THERE is a saying that if you want to see the folly of men—their dark side, blunders and weaknesses—go read the front page of a newspaper.
But if you want to see Man’s positive spirit—his triumphs over adversity, his desire to be the best version of himself—then take a close look at its Sports section.
In the Philippines, sports has oftentimes carried the spirit of a nation longing for heroes to emulate.
A look at the list of our sporting heroes for the past three decades warms the heart because these athletes have, time and again, risen from hardships to face and overcome supreme challenges, beating tall odds and rising to the occasion when all hope is seemingly lost.
In the past 30 years, we saw Living Legend Robert Jaworski and his Ginebra San Miguel team turn this basketball-crazy nation upside down with their never-say-die spirit; it’s the same spunk that nearly catapulted Gilas Pilipinas to the Olympics and fueled the Philippine Azkals to the best ranking in Southeast Asia.
We also saw the rise of ring icon Manny Pacquiao, who put the Philippines on the world sporting map with his fists of fury, and the crowning of a tiny powerlifting queen in Hidilyn Diaz, whose heart is as huge as her iron plates. Her winning the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics ended a 20-year medal drought for the country in the Games.
In the next 30 years, expect the Filipino athlete to tide us through tough and rough times, but for now, allow us to look back and bask in the afterglow of his crowning achievements.
Lydia de Vega became the Asia’s fastest woman. She made a name after winning gold medals for 200 and 400-meter events at the 1981 Southeast Asian Games held in Manila. She proved herself yet again at the 1982 New Delhi Asiad, and at the 1986 Seoul Asiad, where she clocked 11.53 seconds in the 100-meter dash event. The two-time Olympic Philippine representative holds both the Philippine and Southeast Asian records with her 11.28 seconds record.
In 1980, 65 countries, including United States, Japan, West Germany and Canada, boycotted the Summer Olympics which was held in the Soviet capital of Moscow, after the USSR rejected former President Jimmy Carter’s call to abandon the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, the Soviet Union retaliated and skipped the following Summer Olympics which were held in the United States.
The 1989 Southeast Asian Games saw Eric Buhain and Akiko Thompson winning gold medals in swimming, breaking both the national and SEA Games records. Track and field athlete Elma Muros also won the gold medal in long jump, surpassing the Asian Games standard.
After winning another World Cup in 1996, Paeng Nepomuceno made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for three achievements: for winning four World Cup titles (in 1976, 1980, 1992 and 1996); for being the youngest bowler to win a World Cup at 19; and for winning the most number of championships at over 130.
This decade has been marked by the rise of one of the greatest Filipino greatest, Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao started his career in 1995. He won his first world crown in the flyweight division in 1998, and continued to capture eight world championships in eight different divisions. He lost his last welterweight title bout to Floyd Mayweather in 2015.
Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco competed and won the silver medal in the men’s light-flyweight boxing category at the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia. His controversial gold medal match against Bulgarian boxer Daniel Petrov in which Velasco lost was dubbed “The Robbery in Atlanta,” after it was discovered that judges were pressing the buttons on their electronic scoring equipment for the wrong boxer. Onyok is the younger brother of Roel Velasco, who won an Olympic bronze medal for boxing in the 1992 Summer Olympics.
The Philippines won the overall championship in the 2005 Southeast Asian Games for the first and only time, bagging 113 gold, 84 silver and 94 bronze medals.
WBO light flyweight champion Donnie Nietes holds the record of the longest uninterrupted reign as world champion bridging two weight divisions. He became a world titlist after winning in the WBO minimum weight division in 2007, and has not lost in 30 consecutive bouts since he lost to Angky Angkota in a disputed split decision in 2004. Holding a record of 38-1-4, with 22KOs, Nietes has been unbeaten in 15 world title matches.
Efren “Bata” Reyes became the first Asian to be inducted into the Billiad Congress of America’s Hall of Fame. Dubbed as the “Greatest Pool Player of All Time,” Reyes has won over 70 international titles. The Magician, as he is fondly called, is the only person in history to win World Championships in two different disciplines in pool. His numerous titles include: four-time World Eight-Ball Champion, the 1999 World Nine-Ball Champion, a three-time US Open Champion, a two-time World Pool League Champion, and 14-time Derby City Classic Champion.
Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps smash records at the Beijing Olympics, while the epic four-hour-17-minute Wimbledon final is Federer’s 15th grandslam, making him the most successful tennis player in history.
In 2014, the Philippine national basketball team made their come back at the FIBA World Cup in Spain after a 36-year absence. The Gilas Pilipinas team, coached by Chot Reyes, beat Senegal, marking the country’s first win in the World Cup in 40 years.
Michael Martinez became the first Filipino, and the first Southeast Asian, to qualify and compete in figure skating at the Winter Olympics, finishing 19th place at his debut in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
Hidilyn Diaz ended the country’s 20-year Olympic medal drought after winning a silver medal in the Women’s 53-kg Weightlifting Division at the 2016 Summer Games held in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. She earned the recognition as the first female athlete to win an Olympic medal for the Philippines, the first Filipino to win in the weightlifting category, and the first non-boxer to win an Olympic medal.