BY TITO S. TALAO
TOKYO — Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino arrived here Wednesday afternoon, two days before the opening of the 2020 Olympic Games, and spoke of a milestone prospect — another multi-medal performance in the quadrennial global sports meet.
Eighty-nine years after it first happened.
“Yes, multi-medal na yan, and I think ganado mga atleta natin,” said Tolentino, a Tagaytay representative and president of PhilCycling.
“In this Olympics, 18 out of 19 are first timers, with one veteran of world championship caliber. Malakas talaga ang chance na mag-multi-medal tayo.”
While a historic gold medal will prove to be the crowning glory for Team Philippines, given its predecessors’ nearly nine-decade collection of three silvers and four bronzes, Tolentino may have sought to temper high expectations.
After all, something else could be equally worth celebrating,
After negotiating his way to a bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter breaststroke during the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the great Teofilo Yldefonso returned four years later to defend his title in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles.
But Yldefonso was no longer the lone winner that summer.
Keeping him company in the victory stands during various awarding ceremonies were trackster Simeon Toribio, who brought home the bronze medal in the men’s high jump, and bantamweight Jose Villanueva, who settled for a bronze in boxing.
From thereon, however, the well dried up for Team Philippines and only one representative returned from the Games with something to show for the effort, meet after meet.
In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the year African-American Jesse Owens won four golds in front of Adolf Hitler, Miguel White took the bronze in the men’s 400-meter hurdles.
Featherweight boxer Anthony Villanueva raised the bar eight years later by giving the country its first-ever silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, losing in the final against Stanislav Stepashkin of the Soviet Union.
Two bronze medal finishes by boxers followed in the next eight years — light flyweight Leopoldo Serantes in 1988 in Seoul, and Roel Velasco in the same weight class in 1992 in Barcelona, the year of the US Dream Team.
Another silver lining arrived in 1996 courtesy of Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco, even if he narrowly lost to Bulgarian Daniel Petrov in the gold medal bout in the Atlanta Olympics, where a Parkinson’s-stricken Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame.
But then came 20 years of solitude when a slow stream of Philippine Olympians came home empty-handed until a soft-spoken enlisted personnel of the Philippine Air Force named Hidilyn Diaz, a veteran of two previous Olympiads, in Beijing and London, turned a bronze medal into silver during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, continuing the one-medal cycle for the country since after 1932 in LA.
Now Diaz is back with an eye at a golden breakthrough in Tokyo, and to do her share in fulfilling the POC president’s vision of a multi-medal Olympic finish this year.
Gold-silver-bronze though it may be.