I have nothing but admiration and respect for our Filipino athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics. In my book, they are the epitome of hard work and perseverance. As we go to press, we have already won our first gold medal courtesy of the mighty Hidilyn Diaz, and boxers Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial and Carlo Paalam have already assured our country of its best-ever finish in the quadrennial event. But the entire Philippine delegation of athletes should be commended for their sipag, tapang at tiyaga.
These Filipino athletes endured hardships and daunting challenges but persevered. They faced the usual difficulties faced by Filipino athletes preparing for international competition: Lack of resources, insufficient equipment and facilities and inadequate support. And they had to face an additional challenge — a pandemic that limited mobility and placed additional mental and psychological pressures on our athletes.
But despite these obstacles, a total of 19 Filipino (10 of them women!) athletes went to Tokyo amidst a global pandemic with one goal in mind: bring pride to the Filipino nation. And all of them have done us proud. Weightlifters Elreen Ando and Hidilyn Diaz; golfers Juvic Pagunsan, Bianca Pagdanganan, and Yuka Saso; boxers Eumir Marcial, Carlo Paalam, Nesthy Petecio, and Irish Magno; pole vaulter EJ Obiena; rower Cris Nievarez; gymnast Carlos Yulo; taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa; skateboarder Margielyn Didal; rifle shooter Jayson Valdez; sprinter Kristina Knott; judoka Kiyomi Watanabe; and swimmers Remedy Rule and Luke Gebbie deserve all the accolades of a grateful nation.
The late South African hero Nelson Mandela said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” That is true. Watching Hidilyn lift that barbell with weight plates and celebrate after realizing her victory gave me a powerful feeling about being a Filipino. And I am sure everyone who watched her felt the same way. We were all watching her as proud Filipinos when that Philippine flag was hoisted and the national anthem was played before the entire world.
Sports also have the power to change the lives of athletes. For many of our Olympians, sports is a way out of poverty. Poor Filipinos go to boxing, athletics, weightlifting, and other competition in order to have the opportunity to achieve not personal fame but a way to lift their family out of poverty. The image of young, impoverished boxers training very hard in poorly-lit, poorly ventilated, old gyms comes to mind. It is a difficult road. Some succeed and achieve both fame and money but unfortunately for many athletes remain in poverty.
Let us hope that the glory achieved by our Tokyo Olympians will not just produce short-term euphoria but long-term efforts to improve the conditions of our athletes. Let us focus our resources on providing them with support in terms of improving their conditions, providing them with good facilities and coaches, and giving them a decent life so they can have much better chances of bringing glory to the country.
These Filipino athletes do not only provide gold and glory they also give our youth inspiration to do better in life. It is impossible not to be impressed by the hard work and persistence of these athletes. Hidilyn, for instance, endured hardships before she struck gold. While she attended school, she had to sell vegetables and fish in the market in order to support her parents. She said sometimes they would have meals consisting of rice with salt or soy sauce as ulam. This reminded me of the time when our family would have steamed rice, Purico (a popular brand of lard), and salt for lunch. Baka hindi maka-relate ang iba but this is a staple for many poor families. Delicious but probably bad for you, health-wise. Hidilyn also went to four Olympics before attaining the pinnacle of success in the sporting world — an Olympic gold. Now that’s persistence.
Let us celebrate our athletes not just for their physical prowess but also the hard work, the persistence and the courage to fight on despite the odds. These are exactly the role models we need for young people. Success achieved through sipag at tiyaga.