2021 has been a most rewarding year for the Philippines. Coming at the heels of a dominating performance in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) (Pls read: How the Philippines Clinched the SEA Games Overall Crown), Filipino athletes once again were in the limelight, scoring prestigious wins that brought honor to the country.
On centerstage was the gold-medal performance produced by Hidilyn Diaz in the Tokyo Olympics last summer (Pls read: What Hidilyn’s Gold Tells Us About Philippine Sports). Hidilyn had taken the silver medal in the previous Olympics in Rio in 2016, and she was, at best, a dark-horse favorite to crowd China’s Liao Qiuyun for the prestigious crown. But she prevailed nonetheless, despite the many distractions brought about by the pandemic and the ensuing fund constraints that hampered the entire sports program as envisioned by the Philippine Sports Commission. All’s well that end’s well however, as Hidilyn gifted the country with its first-ever gold medal in the Olympics! It took almost 1 century – the participation in the Olympics having started in 1924 – and when the Philippine national anthem was played, many Filipinos all over the world (me included) shed a tear of joy and pride. Here’s to you, Hidilyn, may your tribe increase!
Together with Hidilyn’s gold-medal performance, the total medal haul in the Tokyo Olympics included 2 silvers and a bronze; a boost that signaled a clear renaissance in Philippine Sports. The 3 boxers Nesty Petecio, Carlo Paalam and Eumir Marcial presented inspiring performances, making a clear statement in the international sports scenes that Filipinos can no longer be taken for granted (pls read: Analyzing the Philippines Performance in the Tokyo Olympics). These positive results are slowly erasing the ‘loser’ image that we have developed in painful debacles in the past Olympics, the SEA Games and other world sports competitions.
Aside from the Olympic medals, other athletes produced significant accolades in different sports fora as well. Gymnast Carlos Yulo captured the men’s vault gold medal in the 2021 World Gymnastics Championships. Golfer Yuka Saso became the first Pinay to win the prestigious US Women’s Open this year. EJ Obiena scored bigtime in pole-vault, breaking the Philippine record and stamping the best Asian result ever in the event. Carlo Biado made waves in billiards, becoming the first Pinoy to win the US Open Pool Championship after the legendary Efren ”Bata”Reyes in 1994. The 16-year old Alex Eala ran off with a collection of awards in the international junior tennis loop. And the indefatigable Nonito Donaire continued to defy Father Time by winning the world boxing crown in the WBC bantamweight division at age 38.
On top of all that, Pinoy athletes are now playing as imports in different sports outside the country. In Japan’s professional basketball league, Pinoy cagers led by the brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena are seeing action in different ballclubs. Other aspiring Pinoys in the league include Bobby Ray Parks, Dwight Ramos, Kobe Paras, Javi and Juan Gomez de Liano, Kenmark Carino and Mathew Aquino (Pls read: Japan B League: What It Means to Philippine Basketball). In Japan’s V-League (Volleyball League), 3 other Pinoys are making their mark: Jaja Santiago (women’s), Bryan Bagunas and Mark Espejo (men’s). Other athletes playing out of the country include Kai Sotto (Australia men’s basketball), Jack Animam (Serbia women’s basketball), Mylene Paat (Thailand women’s volleyball), Jordan Heading and Jason Brinkman (Taiwan men’s basketball).
But apart from the good news, we also have some not-so-good news for Philippine Sports. First there was Manny Pacquiao’s loss (pls read: Is This The End For Manny Pacquiao?) and eventual retirement (pls read: Paquiao Retires: End of an Era). Manny lost his crown to Cuban Yordenis Ugas, showing just a shadow of the form that brought him 26 years of boxing glory. It was definitely the time for him to retire. He leaves the ring with 62 wins, 8 losses and 2 draws, plus a record 8 world championships under his belt.
And on the track scene, the ongoing feud between the Philippine Track and Field Association (PATAFA) and its top athlete EJ Obiena is leaving a bad taste in the mouth. This could have been handled better. Instead, both sides are now more combative than ever. Rather than submitting themselves to an arbitration process, PATAFA and Obiena have swapped charges and will not agree to mend fences.
But while things have not been all sweet and rosy for the Filipino athletes, by and large, our athletes have been making modest progress. Despite the constraints brought about by the pandemic, our athletes – with the guidance and superb support from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) – have been reaping great honors for the country. Many things still need to be undone after the Peping mafia was dismantled in the POC, but the athletes results clearly show what a big difference there is with the change in leadership.
This year, we hope to see more and better results from our athletes. We are confident in the new sports leadership, and we feel that their wise counsel has been a key ingredient in their performance, even as we pray for a peaceful resolution of the Obiena case. The season is a time for love, unity and forgiveness. Let’s all help each other as we traverse this year’s many trials.
Here’s to an even better year ahead for Philippine Sports.
Cover photo courtesy of: CNN News. For a better look, just click on the pics. Other pics courtesy of CNN, MSN, Inquirer.net, The Summit Express, Business Mirror, Predator Cues, the Manila Bulletin, Boxing Scene, the Philippine Star, Bad left Hook, and Fightnews.com.