Connect with us

Special Feature

Solid 19 beats Covid-19



Carlos Yulo

One gold, two silvers and one bronze.

The Philippines celebrated its finest showing in the Olympics since taking three bronze medals in the 1932 Los Angeles Games.

The Olympic success came at a time when the nation was fighting an invisible enemy — the coronavirus — that effectively shut down most, if not all, sports facilities at home for close to two years now.

Cris Nievarez

Many of the 19 athletes sent by the country trained abroad, but a few had to work their way around the quarantine restrictions at home.

Rower Cris Nievarez was among them. He spent hours at the La Mesa Dam perfecting his technique and became the first-ever Filipino to advance in the quarterfinals of the men’s single sculls. He eventually finished 23rd in a field of 32.

Nievarez was the first Filipino to see action in Tokyo and his performance set the tone for an incredible two weeks for the small team that emerged as the best performing Southeast Asian nation.

Hidilyn Diaz

Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz ended a 97-year drought when she captured the gold medal in the women’s 55-kilogram division, breaking two Olympic records in the process.

The pandemic stranded Diaz and her team in Malaysia for over a year and a half, training in a makeshift gym outside Kuala Lumpur.

It was a blessing in disguise because her training proceeded without interruption.

                                               Margielyn Didal

This can’t be said of the national boxers, who except for middleweight Eumir Marcial, were at home when the country was placed under strict quarantine to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Four boxers qualified for the Olympics, three of them came bagging medals, but none of them gold.

Still, it was boxing’s finest moment in Olympic history notwithstanding the pandemic that affected the boxers’ preparations.

EJ Obiena

Save for Marcial who had a stint at Freddie Roach’s famous Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, the boxers resumed full-time training only last March in Thailand.

Marcial went on to take the bronze medal while featherweight Nesthy Petecio and flyweight Carlo Paalam went all the way to the finals before settling for the silvers.

Flyweight Irish Magno was the only boxer who did not advance to the medal round after bowing out in the Round of 16.

Gymnast Carlos Yulo and pole vaulter EJ Obiena, two of the country’s best gold medal prospects, came home empty-handed, but went out fighting to the end.

Nesthy Petecio

Yulo was eliminated in floor exercise where he’s the reigning world champion, but advanced to the men’s vault final where he barely missed the podium in fourth place.

Obiena, on the other hand, made it into the final where he placed 11th.

Yulo and Obiena are still in their 20s and are groomed for another crack at the gold medals in the 2024 Paris Games.

Yuka Saso

The Olympics ended quickly for four athletes.

Sprinter Kristina Knott finished last in her heat in the women’s 200-meter dash and was promptly eliminated.

Shooter Jayson Valdez failed to advance in the men’s 10m air rifle final, finishing 44th among 47 competitors.

Judoka Kiyomi Watanabe lost her balance while on the attack and was booted out of the competition by Cristina Cabana of Spain in the women’s half-middleweight category.

Bianca Pagdanganan

Taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa lost to world champion Jang Jun in his first bout and failed to fight in the repechage when the top-ranked Korean was eliminated in the semifinals.

In defeat, skateboarder Margielyn Didal left her mark for her courage and sportsmanship. She made the final of the women’s street event where she placed seventh. She later disclosed that she competed with an ankle injury during training.

Weightlifter Elreen Ando, a surprise addition to the team, made a good account of herself, breaking her three national records in finishing seventh in the women’s 64 kg division.

Swimmers Luke Gebbie and Remedy Rule got to swim in two events each with Rule advancing in the semifinals of the women’s 200-meter butterfly.

Eumir Marcial

Gebbie did not advance but consoled himself with a new Philippine record in the men’s 100-meter freestyle.

The Philippines did not come close to winning a medal in golf, but reigning US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso showed her quality by finishing strong and sharing ninth place despite a poor opening round.

Bianca Pagdanganan started her campaign with back-to-back birdies in the first round, but eventually finished in joint 43rd.

Juvic Pagunsan raised the country’s hopes with a brilliant five-under par 66 start in men’s golf, but could not sustain it and placed 55th.

To put it in proper perspective, the four medals won in Tokyo have matched the country’s output in the last eight Olympics.

All in all, the Tokyo Olympians account for four of the 14 medals won by the country since it first took part in 1924.

For a fleeting moment, the Olympics provided soothing relief for a nation battered by Covid-19.

The victories sparked a fever back home as individuals and firms lined up to shower the athletes with rewards, cash or kind.

Unlike Covid-19, this is a kind of fever that needs no vaccines.

After all, the Olympians, who now can be collectively known as Solid 19, provided something better than vaccines: Hope and inspiration.