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A Medal Made from Scrap Holds Deeper Value for Carlo Paalam, a Former Scavenger

"Itong medal na ito, may simbolo din po ito sa buhay ko," he said, sobbing now.
IMAGE JEROME ASCAÑO, OLYMPICS
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Like a fighter going toe-to-toe with a formidable foe, Carlo Paalam stood unflinching in the mixed zone and answered all the hard questions from reporters wanting to know what happened in his loss to Brit Galal Yafai in the flyweight finals of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday afternoon.

Didn't you see the punch coming? Did you get complacent? The barrage of questions came boring in, no different from the blurring Yafai combination that knocked him down in the first round. But Paalam was game enough to answer each one, not in the best language but in all honesty.

But as the interview wound down and probing questions turned into words of encouragement from mediamen impressed by the young boxer's humility, honesty and candor, Paalam stood still for a moment a he threw an admiring glance at the Olympic silver medal hanging from his neck.

That was when the irony of a former mangangalakal from Carmen, Cagayan de Oro winning a silver that - like all medals given out in these most unusual of Olympic Games - was made out of recycled materials suddenly hit him.

He broke down.

"Itong medal na ito, may simbolo din po ito sa buhay ko," he said, sobbing now.

"Kasi isa akong mangangalakal, itong medalya ay gawa sa mga sirang gadget po. Sa basura s’ya galing, kaya nai-connect ko po s’ya sa buhay ko."

("This medal, it's a symbol of where I came from. I was once a scavenger, and this medal was made from broken gadgets. It came from trash, and I can totally relate to that.")

That silver medal, most observers here feel, coud've easily been gold for Paalam, the least heralded in the four-man Philippine team who suddenly blitzed through a tough draw in the 48-52kg weight class to reach the finals, ousting reigning Olympic and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov along the way.

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But Paalam's quest for gold encountered a setback right in the first round when a blurring, four-punch combination from Yafai sent him crashing to the canvas, right next to the hard-hitting Briton's corner.

The former Southeast Asian Games champion fought gallantly to keep the first round from turning into a 10-8 score, went toe to toe with Yafai in the second, and even won the third, but that single knockdown proved the decider as the 28-year old Brit walked away with a 4-1 split decision.

Paalam admitted later that the experienced Yafai never let him get into any rhythm.

"Ginawa ko rin kung ano ‘yung sinasabi ng mga coaches ko. Pero pine-pressure niya talaga ako. Gusto n’ya talaga na kino-corner ako para hindi ko magawa ‘yung laro ko. Kahit anong galaw ko, kina-cut n’ya ako lagi," he said.

"Ibinigay ko na lang talaga kung ano yung makakaya ko. Kita n’yo naman po na lumalaban talaga ako. Kasi alam ko na ang pusong Pinoy, palaban po," he added.

Disappointed as he was with the defeat, Paalam was unbowed as he promised to keep working towards Paris three years from now, where he hopes to land the Olympic gold medal that eluded him in this conclave.

"Kung ano po ang ibigay ng Panginoon sa akin sa Paris po, itutuloy ko po ang training ko para makamit po ‘yung gintong medalya," he vowed. "Hindi man natin hawak ang kapalaran, pero gagawin ko po ang lahat."

("Whatever the Lord gives me in Paris, I will continue my training to win the gold medal. We don't have power over fate, but I will do everything.")

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Silver Lining

As for this silver medal, Paalam knows that it is bound to change the life of this former mangangalakal. Forever. That it was made from discarded electronic devices was just the icing on the cake. He won't have it any other way.

"Nagpapasalamat po talaga ako sa Panginoon kasi nabago po ang buhay ko dahil dito sa medalya na ‘to. Maraming, maraming salamat!"

("I am really thankful to the Lord because this medal has changed my life. Thank you very much.")

This story originally appeared on Spin.phMinor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Dodo Catacutan for Spin.ph
Dodo Catacutan is the editor in chief of Spin.ph
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