THREE world champions and a varsity team that has put together one of the most dominant runs in college basketball history, have been chosen co-winners of the Athlete of the Year award by the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA).
Reigning world super-bantamweight king Nonito Donaire Jr., Big League Softball World Series winner Team Manila, Aiba World Women’s Boxing Championship gold medal winner Josie Gabuco, and reigning five-time UAAP men’s basketball title holders Ateneo Blue Eagles share the highest honor bestowed by the country’s oldest media organization for the remarkable feats that made 2012 a truly memorable one.
They now share the limelight when last year’s top achievers are recognized during the PSA Annual Awards Night presented by Milo set on March 16 at the Manila Hotel.
The sheer impact of their success and the way they dominated their respective fields made all four worthy of the award, according to PSA president Rey Bancod of Tempo.
Gabuco is a first-time recipient of the accolade, and so are the Manila softbelles and the amazing Blue Eagles, both of whom also became the first group to be given such honor since the Philippine contingent that reigned as Southeast Asian Games overall champion in 2005.
For Donaire, it’s his third Athlete of the Year trophy and second straight since sharing the award with billiards ace Dennis Orcollo in last year’s staging of the event also supported by Senator Chiz Escudero.
The `Filipino Flash’ became just the seventh three-time winner of the award since the PSA began keeping its records in 1981, joining an illustrious list that include Lydia De Vega, Bong Coo, Paeng Nepomuceno, Luisito Espinosa, Efren `Bata’ Reyes, and the great Manny Pacquiao.
The man truly deserved it.
Donaire had been named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) for his exemplary performance that saw him win a third world title in the year just past, and successfully defending it thrice – the last one against all-action Mexican Jorge Arce - in a busy reign as World Boxing Organization (WBO) 122-lb. champion.
The 25-year-old Gabuco became the first Filipina boxer to win a gold medal in the World Women’s Boxing Championship as she bucked a partisan crowd to eke out a close 8-7 win over local hero and world No. 8 Xu Shiqi in the light-flyweight finals at the Olympic Sports Center in Qinhuangdao, China.
On her way to the finals, the two-time SEA Games gold medalist beat three of the top six boxers in the world as per the Aiba rankings of 2013. In the semis, Gabuco defeated current world No. 1 Gnevanova Svetlana of Russia, 12-7, while in the quarterfinals, the world No. 2 outclassed third-ranked Kim Clavel of Canada, 21-15.
Lack of funds almost cost Team Manila to skip the World Series, the very same tournament where it thrice finished runner-up in the past. The cash-strapped team reached Kalamazoo, Michigan in batches, causing it to lose its first two games of the tournament.
But then came the dramatic turnaround that saw the Manila softbelles – with all of the players finally accounted for – sweep their next seven games, including a 14-2 trouncing of California in the title-clinching match to complete one of the most inspiring stories in Philippine sports.
The Blue Eagles meanwhile, were simply a class above the rest in Season 75 of the UAAP.
With coach Norman Black steering the ship for one final time, Ateneo lost just twice in 17 games last season in its drive for a rare fifth straight seniors cage title.
The Blue Eagles capped their amazing season by beating bitter rivals De La Salle Archers in the Final Four and then swept the University of Santo Tomas Tigers in a highly-emotional best-of-three Finals to carve their niche in local collegiate basketball history.
By bringing the championship back to Katipunan for a fifth consecutive time, the Eagles became the second longest reigning champions in UAAP annals after University of the East Warriors ran away with seven straight titles from 1966 to 1972.