1. Hidilyn Diaz makes history
Nearly three months after the country elected Davao City Mayor Rodrigo ‘Digong’ Duterte as president, an athlete from Mindanao rose from obscurity to become the toast of Philippine sports.
Hidilyn Diaz, virtually an unknown, became an overnight sensation when she ended the country’s 20-year Olympic medal drought by capturing a silver medal in the Rio Games last August.
Her feat easily was the most outstanding performance by an athlete in the year that is about to end.
Needless to say, Diaz, 26, saved the day for the embattled Philippine team whose officials would have come home with their tails behind their legs if not for her heroics.
Her feat was historic. By winning a silver medal in the women’s 53-kilogram weightlifting event, she became the first Filipino female athlete to win an Olympic medal in nearly one hundred years.
Hungry for an Olympic hero, Filipinos showered Diaz with affection and also with financial rewards when she returned.
Aside from the P5 million provided for by law for Olympic medalists, she also received P2 million from President Duterte and P500,000 from the Zamboanga City council. A house and lot was also donated to her.
2. Manny Pacquiao unretires
Manny Pacquiao returned to the ring after previously announcing that his fight against American rival Tim Bradley in Las Vegas last April would be his last.
Obviously, the lure of the ring –and easy money – was too much to pass up for Pacquiao who became a senator in the last elections.
He agreed to fight Jessie Vargas and the Filipino icon easily scored a 12-round unanimous decision last Nov. 5 in Las Vegas to win the world welterweight title again.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was among those at ringside, invited no less by Pacquiao. While Mayweather said he was impressed by Pacquiao’s performance, he dismissed any idea that he would return to the ring to fight Pacquiao a second time.
Mayweather beat Pacquiao by unanimous decision two years ago in what became the richest fight in history.
Like many past champions who never knew when to quit, Pacquiao, 39, wants to fight one more time. Maybe two, or three. Who knows?
3. SMB wins, Junemar Fajardo MVP
San Miguel Beer’s June Mar Fajardo registered a first in the PBA.
The 6-foot-10 Cebuano became the first PBA player to win the league MVP award three straight years after helping the Beermen win the Philippine Cup for the third straight time.
His stats tell the story. Using his height to full advantage, the mild-mannered Fajardo bulldozed past his rivals for a career-best 19.73 points per game, 12.21 rebounds and 1.25 assists.
Highlight of the year where he played a major role was San Miguel’s comeback from a 0-3 deficit against Alaska in the Philippine Cup by winning the next four games, the first team to turn the trick.
Ginebra shared PBA honors by winning the Commissioner’s Cup at the expense of Meralco.
4. FIBA Olympic Qualifying
Local fans got a taste of NBA-quality games when some of the NBA’s top stars came over to play for their countries during the FIBA Asia Qualifying Tournament host by the Philippines last July.
The country had hoped to play in the Olympics for the first time since 1972 when it hosted the qualifying thinking home advantage would do the trick.
It was not to be.
The Philippines played well but lost to France, 93-84, and then to New Zealand, 89-90. The saving grace was the presence of French and San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker whose game and humility disarmed Filipino fans even though he was the one who killed us.
5. Miguel Tabuena, the best golfer
Miguel Tabuena has surely taken over Philippine golf. He is the star and the only Filipino at the moment capable of making a dent in the international scene.
Sure, Juvic Pagunsan has talent, and Angelo Que perseverance, but not one of them holds a candle to Tabuena for both qualities.
The 22-year-old who did not enter college to pursue a golf career is seeing the gamble pay off as he traveled the world playing wherever the challenge takes him.
He was in the Sony Open in Hawaii, the US Open in Pennsylvania, the World Cup (with Que) in Australia and in cities around Asia.
It was a rewarding journey. It put him fifth in the Asian Order of Merit and he ranked 152nd in the world at the end of the year.
In all, his game netted him nearly P28 million, the bulk coming from a second place finish at the Maybank championship in Malaysia and the Mercuries in Taiwan.
In the distaff side, Regan de Guzman earned her LPGA Tour card with a solid showing in the LPGA Qualifying tournament, the only one among six Filipinos to get full playing privileges for next year.
6. La Salle wins it all
La Salle rode the coattails of Ben Mbala, the 6-foot-6 import from Nigeria, to win the UAAP basketball championship, the country’s most coveted college title.
The Green Archers beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles in a championship series whose outcome was never in doubt although, in the first game of the best-of-three series, La Salle was nearly upset.
For keeping their cool under pressure, the Archers survived the game, 67-65, and then handily won the second game, 79-72, to capture its ninth UAAP championship and second in four years.
Mbala was the tournament’s MVP while Jeron Teng took the finals MVP, scoring 28 points in his final game as an Archer.
In the NCAA, San Beda beat Arellano University also in two games for its ninth title in 11 years.
7. Super Grandmaster Wesley So is king
Christmas came early for super Grandmaster Wesley So.
The Filipino star who left the Philippines to become an American citizen three years ago after tangling with local sports officials for disrespecting him, showed what the country missed by scoring a double victory in London by ruling the London Chess Classic in Kensington two weeks ago.
So won the 2016 Grand Chess Tour and took home $295,000 (almost P15 million), one of the richest prizes in chess.
The victory capped a dream year for So who, local authorities hope, would return to the fold. (He still holds dual citizenship.)
Wesley is only the 12th player to breach the ELO rating of 2800. He also helped the US win the Chess Olympiad in Baku (Azerbaijan) following his gold medal performance on Board 3 this year.
It was So’s fifth Olympiad appearance, having represented the country in 2006 Turin, 2008 Dresden, 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk and 2012 Istanbul.
8. Peping Cojuangco wins 4th term
Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. won a fourth straight term as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, beating no one as he ran unopposed after the candidacy of boxing president Rickie Vargas was disallowed for failing to meet an election requirement.
Although Cojuangco’s reign as POC president the past 12 years has been nothing but failures, the 82-year-old still sought and earned a fourth term, thanks to the ruling of an election committee headed by his friend, Frank Elizalde, which said Vargas was an “absentee” POC member and was not qualified to run.
Vargas tried to stop the election by seeking a Temporary Restraining Order, but this was denied by a Pasig court.
9. Butch Ramirez returns as PSC chair
William ‘Butch’ Ramirez, who served as chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission from 2005 to 2009, was reappointed to the same position by President Duterte, partly as a reward for Ramirez’s help during the last election (the two are from Davao), and partly because of the former chair’s past experience.
Ramirez quickly made his presence felt and made several announcements including strict auditing of PSC funds to national sports associations and direct participation in the selection of athletes to national competitions.
He said his future actions may conflict with the POC, but he said he has no choice because the performance of the Philippine team will reflect on the PSC and the government. (REY LACHICA)