CHRISTMAS came early for the Philippine boxing team, which dominated the field in the sport’s final day of competitio­ns and bagged seven gold medals to contribute to the country’s growing total in the 30th Southeast Asian Games.

But the Filipinos will emerge from their celebrator­y parties with little time to celebrate the coming holidays.

The squad has been given a reprieve from training starting Wednesday but will all plunge back to action on Tuesday next week as the country pushes to put as many boxers as it can in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in August by taking part in the Feb. 3 to 14 qualifying tournament slated in Wuhan, China.

There are two more tournament­s lined up before one can reach Tokyo, with the second being in Paris, France, from May 13 to 24.

And getting to those qualifiers means going through prequalify­ing rounds against fellow Filipino hopefuls in the country.

Men’s coach Ronald Chavez said that when training resumes, boxoffs among his national players will happen to determine who will represent the country in China, and later on, if successful, in France.

“We’re still going with the same process; whoever wants to qualify for the Olympics will still compete in the box-off,” Chavez said in Filipino on Monday at PICC Forum, where the Filipino pugs reigned supreme. “Even if you won a gold [in the SEA Games], or if you haven’t won anything, you will still compete in the box-off.”

Rogen Ladon and Charly Suarez, the SEA Games gold medalists in the flyweight and lightweigh­t divisions, respective­ly, were the last Olympics representa­tives of the country after seeing action in

Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Both, though, failed to advance to the medal rounds.

Chavez said that he hopes “four or five” Filipinos could book berths to Tokyo this time.

Light flyweight Carlo Paalam, women’s light flyweight Josie Gabuco, light welterweig­ht James Palicte, women’s featherwei­ght Nesthy Petecio,

and middleweig­ht Eumir Marcial were the others who won gold on Monday night. All of the Philippine fighters chalked up unanimous decision victories, save for Marcial, who knocked out his Vietnamese foe, Nguyen Manh Cuong, with less than a minute gone in the fight.

Of those gold medalists, Petecio and Gabuco have held a world title. Petecio, in fact, is the reigning women’s featherwei­ght queen.

Gabuco, who won in 2012, also won her fifth SEA Games gold medal.

Women’s team coach Nolito Velasco said he was aware of the expectatio­ns put on Gabuco and Petecio and he simply told his pugilists to block out the noise and fight like they were still training in the gym at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex.

“My promise of two gold medals was fulfilled,” Velasco said in Filipino.

“From the start, I saw the expectatio­ns of the people and I’ve been telling them in training that they shouldn’t be too excited because it will throw them off. I just told them to think of our fights as if they’re still in sparring.” –

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