Boxer is Philippines' main hope for Olympic medal

Boxer Mark Anthony Barriga is the Philippines' main hope for gold at the London Games, sports officials said Saturday, with the light-flyweight aiming to be the country's first Olympic champion.

The 19-year-old, a quarter-finalist at the world championships in Azerbaijan last year, is facing tough odds, said Amateur Boxing Association of the Philippines executive director Ed Picson.

But he added: "We think he 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."

The Philippines has 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."

Garcia said the Philippines will have only 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 programmes, said he favoured 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 programme, Picson said.

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