By Roel Amazona

Aira Villegas (Facebook)

TACLOBAN CITY – Aira Villegas is still on cloud nine a week after clinching a slot to this year’s Paris Olympics.

“It is my dream to compete and represent our country in the Olympics,” Villegas, 28, told reporters in an interview here Monday.

She punched her way to Paris with a 5-0 win over Bulgaria’s Zlatislava Chukanova in the 50kg quarterfinals of the 1st World Qualification Tournament in Busto Arsizio, Italy on March 12.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics silver medalist Nesthy Petecio clinched her Paris slot in the same tournament, beating Turkiye’s Esra Yildiz, 4-1, in the semifinal of the 57kg category.

Villages credits her elder brother, Rominick, for introducing her to the sport.

Rominick was a scholar of the provincial government-managed Leyte Sports Academy. He is now the coach of the school’s boxing stable.

Villegas said she has been part of the national team since 2012, winning 29 of her 45 bouts so far.

Asked if she ever felt intimidated when facing foreign boxing opponents, Villegas said it is a natural reaction, but she would quickly remind herself that they both prepared just as hard.

“It’s up to us how we handle the situation. What I do is keep my faith and trust in God, believe in my capability, and I also trust my coach, my teammates, my family, and my supporters,” Villegas said.

She added that competing abroad boosts her confidence and allows her to study various techniques.

With the Paris Olympics just four months away, Villegas said she will train harder than before and is eyeing no less than the gold.

She and Petecio will join fellow boxer and Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Eumir Marcial, World No. 2 pole vaulter EJ Obiena, and gymnasts Carlo Yulo and Aleah Finnegan in the Paris Games scheduled July 26 to Aug. 11. (PNA)