I first watched the Olympics in 1992 but had little recollection of the Filipino athletes at the time, except for Roel Velasco, who won a bronze in boxing.
Four years later, I felt really bad seeing Roel’s brother Onyok being robbed of a gold in Atlanta against an underperforming, visibly outclassed, but judges-aided Bulgarian chicken with gloves.
In 2000, I was upbeat about our taekwondo and boxing teams’ medal chances after watching Kitoy Cruz (taekwondo) and Romeo Brin (boxing) in the 1999 SEA Games. But the Olympics is an entirely different animal and our contingent was overwhelmed by the rest of the world.
Athens 2004 was heartbreaking. Toni Rivero came close to barging into the gold-medal match but dropped a controversial loss to the hometown bet Elisavet Mystakidou. She later limped to defeat against South Korea’s Hwang Kyung-Sun.
Donnie Geisler’s fate was more devastating. In his toe-to-toe battle with Tunisia’s Hichem Hamdouni in the repechage for the bronze. Donnie suffered an ACL injury. His Tunisian foe was so touched by Geisler’s fighting spirit that he even raised the hand of the fallen Filipino as a gesture of respect.
Beijing 2008 and London 2012 yielded the same results. The Philippines joined again, only to come home empty-handed. But in those two Olympic editions, a young Hidilyn Diaz began to dream and challenge the Olympic gods.
Win an Olympic gold.
Can she? Generations of the best Filipino athletes have tried countless times only to go down with a whimper. Some of them retired in the dust and archival oblivion of newspaper clippings heralding their failed bid to give the country the ultimate mint of sporting supremacy.
That is something that will stay in my — and every Filipinos’ – recollection, for the rest of our lives.
But four years later in Rio — and under the same Olympic rings — Hidilyn gave a nation of 110 million its first Olympic medal in 20 years — a silver that only few believers thought would be possible in a sport often dominated by China and the other Central Asian powers.
Every lift was a conversation piece, as if to tell us: “Relax lang kayo, ako bahala.” China, world no.1? Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, top contenders? No problem.
Hidilyn oozed with guarded confidence and unyielding faith that destiny is upon her as she routinely stepped on the square platform a couple of times, calmly rewinding in her razor-sharp memory the relentless training that steeled her nerves, even as she yearned for country and family for more than a year.
(More to come from the rest of the Filipino contingent, please?).