Ten of the Best Filipino Athletes of the Decade

Jan 2, 2020

MAKE no mistake about it: the 2010s was a rousing decade for Philippine sports.

World champions and gold medalists came aplenty, which makes picking out the top performers of the decade harder than it already was.

Yet here at Spin.ph, we took that job head-on, screening and debating who we think are the top athletes among the bests the country had over the past decade.

Basketball and volleyball players were omitted from this list as obviously, they deserved their own.

Also, take note that this list covers the years from 2010 to 2019 only and the order does not necessarily imply their respective ranks. Our apologies to those who got left out.

Manny Pacquiao (boxing)

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Fighter of the Decade? Fighter of the Century?

Boxing pundits may still be undecided on what honor to bestow to Manny Pacquiao, but there's no doubt that the sport's only eight-division world champion deserves to head this honor roll.

It was in 2015 when the unthinkable finally happened, when Pacquiao finally faced off against Floyd Mayweather in what was aptly billed as the Fight of the Century.

Yet what made Pacquiao's run in the 2010s more impressive was him staying at the top of his game given him juggling his bevy of responsibilities that ranges from politics, showbiz, and a brief basketball career. Even when he's at 40 years of age, the fighting senator continues to show his dominance, as seen in his latest victory over Keith Thurman last July.

Hidilyn Diaz (weightlifting)

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The Philippines waited 20 long years for the Olympic medal drought to end and in 2016, Hidilyn Diaz literally carried the hopes of the nation and took home a silver in the -53 kg class from Rio.

It was a triumph that put the spotlight on the sport of weightlifting as the Zamboanguena rallied to garner the needed support to sustain her campaigns. Diaz reciprocated the support nu proving time and again that she is one of the world's top weightlifters.

She won the gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and finally got the monkey off of her back this year with a gold medal victory in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, the only honor that eluded her in a checkered career.

Ian Lariba (table tennis)

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It's a rarity for any athlete to go unbeaten in her collegiate career. Ian Lariba can say she's in that exclusive club.

The charming paddler from La Salle was unscathed in her five playing years in the UAAP and reaped accolades along the way, winning the MVP award thrice, a Rookie of the Year, on top of three table tennis titles as well as being hailed as the UAAP Athlete of the Year twice.

Her greatness, however, isn't limited to the walls of Taft as she linked up with Jamaica Sy to carry the Philippines to a first-place finish in the fourth division of the 2014 World Table Tennis Team Championships in Tokyo.

Lariba's success also earned her a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first Filipina Olympian in the sport of table tennis, where she also served as the country's flag bearer.

Unfortunately, Lariba lost her battle with acute myeloid leukemia in 2018. She was 23.

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Daniel Caluag (cycling)

Blitzing was Daniel Caluag in the 2010s as he repeatedly hoisted the country's flag in BMX cycling. The Fil-Am cyclist's breakthrough this decade came when he ruled the men's elite in the 2013 Asian BMX Cycling Championships in Singapore.

The best, it turned out, was yet to come as he captured the gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon - the lone gold the Philippines had in the continental conclave. With that triumph, he was named as the Philippine Sportswriters Association Athlete of the Year.

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Caluag, a veteran of the 2012 London Games, finished the decade with a flourish, taking home a bronze medal in the 2018 Asian Games and a silver in the 30th SEA Games.

Janelle Mae Frayna (chess)

Of course, the Philippines' first woman grandmaster deserves recognition.

Already a budding talent at a young age, Janelle Mae Frayna achieved her dream of reaching her final norm at the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2016.

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Frayna's success overseas shouldn't really come as a surprise given her track record locally. She was named the MVP twice for the Far Eastern University chess team, was hailed as the UAAP Athlete of the Year in 2015, and finally delivered the championship to Morayta in 2017.

Juvic Pagunsan (golf)

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There's probably no golfer who came close to the achievements Juvic Pagunsan had in this decade.

Roaming in the professional circuit, the Manila-born golfer was without a doubt one of the top performers in the 2010s.

Pagunsan won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2011 being that season's top earner, and has been a regular in both the Asian Tour and the Japan Golf Tour.

He ended the decade with four Philippine Golf Tour wins to his name, including a dominant eight-shot victory in the ICTSI Riviera Classic last August.

Carlo Biado (billiards)

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The search for the next face of Philippine billiards continues, but if the torch gets passed to Carlo Biado, the sport is surely in good hands.

The La Union-born cuemaster has been impressive in the 2010s, highlighted by his success in the 2017 WPA World 9-ball Championship where he edged compatriot Roland Garcia in the final. He was later named as one of the three PSA Athletes of the Year.

Biado is also a consistent performer whenever he represents the country in the multi-sport events, winning the men's 9-ball gold in the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland and a bronze medal in the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

He has two SEA Games gold medals, and capped the year off with a bronze medal in the 30th SEA Games as he and partner Johann Chua made the podium in the men's 9-ball doubles.

Donnie Nietes (boxing)

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Unbeaten was Donnie Nietes in the 19 fights he's had this decade as he went an impressive 17-0-2 record through the 2010s.

Through that stretch, "Ahas" became the longest-reigning Filipino boxing world champion as he held the WBO junior flyweight title and had an impressive nine title defenses from 2011 to 2016 before moving up to flyweight. He was also named as the PSA Athlete of the Year in 2015.

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Even after the move, Nietes remained as ferocious as ever, beating Mexican foe Edgar Sosa to claim the vacant WBO intercontinental flyweight belt in 2015.

He continued his ascent, facing off against kababayan Aston Palicte in only the third all-Filipino world title fight for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title back in September 2018. Although that match ended in a controversial draw, Nietes was able to cop the crown three months later, edging Japanese opponent Kazuto Ioka.

Phil Younghusband (football)

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Through ups and downs, Phil Younghusband was without question the face of Philippine football.

History maker from the get-go, the famed Fil-Briton striker was the one who scored the Azkals' game-sealing second goal in 2010's "Miracle in Hanoi" that basically kickstarted the sport's renaissance. He remained front and center the entire decade as the sport went through a roller-coaster ride.

Younghusband's 50th goal also booked the Philippines its first ticket to the Asian Cup, with his penalty kick in the 90th minute lifting the Azkals to a 2-1 win over Tajikistan.

He announced his retirement back in November, but by that time, he already cemented himself as the country's all-time goal scorer with 52 and the most capped player with 108 matches under his belt.

Caloy Yulo (gymnastics)

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How could we forget gymnastics' wonder boy? Although easily the youngest among this roster at 19, Caloy Yulo is also one of the most bemedalled.

The Leveriza-raised gymnast slowly made his upward trajectory in the 2010s, winning four gold medals in the 2011 Palarong Pambansa, proving himself worthy to hoist the country's flag in various international meets.

When he started competing as a senior in 2018, his potential was turned into reality, winning a bronze medal in the floor exercise of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships in Doha before taking home the gold a year later in Stuttgart, earning an Olympic berth for Tokyo 2020 in the process.

Yulo capped off the 2010s with two gold and five silver medals in the 30th SEA Games.

Honorable Mentions:

Eric Cray (athletics)

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The Fil-Am trackster won six SEA Games gold medals since he started competing for the country in 2013. On top of that, Eric Cray also took home the gold in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships and a bronze medal in the bronze in the 60-meter sprint in the 2016 Asian Indoor Atheltics Championships. He's also an Olympian, finishing seventh in the 400-meter hurdles in Rio 2016.

Michael Christian Martinez (figure skating)

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Michael Christian Martinez defied the odds and became the first Filipino to compete in the Winter Olympics back in Sochi 2014. He also bagged the 2015 Asian Figure Skating championship, on top of a silver medal in figure skating in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.

EJ Obiena (athletics)

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The Tondo-born pole vaulter's worth was already proven at the start of the decade, but his star rose in 2015 when he won a SEA Games silver medal in Singapore. Slow as his ascent may be, EJ Obiena eventually got to the top, winning the gold in the 2019 Asian Championships in Doha, clearing 5.71-meters before eventually earned an Olympic berth five months later. He capped the year off with his first SEA Games gold with 5.45-meters.

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