FOR karate champion Joane Orbon, the decision to turn Filipino and represent the country in international competitions is as easy as reciting the alphabet.
“Why not? I’m a Filipino. It’s my blood,” said Orbon during the 19th “Usapang Sports on Air” by the Tabloids Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) via Zoom last Thursday.
“I’m think my answer (to the question) is just why not? My parents are born and raised in the Philippines.They came here, met here. I think now, it is a more of a proud moment, that i give back to them,” added Orbon, one of only six Filipino karatekas with a good chance of making it to the Tokyo Olympics in Japan next year.
Her biggest dream as the newest member of the Philippine team?
“The (Tokyo) Olympics,” said Orbon.
Orbon said she has her sights on Olympic glory ever since karate was formally included in the Olympic programming.
Orbon claimed she has no regrets losing her coveted World No. 6 ranking when she was a member of the United States team and now starting from scratch when she switched federation and decided to represent the Philippines last year.
“When I switched countries from the US to the Philippines, they remove all my points and I’m no longer No. 6. So I’m starting fresh,” added Orbon during the weekly public service program sponsored by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and Games and Amusements Board (GAB).
The 26-year-old stunner from San Jose, California, who captured the gold medal in the Ukraine Karate Premier League Kharkiv Open last February, said it is her life-long dream to make it to the Olympics.
“I’m very determined. And as long as I remain in good physical and mental shape, I have no doubt I am capable of competing for the remaining slots to Tokyo and represent our country,” explained Orbon, who traces her roots in Ilocos and Bicol.
Orbon said she needs to finish in the Top 3 in the 61-kilogram class in the final Olympic qualifying scheduled in Paris on June 11-13.
Karate Pilipinas Sports Federation , Inc. (KPSFI) president Richard Lim claimed Orbon and two other Filipina karate champions — Jamie Lim and JunnaTsukii — are the country’s brightest hopes in the Olympics.
“We’re pinning our hopes in karate on our Triple J — Joane, Jamie and Junna,” said Lim.
Orbon knows she has already put herself in elite company.
“Sensei Ricky (Lim) told me that I’ve been in this league for a long time. I fought everyone in my middleweight category. I’ve been sixth-ranked in the world at one point. These are all players that I have background with and have gone toe-to-toe with. It will be exciting.”
Orbon, who won a bronze in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in Manila last December, said she wanted to compete as often as possible before coming to Paris for the qualifying event to Tokyo.
“That event in Ukraine was an invitational international tournament. But any time you get playing time is always a plus. For my campaign in the Olympics, it really just depends on how much exposure I get. The more I compete against high-level partners, the better. It helps boost my confidence,” she said.
“Since I switched countries, I had only four tournaments. I went a full year without competing. It does take a lot of time to get back into your momentum. I competed in the Premier League in Salzberg, Austria last March. I went into bronze medal match against a multiple-time world champion from Egypt, Gianna Lofty. So that is probably the most exciting match that I ever fought becase I gave her an amazing run.”
Last year, Orbon was involved in a contentious doping issue when she tested positive for the banned substance LGD-4033.
But Orbon was able to convince the American anti-doping body USADA of possible contamination of dietary supplement she was taking, leading to the lifting of the ban last September.
Lim and the KPSFI said everything is going smoothly when it comes to the legalities surrounding Orbon’s case.
To keep her Olympic dream alive, Orbon said she continues to train hard even with the worldwide pandemic.
“Right now, I know the national team is deep in training.There are lot of good trainings and scheduled practices and programs that we follow. Unfortunately, I’m still here in California. I’m not able to participate because of the time difference.”
Added Orbon: “I’m doing everything that I can here to stick to the training program (given by the KPSFI). Compare to the rest of the world, I think California and the rest of the states are pretty open. For the most part, I’m able to move freely. I’m still trying to be safe, of course. Wearing my mask, always sanitizing, being careful. The last thing I don’t want is get anyone in the family sick.”
Helping more kids to learn karate is another advocacy for Orbon.
“I’ve been having a lot of karate training for children, outdoors or zoom. I had a lot of time in the beginning of the quarantine. There is a lot of training and then I realized, this is gonna be happening for a while.”
“With training, I found the opportunity to help the karate community. It started with offering free clinics to kids in the Philippines. It also applies here in the US. And it turns me into helping kids train towards hoping to make it in the national team. I also have performance classes for those athletes. I realized many kids at home have families which need them to get active. It’s a very important time for children to be around others. So I found the opportunity in bringing classes to outdoors. I know it’s a lot more open here compared to our country at the moment.”
Asked about her “Stand with the Girls” advocacy which she introduced with taekwondo champion Pauline Lopez at the height of the pandemic last year, Orbon assured everybody they will continue.
“With this pandemic, I just realized I wanted to be more involved. When you are an athlete, you can be selfish sometimes You just think I need to win, train for myself and get the gold. But once the pandemic happened, it open my eyes into a lot of things that need to be done,” recalled Orbon.
“Pauline and I started this project together to raise funds for the people. Her manager (Virtual Playground) found us a good foundation to get going. From there, we just use our platform. I use my connections in the US, and she uses her connections around the world as well. And we just got people to donate to the Girls Got This campaign supporting underprivileged girls.”
With her movie star good looks, Orbon was asked about any plans to go into showbiz?
“Showbusiness is not for me. I’m happy being simple and living the simple life,” said Orbon with a smile.