Three golds–from women
Out of the 272 athletes representing 31 sports the country has fielded in the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia, three women so far have brought the ultimate honor to the country by winning gold in their events.
Hidilyn Diaz, who won silver for weightlifting in the 2016 Rio Olympics, burnished her record with a golden performance last Aug. 21. Breaking down in tears while the national anthem played during the medal rights, Hidilyn would later confess that she found “strength” from the bright red lipstick she had layered on her lips, seeking a morale boost and perhaps a lot of confidence that she would prevail. And prevail she did.
Then, on Sunday, Hidilyn was joined in the gold medal roster by Yuka Saso who won gold in individual golf, and by Bianca Pagdanganan who bagged bronze. Their teammate Lois Kaye Go joined them when the women’s golf team won top honors for the women’s team.
Three golds, and all won by young women whose participation in the Asian Games had been overlooked—or perhaps ignored—by the Filipino public following the Asiad, and media covering the competition.
The biggest news of the Asian Games had been focused on the fate of the men’s basketball team. In the wake of the debacle following the Philippine loss in a game versus Australia in the Fiba Cup, marked by a scandalous brawl that resulted in a rather lengthy suspension for members of Gilas Pilipinas, there had even been doubts that a basketball team would be fielded at all.
Eventually, the national basketball body decided it could not sit out the Asian Games, after all. Then there was the initial refusal of the US National Basketball Association to allow Jordan Clarkson, who is half-Filipino, to play for the national team in the
Asiad. But though Clarkson was eventually able to prove his mettle, the Philippine team still failed to make it to medal contention after its loss to South Korea.
Fortunately, there are still Hidilyn, Yuka, Bianca and Lois Kaye to hold up the nation’s flag for us. As well as all the
other athletes who, by dint of physical struggle and heroic effort, were able to win medals for the country.
Sports columnist Sev Sarmenta has even pleaded with the Filipino public to pay attention—and therefore for politicians and sports officials to allot the necessary funds and provide support—to “other” sports other than basketball, the national obsession, and currently popular sports like volleyball and boxing.
“There is a need to rethink the potential, training and exposure of many more athletes in disciplines outside of the popular ones,” wrote Sarmenta. “There’s more than a fistful of medals to be won in multisports events.”
The observation is decades-old. Basketball, for which Filipinos, with our small stature, are spectacularly unfit for, gets the lion’s share of public and private support and the adulation of the populace. The “other sports” are considered also-rans, begging for attention if not funding support, which makes the athletes who persist in their endeavors doubly heroic and worthy of emulation.
To illustrate, reporter Musong Castillo remembers encountering the Canadian coach of the women’s golf team, Rick Gibson, in the economy section of the plane bringing the Filipino athletes to Jakarta. Unlike the basketball players and other star athletes who turned a lot of heads, Gibson was treated like an ordinary member of the Philippine delegation.
Interviewed by Castillo on his team’s chances, Gibson was initially surprised that someone from the media was bothering to interview him. But he was adamant in stressing that he believed the team of young women golfers “had a chance” to make a big difference in this year’s edition of the Asiad.
What a big difference they indeed made! And together with Hidilyn, the women athletes have shown that, even if they are sidelined and ignored by a basketball-obsessed nation, by dint of their individual will and abilities, they are still able to prove themselves worthy of honor and acclaim.
They make all of us proud!
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