TOKYO: Philippines' Carlo Paalam reacts after winning against Japan's Ryomei Tanaka in the men's fly (48-52kg) semi-final boxing match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo yesterday. - AFP

TOKYO: Flyweight Carlo Paalam is one victory away from winning a first Olympic gold medal for the Philippines in boxing after his semi-final masterclass yesterday in Tokyo. But there is to be no double Filipino gold after compatriot Eumir Marcial was edged out on split points in his middleweight semi. The Philippines has a proud boxing history and boasts one of the all-time greats in Manny Pacquiao. But the country has never won Olympic boxing gold -- Paalam could be the man to change that, even if it is something that the 23-year-old refuses to talk about for now.

"I cannot answer that question now, sorry," he replied, asked by AFP what it would mean to win gold, a first in boxing and only the second ever for the Philippines at the Olympics in any sport. "I have got the final to think about, which will be a tough fight." Paalam, who sank to his knees and screamed when victory was announced in his semi-final, faces Britain's Galal Yafai in the final tomorrow. At Kokugikan Arena, which is usually home to Japan's national sport, sumo, Paalam outboxed home fighter Ryomei Tanaka in a unanimous points win.

Paalam was ahead on the judges' scorecards after the first two rounds -- they are displayed on screens to make the scoring more transparent - and had Japan's Tanaka chasing shadows and missing wildly with his shots at times. There was disappointment however for Marcial, a narrow loser to Ukraine's Oleksandr Khyzhniak. Marcial, 25, will take home bronze. "We've been dreaming of this since I was young and now I'm here," he said. "I represent the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics. I win the bronze medal. I'm so proud of myself."

The Philippines have enjoyed a breakthrough in boxing at Olympic level in Tokyo. On Tuesday, Nesthy Petecio had to settle for silver after she was beaten by Japan's Sena Irie in the final of the women's featherweight event. But the 29-year-old still became the first woman from the Philippines to win an Olympic boxing medal.

'Olympic gold is crazy'

For Yafai, it was not that long ago that he was handling rubbish and picking up boxes in a car factory. He hated it. Now the Briton is vying for gold in an Olympic boxing final. The 28-year-old, who has two older brothers who are professional boxers, defeated Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov in their flyweight semi-final in Tokyo yesterday on split points. Yafai now faces Paalam in tomorrow's title decider and said: "It's the Olympic gold, isn't it, man? Olympic gold is crazy. Just imagine being the Olympic champion."

It is a far cry from his long and demoralizing days at the car factory. "I was grafting, picking up boxes, dreaming of being at an Olympic Games," said Yafai, who made it to the Rio Games a year later, in 2016, but failed to win a medal. "I was doing the rubbish, picking up boxes, delivering parts. Just a skivvy job really," he added of his former life. "But now I'm on the verge of becoming Olympic champion. I hated working there, I'm not going to lie. I'd wanted to be a boxer for years, as I hate being told what to do. Now I'm my own boss and hopefully I can be the Olympic champion."

Russian wins gold

Elsewhere, Russia's relentless Albert Batyrgaziev beat Duke Ragan to win the Olympic featherweight boxing title yesterday, prolonging the United States' 17-year drought since their last men's gold in the sport. Despite Ragan's defeat, the US have enjoyed a revival in boxing in Tokyo under their respected Irish coach Billy Walsh and they still have two more shots at gold.

The 23-year-old Ragan, who has already turned professional and boasts a 4-0 win-loss record, was already breathing heavily in the second round against the all-action Russian. Batyrgaziev, also 23, took the title on a split decision. The US still have golden hopes. Keyshawn Davis competes in today's lightweight semi-final and on Sunday, the last day of the Olympics, Richard Torrez goes in the super-heavyweight final. So far in the boxing in Tokyo, hosts Japan have won one gold, Cuba two and now one for the Russians.

The United States are the most successful nation in the history of Olympic boxing. But since the 1970s and 1980s, and the days of Leon Spinks and "Sugar" Ray Leonard, they have fallen away. Andre Ward's gold at Athens in 2004 was their last men's boxing Olympic title. - AFP