That elusive Olympic medal

My dream is to hear the Philippine national anthem in the medal ceremony of the Olympic Games.  This kind of honor is of course reserved for an event’s gold medalist.  The nation’s flag is hoisted slowly in the air for the whole world to see, admire and respect. And I’m no athlete, just a mere spectator.

I never knew how much that dream meant to me till I started covering the Olympics back in the Sydney 2000 edition.  One of the events I did commentary on was taekwondo which debuted that year.  We sent Donnie Geisler, Kitoy Cruz, Eva Marie Ditan and Jasmin Strachan.  It was heartbreaking to see them get eliminated one by one.  I was so affected that I needed to step away from the commentary box to cry.  I wasn’t the only one.  Other Filipino sportswriters were sullen as well.
Four years ago in Beijing, our “Lupang Hinirang” was played when Willy Wang won the gold in a special event in the games for wushu, 20 years after Arianne Cerdena won gold in bowling as a demonstration in the 1988 Seoul games.  Though these are notable feats, they are not counted in our country’s official medal tally in the Olympics.

Since the Philippines started joining in 1924, we have produced nine medals.  This is our 21st time to participate.

Our first ever medallist was Teofilo Yldefonso in the men’s 200 meter breaststroke.  During the 1928 Amsterdam games, there were only six men’s events and five women’s events in swimming.

The biggest medal haul came during the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, during the Great Depression where only half of the competitors participated compared to the previous Olympics in Amsterdam.  The three bronze medals came from Simeon Toribio in the high jump, Jose Villanueva in boxing bantamweight and again, Yldefonso who won his 2nd bronze in the 200m breaststroke.

After Miguel White won the bronze in the 400meter hurdles in the 1936 Berlin games, it took more than three decades for the Philippines to get back on the winner’s stand. Anthony Villanueva, son of Olympic Bronze medallist Jose Villanueva, won the silver at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the feather weight division.  He lost to the Soviet Union's Stanislav Stepashkin, 3-2, in the gold medal match.

After another 24-year drought, boxing delivered two more bronze medals - in the 1988 games care of Leopoldo Serantes and the 1992 Games courtesy of Roel Velasco.  Those two consecutive Olympic triumphs helped fuel the charge for the next Olympics.  Roel’s younger brother, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco fought in the 1996 Atlanta light flyweight finals.  Though he ended with a silver after losing to Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria, it was one of the greatest Olympic moments for the Philippines.

It’s been 16 years.  Could it be our sweet 16th year of waiting? 

Will boxing again deliver that elusive medal?  Whatever color is fine, but praying for gold. 

Handa….  Awit….  Bayang magiliw….


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