HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRIPEVINE: OUR NEW ABNORMAL
The column today is more of an appeal, and it’s not an easy one to make, as I know so many will feel alluded to, or think I’m making too much of a big deal and dampening their enthusiasm. But what can I say? I’m all for Pinoy pride; the achievements of the likes of Hidilyn Diaz and our Olympic boxers (Petecio, Paalam and Marcial) are without doubt, crowning achievements. But I react poorly when we end up looking desperate, turning the most tenuous of connections, into the latest, new source of Pinoy pride. At that point, I wish we’d exercise a little more reserve, discriminate and be selective, and seek out the truly deserving – those who proudly carry the Philippine flag and colors.
I bring this up in the light of how we received the news last week that young, tennis player, Leylah Fernandez, had upset Naomi Osaka, in their third round US Open match. I’m fine with tagging her a Fil-Canadian as clickbait for online releases – born in Canada, and having trained in the USA, Leylah has an ex-soccer player/father from Ecuador, and a Filipina-Canadian mother. But I bit my tongue as friends I have on social media and into tennis, began harping on her Filipino heritage, practically “owning” her. I have nothing against Leylah at all, but she represented Canada during the recent Tokyo Olympics, speaks French, English and Spanish (guess what’s missing?); and I can bet that if you asked her what nationality she is, she’d proudly say Canadian.
In fact, I’m certain that this was a big dream come true for any 2nd or 3rd generation athlete – representing his or her country of birth. In Leylah’s case, Canada. So for me, if you want to talk world tennis and the Philippines, let’s reserve our attention for Alexandra Eala, who was playing in the US Open Juniors – and truly support her to realize her potential. I’m not disputing Leylah’s provenance or heritage, but until that point where she uses it to represent our country, I’m recognizing her as Canadian, wish her well, and will even root for her as she plays in the women’s finals.
Mind you, I can envision the line forming here to snap her up for endorsements, to be “adopted” by this or that town or province, and even pose with politicians running next year. Much like Naomi Osaka a few years ago, she’s become an overnight social media darling; and you can see she knows that, smartly pushing the buttons of the crowd.
I’m reminded here of the attitude Japan took when pro golfer Collin Morikawa won two majors – last year's PGA Open and this year’s Open Championship. He’d pick up a lot of fans and coverage, thanks to his being of Chinese-Japanese descent. But it was always recognized by the Japanese media that born in Los Angeles, Morikawa is an American golfer, and that’s all there is to it, despite his surname and looks.
It was when Hideki Matsuyama would notch his six PGA wins, and take the Masters in Augusta this year, that Japanese media really went crazy. For here was the first ever Japanese golfer to win a golfing major. And you know how much the Japanese love their golf, with legends such as Isao Aoki and Jumbo Ozaki figuring prominently in the storied shared history of Japan and golf. So I appreciated how they recognized Matsuyama as the real thing, a Japanese golfer who genuinely represents the nation.
From top to bottom, Filipino athletes Yuka Saso, Alexandra Eala, and Canadian Leylah Fernandez (MB.com)
In fact, if we’re talking golf and the Philippines, I think not enough is being made of the achievements of our own Yuka Saso. In the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings that came out September 1st, she was ranked 6th best in the world – something no Filipino golfer has even come close to, male or female. Her US Open playoff win in June of this year is the stuff any pro golfer dreams of, and so few get to accomplish.
What both Hidilyn and Yuka have accomplished this year are the stuff we should be truly proud about. On the world stage, in fierce competitions, they went beyond skill and ability, and showed the mental toughness needed to excel, shine, and triumph. And here’s where I’ll bring up another point that others may find hard to accept.
That would be how we’re such an immature audience when it comes to Sports achievements. The moment we’ve been “spoiled” by such victories, we expect our athletes to pull it out of the “hat” each and every time. That’s too unreal, and I don’t like how we’re only raising them up when they win – not recognizing the work and effort it takes, and how each time they’re in a tournament, there are hundreds of like-minded athletes vying for that one top spot.
Sure, I’m disappointed that Yuka didn’t put in better early rounds during the Tokyo Olympics, but that doesn’t take away from what she’s already accomplished this year. Her sponsors, like ICTSI, must be very proud of her, and I’m happy to see how they continue to support her as she competes on the premier stage of women’s golf with a tour card.
Hidilyn will forever be the first Filipino Gold Olympian. Yuka the first Filipino golfer to win a major. That Hidilyn, Yuka, and the boxers, can serve as inspirations for all Filipino athletes moving forward, is without question. Let them be our torch-bearers.