Filipino Olympians are the bravest

Published August 5, 2021, 12:02 PM

by Manila Bulletin

One could build Hidilyn Diaz a monument, gift her loads of cash or all the luxuries in life, or to the extent name her a street or perhaps a national holiday to remember her Olympic success. She deserves it. But as the country roars for Hidilyn’s victory on the grandest sporting stage, the slew of gallant Filipino athletes who fought as hard in Tokyo need the same kind of energy, attention, and admiration — win or lose.

The lead-up to the Olympics isn’t a walk in the park. One should earn the spot based on world rankings, qualifying tournaments, or as wildcard entry from a continental quota system. It is a meticulous process that is aimed to filter thousands of aspirants into the finest set of sportsmen.

That is why participating in the Summer Games, held every four years except for this extraordinary time, is a dream among athletes, albeit a tough competition that awaits them come game day.

Gymnast Carlos Yulo was one of the favorites to win a medal in Tokyo. With a world title in floor exercise under his belt, he was a target on the mat. In the qualifying round, the Manileño struggled with his routine and landed 44th out of 60 competitors. He redeemed himself with a place in the vault finals and came tantalizingly close to a bronze finish.

EJ Obiena was also advertised as a strong contender as the world No. 6 pole vaulter. With pressure mounting on his shoulder as the bar got to jaw-dropping heights, Obiena seemed to have good clearance at the top, except when gravity played its role and had the national record holder tipping the horizontal stick on his three attempts at 5.80 meters in the finals.

Except for boxing’s Nesthy Petecio who is ₱20-million richer after settling for silver in women’s featherweight class, the struggles were similar to the other Filipino athletes that had their campaigns ending on sorry note. Saying goodbyes were sprinter Kristina Knott, swimmers Remedy Rule and Luke Gebbie, boxer Irish Magno, golfer Juvic Pagunsan, judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, skateboarder Margielyn Didal, rower Cris Nievarez, weightlifter Elreen Ando, shooter Jayson Valdez and taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa. Still in contention are boxers Eumir Marcial and Carlo Paalam, who are both assured of bronze medals, and lady golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan,

But defeats don’t mean less of recognition. These athletes should be hailed for braving the danger of the coronavirus and for having their training going despite the limitations brought by financial constraints and endless days on quarantine regulations.

The magnitude of Hidilyn’s Olympic win reverberated to the corners of this pandemic-stricken nation. Praises were heard and the torrent of monetary bonuses to the tune of ₱52.5 million sounded like sweet music to the other athletes, or maybe the young ones who aspire to be a version of Hidilyn Diaz — the heroine from Zamboanga City who started from scratch and now the new poster girl of rags to riches story.

But money isn’t part of the equation, nor the fame that one athlete could enjoy once he sets foot on the podium. These warriors are built to perform, to give pride to the country, regardless of how huge the incentives on the menu, regardless of the names that would throw in their congratulatory message after victory was served.

Call Diaz the newest icon, the toast of Philippine sports. Call her the redemption of this dark part of history, the joy of the nation amid the wrath of the invisible enemy. But don’t forget the names of 18 other athletes who wore the tri-colors ever so proudly with the world watching.