Filipino Triumph at the Tokyo Olympics

By Hanna Fernan ’24 for Fall 2021

The Tokyo 2021 Olympics was a long awaited event for many people around the world. When it finally occurred, I was so excited to see it, given all of the delays due to the pandemic. I was eager to watch categories like Gymnastics, Track & Field, the new Skateboarding event, but as a Filipino, I was especially looking forward to seeing how the Philippines would perform. Given Hidilyn Diaz’s silver medal ending the twenty-year medal drought for the Philippines in Rio 2016, I was on edge to see how she and the Philippines would do, and it turned out Tokyo was unlike any year before.

At Tokyo, 19 athletes represented the Philippines, where they competed in 11 different sports, which were more compared to prior years. From these, the team won 4 medals—the best performance of the country since their 3 medal run in the 1932 LA Olympics (Clarito). With this medal tally, the Philippines became the top performing Southeast Asian Country in the Tokyo Olympics, with Indonesia, Thailand, an Malaysia right behind respectively (Dioquino). 3 of these medals came from boxing, with Carlo Paalam winning the silver medal for the men’s flyweight event, Eumir Marcial winning the bronze medal for the men’s middleweight event, and Nesthy Petecio winning the silver medal for the women’s featherweight (Go). Petecio’s silver is also historic, as she is the first Filipina boxer to win a medal. The most significant moment from the Philippines’ success in Tokyo, though, wasn’t boxing related, as weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines’ first ever gold medal.

I remember the excitement surrounding Hidilyn Diaz’s silver medal in Rio in 2016, as she “ended the twenty-year medal drought [in addition to being] the first female athlete to step onto an Olympic podium for the country” (Villeza). Watching her win the Philippines’ first gold medal meant a lot to me and my loved ones. More specifically, hearing “Lupang Hinirang,” the Philippines’ national anthem, for the first time at the Olympics made me ever so proud to be Filipino—a sentiment shared by my relatives and Pinoy friends. The discussion and excitement all over social media platforms signified how historic this moment was, making me grateful to witness a shining point in time for all Filipino athletes and all Filipinos in general.

Besides these medalists, it was great to see Filipinos in new and different sports events. 22-year-old Margielyn Didal represented the Philippines in the debut skateboarding event, and despite not medaling, it was still inspiring to see her compete and happily support her fellow skateboarders. In gymnastics, Carlos Yulo excelled with his vault routine, despite narrowly missing a podium finish by 0.017 points. In golf, Yuka Saso also excelled and recovered to get a 9th ranking in the final round of women’s golf (Go).

Outside of the Philippines Olympics team, other Filipino athletes had succeeded in medaling. Lee Kiefer, a Filipino-American, won a gold medal for the USA in individual foil for fencing, becoming the first American ever to win the gold for this category. Additionally, Justine Wong-Orantes, a Filipino-Chinese American volleyball libero, won gold as part of being on the winning USA women’s volleyball team. There was also success for Filipinos outside the USA, like Canadian Filipino swimmer Kayla Sanchez, who won a silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay and a bronze in the 4x100m medley relay for the Canada Olympic team (“Canadian Filipinos…”).

Overall, the Tokyo Olympics was a remarkable moment for Filipino athletes of all backgrounds. The Philippines has had great success in the Asian Games and Southeast Asian (SEA) Games (Clarito) making their performance at Tokyo another build onto their momentum. With the next Asian Games, SEA Games, and Olympics, we should definitely look out for the ongoing success of Filipino athletes, as they continue to inspire other Filipinos and Southeast Asians all over the world.

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