Nesthy Petecio: From poverty and prize-fighting to the Olympic podium

Filipina boxer Nesthy Petecio fights on Tuesday 3 August for Olympic gold, attempting to follow Hidilyn Diaz into the history books. It's a truly remarkable story.

Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The Philippines waited 125 years for their first Olympic gold medal, and now they could be celebrating two in eight days as Nesthy Petecio fights for gold in the featherweight boxing final on Tuesday.

The reigning world champion has a great opportunity to join weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz at the top of an Olympic podium as women lead the way for the nation in Tokyo.

After another thrilling win over Italian boxer Irma Testa on Saturday at Kokugikan Arena, Petecio let the tears flow:

“This means so much to me as not only it is my dream, it is my father’s dream. It’s not for me, it’s for my family, my country and for all the people from the Philippines who have prayed for me. I love you, I love you.”

Born into an impoverished farming family in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, the Pinoy fighter has overcome near-impossible odds and reached the pinnacle of her sport, an inspiration for everyone who has the audacity to dream.

From humble beginnings, she's held on to that humility, and it's taken her far.

She's gone from collecting chicken droppings to collecting medals on the greatest sporting stage on the planet, from fighting for food to getting an entire nation on their feet.

Nesthy Petecio: "Win or lose, we would get to eat"

Petecio's father Teodoro, mother Prescilla and the family farmed and did what they could to survive and subsist on their small plot of land in Davao.

"During that time we really had nothing and we would just borrow money to be able to buy our food," Nesthy told the 'Go Hard Girls' podcast in March.

She used to literally fight for food.

"So what we would do was join inter-barangay [Neighbourhood] competitions and we would join because we knew, win or lose, we would get meals," she continued.

Inter-barangtay fights in the Philippines can often take place on basketball courts, beaches, and even makeshift boxing rings set up on the street.

Her father had dreamed of becoming a boxer and started coaching her from the age of seven.

At 11, Petecio faced a bigger, stronger male opponent. Unafraid, she fought on.

"They were telling me to stop the match and asking me if I can still continue and I would say, 'Yes.' There was no doubt on my part. I was firm in my belief. I really want to fight."

She won that fight and quickly caught the attention of the Filipino national team, realising quickly that boxing could be her path out of poverty.

When Nesthy Petecio almost gave up boxing

Soon the international opportunities came and the medals followed:

Second place at the 2011 and 2013 Southeast Asian Games, third at the 2012 Asian Championships, second on the podium at the 2014 AIBA Women's World Championships and champion at the 2015 Indonesia President’s Cup.

The Olympic cycle ended in disappointment however, as she failed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Devastated by defeat at the 2018 Asian Games and a tough break-up with her girlfriend at the time, Petecio suffered her lowest moment with her depression making it hard for her to even pull on the gloves.

She almost gave up.

"When I lost my opening bout at the 2018 Asian Games, I really wanted to stop," she told Olympics.com.

"I was going to look for a job. I was looking for other options. At that time, I was really feeling down. I was feeling depressed, I was stressed."

She needed a break and took time out to heal.

In 2019, she came back revitalised and with renewed purpose, winning the Thailand Open before claiming her first world title.

"Winning the 2019 World Championships has helped me a lot. It has certainly added to my self confidence," she said.

Next up was Tokyo 2020, after a year's postponement which gave her extra time to prepare.

Petecio during semi-final with Testa
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Tokyo Dreaming

Petecio has been unstoppable at Tokyo 2020.

The diminutive 29-year-old opened her Olympic journey with a unanimous win over Congolese boxer Marcelat Sakobi Matshu, then overcame a big height and reach disadvantage to defeat Chinese Taipei's Lin Yu-Ting on a 3-2 split decision.

Petecio won by another perfect 5-0 judgement against Colombia's Pan Am bronze medallist Yeni Arias, before a 4-1 verdict in the semi-final against Testa left her one fight from a gold medal.

Her tenacious style and all-action attitude has convinced the judges so far, and now she faces her toughest test.

The Davao Dancer comes up against Japanese boxer IRIE Sena in the final who has made history of her own as Japan's first ever female boxing medallist.

Petecio faces a bigger boxer once more with Irie six centimetres taller at 1.64m (almost 5'4").

It's something she has become accustomed to, and one gets the feeling that's the way she likes it.

She's just one win away from writing another page of history for the Philippines, and another chapter in her own incredible rise from poverty to the Olympic podium.

Find out if Petecio can win gold, plus all the rest of the action from Tokyo 2020, on our live blog here.

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