance that has simmered throughout the agonizing wait in between four years and the 208 weeks between Athens and Beijing spent training, wisening up, toughening up and training more.
All of them come down to just one day for gold-medal hopeful Toni Rivero to finally prove that word of mouth (that she can bring home the gold) and the hard work invested (to make sure that she brings home the gold) were worth it.
“If you want to dream, be sure that you will back it up with hard work to turn it into reality,” Rivero said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing. Now, I know something good awaits me in the Olympics.”
The hype has been unbelievable almost to the point that nothing short of a gold will be a disappointment.
“I have not seen her lose,” Philippine Olympic Committee president Cojuangco said. “She is very determined for this Olympics. She is young and I don’t see any weakness in her.”
“I have strong feelings that with the way Tshomlee Go and Toni, we have good chances of winning the gold,” Philippine Sports Commission chairman William Ramirez gushed.
“We have prepared Tshomlee and Toni to win medals… of any color. They are prepared to win,” Philippine Taekwondo Association president Robert Aventajado declared.
In terms of skills and mindset, Rivero could be the Olympic messiah the country has been waiting for some 84 years, somebody who can win and who more importantly, knows that she can.
“I can handle anybody,” said Rivero. “Save for one Korean, I know I can beat anybody. Let’s just hope that I would not meet her early on so I would have a good chance of reaching the medal round.”
Rivero’s body of work speaks for itself. She was a round short of entering the gold-medal game in the 2004 Athens Olympics. She copped the welterweight title in the ’05 Southeast Asian Games (sandwiched between her first SEA Games gold in the ’03 Vietnam Games and a silver in the ’07 Thailand edition). She was a win away from seizing the gold in the ’06 Doha Asiad.
It’s just that Rivero seemed always near yet just a punch or a kick or two away from sealing ultimate glory.
While experts believe Rivero’s medal chances are good, there’s such a thing as getting the benefit of the draw in Olympic competition. Officials will draw out the competitors to fill out the brackets and the participants will find out who their likely opponents are from the first round to the gold-medal round.
Meeting the event favorites is inevitable but an even-chanced fighter will prefer to face them later in the tournament and not early on when a quick ouster is possible. That’s where the proverbial luck of the draw comes in.
For Rivero, she would rather face reigning world champion Hwang Kyung Seon of Korea later on.
“If luck of the draw bounces off my way, a medal is already in the bag,” Rivero said. “I know who my opponents will be and I am aware of their capabilities.”
Rivero still recalls her loss in the 2004 Olympics like it was happening right in front of her. “The Athens Games were tough. I know I can beat the Greek opponent anytime, but all my hits were not given credit. I did everything but nothing went right.”She may not have a shot at getting back at the same foe but she has a chance of accomplishing something even greater: win a medal and perhaps that oh-so-oh elusive gold medal for the Philippines.