Global excellence in sport involves exceptional talent, skill, discipline, hard work and a huge sum of money.
This recipe for success makes it extremely difficult for a small third world country like the Philippines to compete with rich and powerful nations on the international stage like the Olympics.
But a new landscape is taking shape in Filipino sport, with the emergence of exceptional Filipino athletes who are making a big difference in the arena and setting new heights.
The unequal treatment of athletes, in which preference is given to the male sports warrior, is now a thing of the past, as more and more Filipinas become powerful and influential players in sports.
Karen Tanchanco-Caballero, president of the Pilipinas Sepak Takraw Federation, is a strong advocate for women’s power, even though she “leans towards gender equality”.
“But I see a clear trend to excel in individual and contact sports and given the opportunity, we can see the emergence of the Philippines becoming big business,” she said.
She then underscored this during Tokyo’s last Olympic campaign when she said the Philippine team was “made up of 50 to 50 female and male athletes”.
First gold medal
This once shy weightlifter from Zamboanga City to Hidilyn Diaz will forever be remembered as the first athlete from the Philippines to win a gold medal at the Olympics, dubbed the greatest sports spectacle in the world.
The gold came 97 years after the Philippines first joined the Olympics in 1924, when a male sprinter named David Nepomuceno represented the country in athletics.
Four years later in Amsterdam, swimmer Teofilo Ildefonso won the country’s first medal – a bronze medal – in the men’s 200-metre breaststroke.
There were valiant attempts by Filipino boxers Anthony Villanueva, who won a silver medal in boxing in 1964 in Tokyo, and Mansueto Velasco in Atlanta in 1996.
They all failed to win gold and although Diaz herself came close to that golden dream when she won silver (weightlifting 53kg) in Rio, Brazil, in 2016.
After three long decades, a woman has become the toast of the Philippines in weightlifting.
The golden triumph came on her fourth Olympic appearance in Tokyo last year as Diaz narrowly eclipsed a Chinese rival in spectacular fashion to take the lead in the women’s weightlifting 55kg category.
What made Diaz the superwoman she is now? The 30-year-old star says it starts with setting a goal, having mental toughness and hard work.
“Important talaga may pangarap kayo, kasi ito ang magbibigay inyo ng direksyon,” she said. “You have to embrace hard work. Hindi naman puwedeng pangarap lang. Kung hindi ka mag-aaral at mag-training, paano mo maabot ‘yun? she reasoned.
With the goal in mind, Diaz said she was able to stay in line even when the going got tough.
“When you’re about to give up, always come back to the big question ‘Why?’ Bakit mo ginagawa ito? Dahil mahal mo ginagawa mo, mahal mo sports to nito value. For his family mo. Para sa Bayan,” she said.
Even after winning the prestigious gold medal and the fame and fortune that comes with it, Diaz isn’t done yet as she’s committed to making her fifth Olympic appearance in Paris in 2024, even if that means competing. in a higher weight category.
“Not surprised at all,” said Caballero, also assistant general secretary of the Philippine Olympic Committee of Diaz’s feat. “I’ve always said before that our country’s first Olympic gold medal would come from a Filipina. I knew it was a matter of time. And like manna from heaven, the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games made it a reality. The accumulation has been evident over the past six years. We all knew we were all leading there. We just had to be patient and constantly support their training needs and moral support. »
With Olympic silver and gold medals to her credit, Diaz is arguably the most accomplished Filipino athlete in history.
First World Cup
The newest talk of the town is this group of Filipino footballers, collectively known as ‘Malditas’.
Leaving behind the negative connotation of this Filipino word, all members of this Philippines women’s national soccer team instead portrayed a brave and iron-willed Filipina who defied huge odds to achieve an unprecedented feat by achieving a place in the FIFA World Cup.
Not much was expected of this squad, with the players training together for three months.
With an Australian coach of exceptional caliber and a crew made up of local and overseas talent, the Filipino kickers have exceeded expectations in the Asian football league and are now heading to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup which will be held in July in Australia and New Zealand.
The Philippines women’s team first won against Thailand and then lost against Australia. They came back to beat Indonesia to secure a place in the quarter-finals, where the most magical moment happened, beating Chinese Taipei with a penalty to reach the AFC’s first four legs and seal an appearance. in the World Cup.
Even though they failed to enter the finals after a 2-0 loss to Korea in the semi-finals, Malditas and Filipino football fans can look forward to another spectacular run in the biggest stage where only a few elites are admitted.
Not bad for a non-ranked team. 64 in the world to become no. 4 in Asia.
Olivia McDaniel, one of the key players in this stunning victory against Chinese Taipei, could not hide her enthusiasm.
“To be able to create history like this. It was just a dream a few months ago, but now it’s a reality,” McDaniel said.
Even coach Alen Stajic, who has been coaching for 20 years, was amazed by the experience.
“I think it’s probably the best experience, I think, of my coaching career,” said former Australia manager Matildas. “To take this group, which is so dedicated, so determined, so disciplined, with so much heart, so much spirit, considering what they’ve had to overcome to get to this point.”
Sarina Bolden, who completed the upset ax over Taipei with her marginal penalty, promised the best is yet to come for the over-performing team,
“A lot of people doubted us, we came here and played every game and we’ve made a name for ourselves now,” Bolden said. “Philippines, you will remember this team. And you will see us in the World Cup. Don’t forget us because we are coming back.
Hit for greatness
For a long time, boxing has been a platform for male athletes to show off their power and punching skills. Until the ladies show they can box too.
Despite admitting to having a male hero in boxing legend and presidential Manny Pacquiao, female boxers Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno are determined to write their own stories inside the ring.
Petecio, born to a poor family in Davao Del Sur, won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
She started training since she was 11 years old and started fighting in local tournaments in her Sta. Cruz’s hometown offers pretty good prices to buy food for a day’s meal for his family.
Fate brought her to the Tokyo Olympics with a semi-final win over Japan’s Sena Irie. She is now living the dream with all the accolades and cash incentives available to her.
She is not done yet as she has vowed to give herself another try for gold at Paris 2024.
“Hindi pa po tapos, gusto po pa rin pong makakuha ng ginto and Hindi ko po ‘yan susukuan,” Petecio said.
Magno, Petecio’s teammate for the Philippines, was the first Filipino woman to qualify for the Olympics, although she pulled out before the medal round.
Petecio returned home alongside a team that earned the best Olympic result ever for the Philippines. Tokyo’s other two Olympic medals came from boxers Eumir Marcial (bronze) and Carlo Paalam (silver).
Pinay at heart
Another athlete who has made the Philippines proud is Fil-Japanese Yuka Saso, who became the first Filipina to win a major golf title with her victory at the prestigious US Women’s Open in June last year.
Although she recently chose to become Japanese, Saso will always be a Filipina at heart, having spent her early years in a Filipino home before chasing greatness on the fairways.
Saso represented the Philippines in international competitions until the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, where she bagged two gold medals in individual and team play.
But from 2022, she has decided to choose Japanese nationality, which will make her more comfortable traveling and competing because of the power that the Japanese passport brings.
She will always be seen as Fil-Japanese, however, when she shines on the international golf scene.
Teenage tennis sensation Alex Eala is making tennis popular again in the Philippines.
She turned heads on the international stage as a scholarship holder of the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy.
She won her first junior Grand Slam title last year when she partnered Priska Madelyn Nugroho of Indonesia in the 2020 Australian Open women’s doubles, beating the duo of Živa Falkner and Matilda Mutavdzic finally.
At 15, Eala reached the top of her daughters’ junior world rankings. 2 after reaching the 2020 Roland-Garros singles semi-finals.
She has a career-high World Tennis Association singles ranking of 505, which she achieved in August last year.
The 16-year-old never stops competing to earn more points and learn how to improve her skills.
She is one of 44 junior and professional players who will receive Grand Slam Player Grants from the International Tennis Federation this year.
Currently ranked no. 12 junior girls in the world, Eala and 43 others will each receive grants of up to $25,000 for competition-related costs, funded by the Grand Slam Player Development Program, to support their development and enable them to compete at Grand Slam tournaments.
“The Grand Slam Player Development Program was established by the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments in 1986 to encourage and increase competitive opportunities for players from developing tennis regions,” the ITF said in a statement. communicated.
Also included in the list are women’s world No. 1 Petra Marcinko, no. 5 Victoria Jiminez Kazintseva, and No. 9 Solana Sierra.
Caballero said sports agencies across the country have already found the winning recipe, they just need to stay focused and support the athletes.
“It really takes a whole nation to make this possible. And I hope that roadmap will be used and refined for our future Olympians and world title holders,” she said.
Filipino athletes of world excellence are growing in number and will continue to be the pride of the country.