The Olympic Flame has been extinguished but the fire it brought to Filipinos continues to touch our senses. But this isn’t about the conclusion of a multi-billion spectacle, the last page of a happy-ending story. As the Japanese people say sayonara to the thousands who braved the pandemic-delayed showpiece in Tokyo, the officials back in Manila should start writing the opening chapter of a new age in sports, the preservation of what Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam and Eumir Marcial had gifted us in this momentous part of history.
The athletes, 19 of them who proudly represented this nation to its best performance to date, were hailed as heroes, if not saviors of our sanity in the middle of this never-ending tale of suffering from the coronavirus.
Diaz, the weightlifter from Zamboanga City, brought us back to consciousness after winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal—a scene that will be remembered for its value, for bringing the country up to its feet even through the darkest of times.
Enter Petecio, Paalam and Marcial—the trio who thrilled this boxing-loving nation, with every punch getting the loudest cheer, and every blow giving us the same tidal wave of pain and emotion.
In the end, Petecio and Paalam took the shining silver, while Marcial bagged bronze—different mints but of similar merit as Filipinos stood united to acknowledge their feat against heftier, more experienced foes.
Millions of pesos were granted, house and lots, condominiums, and other perks in life were showered to the medalists—all of which they truly deserve for putting the flag on the podium. Save for the four sportsmen who have secured their spots on Olympic glory, the 15 non-medalists were also rewarded half a million pesos each for donning the national colors in the biggest sporting stage
After 16 days of action, the Philippines became the toast of Southeast Asia in this edition of the Olympics, with its total haul of one gold, two silvers and one bronze surpassing the mark of Indonesia (one gold, one silver, three bronzes) and Thailand (one gold, one bronze).
Yet there’s more on the plate than what we actually see. These athletes did not win medals for mere displays, or the flow of recognitions that would eventually fade to natural cause. The medals are meant to serve as a template for future success, not a prized possession that will be buried in a treasure chest.
For us to move forward and be as relevant as today in the 2024 Paris Olympics, the continuity of sports programs, from grassroots to elite level, should be strengthened on the foundation that was built by these four athletes.
After all, what Diaz, Petecio, Paalam and Marcial would want to see is a batch of athletes that are as ready and hungry in the next three years.