CEBU CITY, Philippines—From the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal to an end of a boxing icon’s legendary career, the country’s sports scene in 2021 was like a roller coaster ride.
And all of these happened still amid the pandemic that seems to have eased up, giving hope to a lot of athletes.
No other Filipino athlete made more noise than weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.
Diaz was the centerpiece of the Philippines’ sports scene in 2021 following her historic Tokyo Olympics gold medal.
The 30-year-old Zamboangeña ruled the -55 kilogram contest in dramatic fashion on July 26, 2021, pulling off one of the most memorable moments in Philippine sports history.
Diaz’s gold was the Philippines’ first since it joined the quadrennial sports spectacle in 1924.
Her victory brought optimism and joy to the Filipino nation that continued to struggle with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aside from Diaz, three other Filipino athletes in Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial, brought honor to the country by also bagging medals in the boxing event of the Olympics, making it the country’s most productive stint in the prestigious sporting event.
Petecio, a 29-year old Davao del Sur native, earned a silver medal in the women’s featherweight division. Paalam, 23, of Bukidnon bagged a silver in the men’s flyweight division. Marcial settled for a bronze in the men’s middleweight division.
A total of 19 Filipino athletes vied in the Olympics. The Philippines ended up with one gold medal, two silver medals, and one bronze.
The Tokyo Olympics also paved the way for several Filipino athletes to showcase their huge potential in their respective sports.
Pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo had promising performances despite falling short in their competitions. Obiena finished 11th in the men’s pole vault event, while Yulo settled for fourth place in the men’s artistic gymnastics.
Two Cebuanas, Margielyn Didal (skateboarding) and Elreen Ann Ando (weightlifting) also competed and placed seventh in their respective events.
Roughly a month after the Olympics spectacle, boxing’s only eight-division world champion, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, announced his retirement, ending nearly 30 colorful years in the sport.
The 43-year-old fighting senator lost to the younger and taller Yordenis Ugas of Cuba in their WBA world welterweight title showdown on August 21 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the United States.
Pacquiao left the boxing world with 62 wins (39 knockouts), eight losses, and two draws.
Two months after retiring, Pacquiao shocked the nation by announcing his bid for the presidency, pairing up with former Manila mayor Lito Atienza as his running mate.
Southeast Asian Games moved
Due to the sudden uptrend of COVID-19’s Delta variant in the middle of the year, organizers of the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in Hanoi, Vietnam were forced to reschedule the biennial meet to May 2022.
The meet was supposedly scheduled to kick off in November and would have last until the first week of December.
The Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) was supposedly sending 626 athletes vying in 39 sports events.
One of the most motivating sports stories in 2021 is Nonito “Filipino Flash” Donaire Jr’s resurgence in boxing.
After losing to unbeaten WBA super world bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue in 2019, the 39-year-old Donaire Jr. wrested the WBC world bantamweight title in May, knocking out the younger defending champion Nordine Oubaali of France at the Dignity Health and Sports Park in Carson City, California.
His fourth-round KO win against Oubaali stirred the stacked bantamweight division.
Donaire and the flamboyant WBO world bantamweight champion Johnriel “Quadro Alas” Casimero agreed to a unification title showdown last August but was scrapped due to several issues.
Donaire Jr. ultimately decided to scrap the all-Filipino duel due to Casimero’s disrespectful comment on his family.
Casimero allegedly wasn’t also transparent to his anti-doping documents.
In the end, Donaire forged an all-Filipino world title showdown, but with a different opponent.
He faced the WBC interim bantamweight champion Reymart Gaballo and won via a fourth-round knockout last December 12 at the same venue where he won the world title.
Currently, Donaire plans to have a unification showdown with Inoue or Casimero in 2022.
Obiena vs. PATAFA
Another issue that stirred the sporting scene in the country was the rift between Obiena and the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).
The Patafa accused the 26-year-old Obiena of mishandling his training funds. Obiena strongly denied the accusations.
Due to the sensitivity of the issue, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC), International Olympic Committee (IOC), Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), and even the congress stepped in to mediate both camps.
The PBA, MPBL, and the startup, Pilipinas VisMin Super made the spotlight for the wrong reasons after numerous players and teams were involved in different controversies.
In the PBA, San Miguel Beer 3×3 player Daniel de Guzman was accused of duping his friends with a wrong ‘tip’ in one of the team’s games.
De Guzman strongly denied the allegations that was investigated by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB).
On the other hand, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found probable cause in charging 17 individuals last April for being involved in a game-fixing scheme in the 2019 Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Lakan Cup.
Also, GAB revoked professional licenses of the entire Siquijor Mystics team for an alleged game-fixing scandal that happened in April during the inaugural season of the Pilipinas VisMin Super Cup Visayas leg in Alcantara town, southern Cebu.
Aside from Siquijor, nine ARQ Builders Lapu-Lapu City Heroes members were slapped with suspensions and fines for allegedly being involved in the controversy.
Chess goes virtual
One of the most innovative developments in the Philippine sports scene this year was the emergence of online chess.
It paved the way for the Professional Chess Association of the Philippines (PCAP) to hold three successful conferences amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Around 30 teams from in and out of the Philippines took part in the largest online chess tournament in the country.
The Laguna Heroes won the inaugural conference title. The Iloilo Kisela Knights topped the Wesley-So-sponsored second conference, while the San Juan Predators ruled the recently concluded third conference.
Filipino boxing promoters also deserve recognition for their efforts in reviving the sport amid the pandemic.
Leading the revival of local boxing is Cebu-based Omega Pro Sports International (OPSI) that ushered the Philippines’ pro boxing restart after having its first bubble setup fight card since October 2020.
OPSI had seven fight cards held in a bubble setup since October 2020.
Also, ARQ Sports diverted its attention from basketball to boxing.
ARQ Sports, headed by its owner, Jason Arquisola, and sports director Chelito Caro, successfully staged three bubble-setup fight cards in their “Engwkentro” boxing series in Cebu.
ARQ Sports produced two regional champions in OPBF youth flyweight champion Johnpaul Gabunilas and OPBF silver flyweight champion April Jay Abne.