Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos: MB, CNN, and spin.ph
The modern Olympic Games – more popularly known as Olympics – got its idea from the ancient Olympic Games, which was held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.
It was Baron Pierre de Coubertin who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894, which led to the first modern games that were held in Athens in 1896. Since then, the games have grown so much that nearly every nation is now represented.
The Philippines joined the competition since the modern games debuted. In 1896, the Philippines was part of Spain. From 1900 to 1920, the Philippines competed as part of the United States.
In 1924, when the Summer Olympic Games debuted, the Philippines joined and became the first country from Southeast Asia to compete. It sent only one participant – in the person of David Nepomuceno.
The country had competed in every edition of the Summer Olympics except when it participated in the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Before that, it also decided not to participate in the 1940 Summer Olympics before the games was ultimately canceled due to the outbreak of World War II.
All in all, Filipino athletes got a total of fourteen Olympics medals. Boxing is the top medal-producing sport, with eight medals (four for silver and four for bronze). Both athletics and swimming produced two bronze medals each. Weightlifting managed to get two medals (one for gold and another for silver).
Now, let’s take a closer look at those who won Olympic medals for the Philippines:
The first Filipino athlete to win an Olympic medal was Teofilo Yldefonso when he won a bronze for swimming at the Amsterdam Games (the Netherlands) in 1928. When he returned in 1932 at the Los Angeles Games (United States), he bagged another bronze medal. This made him the first Filipino to win two in a row.
At the 1932 Los Angeles Games, two other Filipinos won. Simon Toribio also won a bronze medal in athletics. This made him the first to accomplish the feat. Jose Villanueva earned another bronze for boxing, becoming the first boxer to win an Olympic medal.
When the Olympics was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1936, Miguel White won a bronze medal in athletics. He became the second and the last to win such a medal for the Philippines. He also became the first Filipino-American to score an Olympic medal; his mother was a Filipina while his father was an American.
In 1964, Jose Villanueva’s son, Anthony, won the country’s first silver medal for boxing. Curiously enough, the Games was held in Tokyo, Japan. This is the first and last time a father and son ever snatched Olympic medals.
At the Seoul Olympics Games in South Korea in 1988, Leopoldo Serantes won a bronze medal in boxing. This made him the second Filipino athlete to accomplish the feat.
Another bronze medal for boxing was won by Roel Velasco at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in Spain. Four years later, when the Games was held in Atlanta (United States), Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco almost managed to get a gold medal. He holds the record as the second boxer to win a silver medal. Roel and Onyok are the only siblings to have won Olympic medals.
At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) Olympics Games, Hidilyn Diaz made history by becoming the first Filipina to win a medal for weightlifting. She scored a silver medal. And at the 2020 Tokyo Games, she became the first Filipino to have ever won a gold medal, still for weightlifting. Her feat also made her the second Filipino to win back-to-back medals.
Also, at the 2020 Tokyo Games, Nesthy Petecio became the first female boxer to win an Olympic medal – a silver at that! She’s the third Filipino boxer to win a silver medal.
Another silver medalist at the 2020 Tokyo Games was Carlo Paalam. He is the third male – and fourth Filipino – boxer to accomplish the feat.
At the 2020 Tokyo Games, Filipino athletes scored four medals – shattering the record that was accomplished at the 1932 Los Angeles Games (when three bronze medals were won). Garnering a bronze medal in boxing was Eumir Marcial, thus making him the fourth boxer to do such honor for the Philippines.
All four Olympic medalists have one thing in common; they came all from Mindanao. Both Hidilyn Diaz and Eumir Marcial are from Zamboanga. Nesthy Petecio is from Davao del Sur, while Carlo Paalam is from Cagayan de Oro City (although he was born in Bukidnon).
Another common thing about the four Mindanao medalists is that they all grew up in poverty.
The fifth child of a tricycle driver who later became a farmer and fisherman, Hidilyn grew up in Zamboanga wanting to become a banker. But then, her cousin, Allen Jayfrus Diaz, taught her the basics of weightlifting, and it changed everything.
“Diaz took up the habit herself and started her weightlifting journey at just eleven years old,” wrote Asia Tatler’s Lauren Golangco. “During these early years, her lifting equipment did not consist of typical barbells and plates – rather, she fashioned her own version using ipil-ipil sticks, cement weights, and jeepney mag wheels.”
On the other hand, Nesthy Petecio was born in Tuban, Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. She was only seven when she started boxing, thanks to her father, Teodoro.
She devoted her life to boxing because she wanted to uplift the standard of living of her family. “The reason I chose boxing is because I can help my family and study for free,” she pointed out. “There are a lot of opportunities for me in the sport. At first, it wasn’t my choice. It was more for self-defense only.”
Meanwhile, Eumir Marcial, the youngest among five siblings, was also trained by his father, Eulalio, when he was still seven. He started boxing in 2008 in his hometown in Zamboanga. However, it was his older brother, Eliver, who motivated him to make boxing a career. At age 39, Eliver, who was married and with kids, died. His untimely death drove him to win a spot in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and he hoped to use his boxing career to help support his brother’s six children.
“He was very supportive of me, he got married at a young age despite our (family’s financial) situation, he still wanted to help me, give me money to go to the school,” he was quoted as saying. “When we had a tournament, he gave his support… I can help his family have a better life.”
Finally, Carlo Paalam was only six when his mother left them. His father brought the children to Cagayan de Oro City for better opportunities. To help the family, he worked as a scavenger at a landfill in the city.
He won his first boxing match at age seven and used his winnings to buy rice for his family. He was discovered by local officials after watching him in the local Boxing at the Park tournament in 2009.
Two medalists fought against the invading Japanese. After the Olympics, Teofilo Yldefonso became part of the Philippine Scouts, and he fought against the Japanese in Bataan. Miguel White was killed during the initial landing of Japanese troops into the Philippines in 1942.
Likewise, there were two medalists who joined the show business after both received Olympic medals. Anthony Villanueva appeared in such movies as Malakas, Kaliwa’t Kanan, and The Pancho Villa Story. Onyok Velasco did several television shows like Ok Fine Whatever, Kool Ka Land, Maynila, Everybody Hapi, and Show Me Da Manny.