Team Philippines capped off its most decorated Olympics campaign ever with four medals, highlighted by a historic first gold medal along with two silvers and a bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games held last July 23 to August 8.
After a 97-year drought, the country finally clinched the elusive gold in the Summer Games after the euphoric win of four-time Olympian and Rio 2016 silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz in the women’s 55-kilogram (kg) weightlifting event. Silver medalists Carlo Paalam and Nesthy Petecio, along with bronze medalist Eumir Marcial, were also successful in their maiden Olympics. Altogether, they put the country at 50th in the medal tally, making it the best performing Southeast Asian country.
Lifting a total of 224kg, Diaz narrowly won against world record holder and Rio 2016 gold medalist Liao Qiuyun of China. After lifting an Olympic record of 127kg in the clean and jerk, on top of her 97-kilogram lift in the snatch, her performance finally secured the long-awaited victory. With the win, Diaz became the second Filipino Olympian to have won two Olympic medals, joining swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso who bagged bronze in the 200-meter (m) breaststroke in the 1928 Amsterdam and 1932 Los Angeles games.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Cebuana weightlifter Elreen Ando wrapped her Olympic debut at seventh place in the women’s 64-kilogram division, with a record of 100kg in the snatch and 122kg in the clean and jerk, for a total of 222kg—14 kilograms behind the gold medalist Maude Charron from Canada.
Starting with the men’s middleweight category, Eumir Marcial qualified for the semifinals where he faced Oleksandr Khyzhniak from Ukraine. He settled for bronze after the close fight, 29-28, 30-27, 28-29, 29-28, 28-29, leading to Khyzhniak winning by a split decision. In the men’s flyweight category, Carlo Paalam reached the finals where he fought Great Britain’s Galal Yafai. However, he ended his journey with a silver medal after succumbing to Yafai via a split decision, 29-28, 28-29, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28.
Into the women’s competition, Irish Magno rolled with the punches but fell short in the women’s flyweight round of 16, as she lost to Thailand’s Jutamas Jitpong via a unanimous decision, 30-27, 30-27, 30-27, 29-28, 30-27. Meanwhile, Petecio made history by becoming the first Filipina Olympic boxing medalist debuting in the women’s featherweight category. She competed against Japan’s Sena Irie in the finals, where she settled for silver as crowd favorite Irie took the gold, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 30-27.
Carlos Yulo, the youngest gymnast who competed in the men’s vault finals, finished fourth place in his Olympic debut. Yulo garnered a score of 14.716, just 0.017 points away from bronze medalist Artur Davtyan of Armenia. Despite going home without the medal, his second vault attempt had the second to the highest score from all the performances at 14.866.
EJ Obiena ended his Olympics stint at 11th place in the men’s pole vault finals. The only Asian in the finals, the 25-year-old failed to clear 5.80m in three attempts.Obiena was given a fourth and last chance to clear the jump after protesting his third attempt, but still fell short.
One of the four newly added sports in the Olympic games was skateboarding, where 2018 Asian Games gold medalist Margielyn Didal made her shining debut. The Cebuana kicked off and scored a 2.33 in her first 45-second run, then 2.22 in her second attempt. During the opening round, Didal was seen limping after her failed attempt and showed signs of injury in her succeeding events. Despite not being able to land her other attempts, she managed to finish seventh in the women’s street event.
Filipinas Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan started strong in their women’s golf tournament debut. Saso made a huge comeback from 47th place, ranking ninth in the final round, clinching a spot in the top 10. The 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist concluded her golf campaign garnering a total of five birdies. Pagdanganan, on the other hand, successfully opened the tournament by placing joint seventh but ended her debut with a double bogey in the last hole, dropping 14 places, finishing 43rd overall.
Forty-three-year old Juvic Pagunsan closed his maiden Olympic stint by settling for 55th place in the men’s golf tournament. Pagunsan bounced back from his second and third-round performances attaining a one-under-par 70 in the final round totaling a one-over-par 285.
Luke Gebbie and Remedy Rule gave record-breaking performances during their swimming events at the Tokyo Aquatics Center. Gebbie opened his Olympic journey by timing 49.64s in the men’s 100-meter freestyle where he finished fifth in his heat but set a new Philippine record. The Filipino-Kiwi clocked 22.84s in the 50-meter freestyle, but failed to reach the top 16 swimmers needed for the finals. Gebbie ended his medal run by placing 41st overall in the highly competitive event.
Rule timed 59.68s in the women’s 100-meter butterfly event but failed to qualify for the semifinals, finishing 25th overall. In the 200-meter butterfly, she clocked two minutes and 12.89s but fell short, placing 15th. Despite ending her Olympic campaign early, she remains the national record holder of both events.
Filipino rower Cris Nievarez opened the Philippines’ Olympic bid to a great start on July 23, successfully clinching a quarterfinal slot in the men’s single sculls after taking third in his heat. However, as he faced stronger racers in the next round, the 21-year-old Quezon native rowed out of medal contention after registering a slower time of seven minutes and 50.74s. He placed 23rd overall at the conclusion of his event, setting a new personal best at seven minutes and 21.28s.
World number 41 judoka Kiyomi Watanabe suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Spain’s Cristina Cabana Perez via ippon in the 38-second mark of the first round. Her loss in the round of 32 knocked her out of a chance for a medal comeback through the repechage bouts.
Kurt Barabosa, 22-year-old jin from Abra, immediately faced world number one South Korean Jang Jun in his first outing and suffered a 6-26 loss from the eventual bronze medalist in the men’s 58-kilogram taekwondo. Had Jang won over Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi of Tunisia in their semifinal matchup, Barabosa would have been able to vie for another chance at bronze in the repechage bouts. Unfortunately, Jang sustained an upset, 19-25.
Sprinter Kristina Knott registered 23.80s in the women’s 200-meter run, but was not able to secure a semifinal slot after finishing fifth in her heat.
In the men’s 10-meter air rifle event, 25-year old sharpshooter Jayson Valdez missed a slot to qualify in the finals after scoring 612.6 in 6 rounds of 10 shots that landed him at 44th.
Considering that 18 out of the 19 athletes had just made their first Olympic appearance, the future of Philippine sports in the succeeding Olympic Games is only likely to be brighter and stronger with their comeback.