Kiwi boxer Milnes brings Filipino flavor to Olympic qualifiers
MANILA, Philippines - Chad Milnes isn’t one of the two boxers representing the Philippines at the AIBA World Olympic qualification event, but he’s got Filipino pride.
Milnes, a 25-year-old New Zealander, is one of the 469 boxers from 105 countries vying for the 39 Olympic spots up for grabs. He was raised in the Auckland suburb of Northcote but is of half Filipino descent, with his mother being a native of Tacloban City, Philippines.
The lightweight (60 kilograms) boxer is chasing his own Olympic dream, beginning with a showdown with Georgia's Otar Eranosyan in the evening session on Saturday in Baku, Azerbaijan. Milnes will need 3 wins to make it to Rio as a semifinal finish - or a quarterfinal loss to the eventual gold medalist - would qualifiy him.
Milnes fell short in his last qualification attempt, a first round split-decision loss at the Asia-Oceania qualification event in China this past March. While in China, he left with a few consolation prizes - he traded jackets with the Philippine team and was invited to train alongside them at their high elevation training facility in Baguio City.
“I saw my kumpares, the Filipinos and thought...'I’m Filipino, they’re Filipino, so what’s up? Maybe trade some jackets?,'" the high-energy Milnes tells Rappler.
"We ran into Chad a couple of times in international tournaments and I suspected he might be of Filipino lineage," Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP) executive director Ed Picson says. "When I spoke to him, it was confirmed. He also got along well with our team so the last time in Qian'An, China when he expressed interest in coming to Baguio ffor training, we readily agreed."
He spent two weeks with the Philippine squad in June, and though he elevation made it hard to breathe, the experience of training alongside one of the region’s strongest boxing nations has helped him prepare for what will be his last shot at the Rio Games.
The scientific tactician with an estimated 90 fights to his credit has 17 national tournament wins, plus two golds, 3 silvers and a bronze in international competition. In a video produced by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Milnes gave insight into his mindset about the sport, likening boxing to "a game of high-speed chess in the sense that you've got two players, each trying to figure out what the other person's trying to do.
"But the difference is, each player has different pieces."
Despite his lengthy accomplishments, Milnes admits he was doing more learning than teaching in the Philippines.
“In New Zealand I’m like Manny Pacquiao, but here I’m one of the novices,” Milnes joked during his final session with the Philippine team at Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Manila on Monday, June 13.
"He's a very hard-working and determined young man and his tenacity should serve him well," Picson says. "It's just unfortunate that there aren't too many boxers in his weight category in New Zealand, so he needs to be exposed more. I spoke to his coaches here and they say he got a lot from the Baguio training."
Other than the level of boxing, Milnes didn’t have to do much adjusting to the culture. He came to the Philippines often as a child, visiting his ailing grandfather once or twice a year. “I would go to Tacloban and get a good feeling of the culture, see the people, and experience what it’s like to be a real Filipino,” Milnes says.
He speaks almost none of the Filipino language, but formed friendships with many of the boxers - including welterweight Eumir Marcial and flyweight Ian Clark Bautista, who will also try to qualify for Rio in Azerbaijan.
Though his accent is thick and his experiences different, he is treated as one of the guys at the ABAP Gym. Their’s is a bond which supersedes the flags they wear on their uniforms, forged by the common blood which runs through their veins.
“Oh man it’s been awesome. I’m stoked to get in touch with my Filipino side,” Milnes said. "I’m going [to the qualifier] representing New Zealand but I’ll be cheering for the Filipinos, my brothers, all the way.”
Overweight kid playing computer games
A life of fighting against the best in the world was the furthest from his mind when he picked up the sport at age 15. He was overweight, and spent his time playing computer games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and Day of Defeat: Source. His friends started training at the gym which they passed every day on the way to school.
Milnes had never played sports before and wasn’t too keen on starting then, but accompanied his buddies nonetheless.
“I hated the first day but the coach was an ex-Hell’s Angels gang member and I kinda felt afraid not to return when he said I better come back,” Milnes remembers.
It got better for Milnes, and before long he was making a name for himself on the national stage, winning gold at the New Zealand Youth National Championships in 2009 and 2010, won gold at the New Zealand 2012 Olympic trials but came one win short of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics when he lost a decision to Luke Jackson at the Oceania qualifier. He’s bounced back strongly in the elite division, winning gold at the National Championships in 2013 and 2014.
Milnes, who has a degree in Sports and Recreation from Auckland University of Technology, now trains under England native Harry Otty.
New Zealand, despite not being regarded as highly as the Philippines in professional boxing, has still managed to win an Olympic gold (Ted Morgan took welterweight gold at the 1928 Games), to go along with Kevin Barry’s controversial silver in 1984 and David Tua’s bronze at the 1992 Games. But the country hasn’t had a male boxer qualify for the Olympics since 2004, and it’s a streak Milnes hopes to end.
It’s not a bad position for this ex-overweight computer game addict to be in.
“I’ve been thrown into all the harsh elements up in high altitudes and then come back down here to an oven,” Milnes says of the hot Manila weather.
“We [New Zealand] haven’t had an Olympian since 2004, so to be the first person in over 10 years would be incredible. Hero’s welcome, I’m sure when I get home." – Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.