As our Filipino Olympians leave today to compete in the summer games that will open in Tokyo on July 23, we join the Filipino nation in bidding them Godspeed!
Despite having been postponed for a year — and over and above the extraordinary ban on in-venue audiences, as well as other restrictions arising from the continuing onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic — the Olympics will likely attract millions of spectators from all over the world who will witness the competition on network and cable television as well as through live-streaming services on social media platforms.
Every competing athlete bears the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation. Nineteen Filipino athletes will wear the flag on their coat sleeves and competition outfit, with Eumir Marcial (boxing) and Kiyomi Watanabe (judo) as designated flag bearers. Each of them underwent a qualifying test; only the best athletes in each event are entitled to compete.
The Philippine contingent will be one of 206 national teams participating in this quadrennial event that began in Greece in 1896. The country has participated in every summer Olympics since 1924, except in 1980 when we joined cause with the American-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics.
Although the country has excelled and harvested many medals in the Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games, our Olympic harvest is quite lean: three silver medals and seven bronze medals. Boxers Anthony Villanueva and Mansueto ‘Onyok’ Velasco won in Tokyo and Atlanta in 1964 and 1996, respectively. Hidilyn Diaz won a silver medal in weightlifting in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Sportswriters’ shortlist of the country’s medal hopefuls include golfer Yuka Saso, weightlifter Carlos Yulo and boxer Eumir Marcial.
Twenty year-old Saso catapulted herself to the charmed circle of world-class golfers after winning the US Women’s Open tournament last month. She will play with compatriot Bianca Pagdanganan, ranked 42nd, who won with her the Asian Games team championship in 2018. Juvic Pagunsan, ranked 50th in the world after winning the Mizuno open, also qualified for the Olympic golfest.
Carlos Yulo, 21, won the gold medal in the floor exercise of the 2019 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Germany, becoming the first from Southeast Asia to win in this prestigious competition. He has been training in Japan under coach Munehiro Kugimiya for the past few years.
Middleweight boxer Eumir Marcial is an odds-on favorite to win a gold medal in the event where Filipinos have been most competitive in the Olympics and Asiad. He has been training with Manny Pacquiao’s boxing stable under the supervision of trainer Freddie Roach. Boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam and Irish Magno may also pull off pleasant surprises.
Our nation’s prayerful hopes ride on the shoulders of our other Olympic competitors: EJ Obiena, pole vault; Fil-American Kristina Knott, track and field; Cris Nievarez, rowing; Kurt Barbosa, taekwondo; Margielyn Didal, skateboarding; Erleen Ando, weightlifting; Kiyomi Watanabe, judo; and Jayson Valdez, shooting. Fil-Kiwi swimmer Luke Gebbie and Fil-Am lady swimmer Remedy Rule complete the cast.