By CARLO ANOLIN
In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, four national athletes provided a glimmer of hope for the Philippines as they braved the Land of the Rising Sun to win multiple medals in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics last July.
Count it as a golden year for the Philippine sports scene as weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medalist, finally brought home the elusive gold medal ‒ a historic feat as she became the first athlete to fulfill the mission of ruling an event in the quadrennial event.
The national boxing team, under the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines (ABAP), led by its leaders Ricky Vargas and Ed Picson, who was hailed as the new president of the organization, also rose to the occasion as Nesthy Petecio (featherweight) and Carlo Paalam (flyweight) captured silver medals while Eumir Felix Marcial, who already won his first professional bout last December 2020 against Andrew Whitfield in US soil, settled for the bronze finish.
Philippine Sports Commission chairman William “Butch” Ramirez was elated with the performance not only with the four Olympic gold medalists but all the nineteen Filipino athletes who competed in the Tokyo Games, which is considered as one of the best the Philippines has shown since the country made its debut appearance in 1924 especially with Diaz’s golden lift amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“2021 was the product of 2011-2021 financial support of more than 100 Filipino Athletes to high level of foreign training and competitions whose target is to get medals in Tokyo Olympics,” said Ramirez. “We spent billions of money since 2016 no wonder we performed well in Jakarta Asian Games, [became a] champion in 2020 SEA (Southeast Asian) Games and [captured] one gold, 2 silvers and one bronze in Tokyo Olympics.
“Out of more than 100 to qualify to Tokyo Olympics, we had 19 athletes who qualified to Tokyo. And the results were very meaningful,” the PSC chief added.
Diaz ruled the 55-kilogram weight category at the Tokyo International Forum, lifting an overall 224 kgs highlighted by her Olympics record lift of 127 kgs on her third and last attempt at the clean and jerk and the highest mark in the snatch at 97 kgs.
While standing on the lifting platform, the 30-year-old Zamboanga native athlete found herself in a tug-of-war with Chinese Liao Qiuyun, who is the world record holder, with only a kilogram away from the Filipino’s final mark.
With Liao registering only 126 kgs in the clean and jerk and 97 kgs in the snatch, Diaz celebrated then cried in disbelief and joy while her Team HD surrounder her forbecoming the first Filipino Olympic gold medalist.
Moving to the Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena, a well-known sumo hall-turned-boxing venue for the Games, Petecio, Paalam, and Marcial had their fair share of ups and downs in their boxing matches.
The 29-year-old Petecio, the crafty and speedy boxer, settled for silver medal in the women’s featherweight final after yielding to a 5-0 sweep against the technical Japanese fighter in Sena Irie, who already beat the Davao del Sur native pugilist in the 2018 Asian/Oceanian Olympic boxing qualifiers in Amman, Jordan.
The young Paalam, 23, also finished with a silver medal after being overwhelmed by Galal Yafai of Great Britain, 4-1, in the men’s flyweight final while Marcial, who recently tied the knot with longtime partner Princess Galarpe, bagged the bronze after heartbreaking 3-2 loss against Ukrainian foe Oleksandr Khyzhniak in the middleweight semifinal.
“I hope and pray that on 2022 from the first six months that we will be working on [with] our successor in the middle of the year, I am praying and I am very positive that we can sustain the performance of the last 2016-2021,” added Ramirez.
While the four Tokyo medalists brought hope and pride to the country, the Philippine Olympic Committee, led by president Cong. Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino, in return provided house and lots units in Tagaytay City.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg as Diaz and the boxing trio also received left and right monetary financial aid, recognitions, years and long-time supply and food and beverage, as well as airline discounts and accommodations as they have become the modern heroes of today.
Meanwhile, Diaz had already expressed desire to see action in the 2024 Paris Olympics, perhaps her swan song to the weightlifting scene, while boxers Petecio, Paalam, and Marcial remain hungry in their respective gold medal hunt.