How often does a Filipino become a world champ? So rare, really

Oct 18, 2019

IF you're a sports fan, you'd totally understand the headline-grabbing euphoria that made for one memorable Sunday after not just one but two Filipino athletes became a world champion one after the other in a span of 24 hours.

The joy over Caloy Yulo's gold medal in his pet floor exercise event at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Stuttgart, Germany had barely died down when news of Nesthy Petecio's win over home bet Liudmila Vorontsove in the featherweight finals at the Aiba Women's Boxing World Campionship in Ulan-Ude, Russia came in.

That's two world champions produced in one day - definitely unprecedented in a nation where such achievements are few and far between.

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To give you a better perspective on the enormity of the occasion, before Yulo and Petecio's golden feats, there were only four reigning Filipino world champions, and not surprisingly all are male boxers, namely Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Jr., Jerwin Ancajas, and the newly crowned Pedro Taduran.

The diminutive Yulo, 19, is the first ever Filipino to become a world gymnastics champion. He is also one of the few to achieve that feat in an Olympic sport, which augurs well the country's bid to end a gold-medal drought at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

As for Petecio, she is only the second Filipino boxer to become a world champion, her victory coming seven years after Josie Gabuco's gold medal at the 2012 championship in China. No Filipino boxer has won a gold medal at the world champions, with Roel Velasco (1997), Harry Tanamor (2007) and Eumir Marcial just last September coming the closest with runner-up finishes.

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    Making Yulo's feat extra special was that it was achieved in a sport outside boxing, bowling, and billiards - the three disciplines that have supplied the Philippines with the most number of victories at the world level.

    Boxing, of course, has provided Filipinos with the most glorious moments in sports and produced a long line of heroes, from Pancho Villa to Olympic silver medalist Anthony Villanueva to the great Gabriel 'Flash' Elorde down to eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao.

    Efren 'Bata' Reyes' landmark win at the 1999 World 9-Ball Championship in Cardiff, Wales cast the spotlight on billards and paved the way for other cue artists to follow suit, namely Ronnie Alcano (2006), Rubilen Amit (2009), Francisco 'Django' Bustamente (2010), and the latest Carlo Biado in 2017.

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    Four-time World Cup champion Rafael 'Paeng' Nepomuceno, on the other hand, is the single biggest Filipino star in bowling, which has also produced world champions in the late Lita dela Rosa, Bong Coo, CJ Suarez, Biboy Rivera, and Krizzia Tabora.

    However, victories outside these three sports are rare.

    Before Yulo, the last Philippine athlete to win a world championship was Meggie Ochoa at the 2018 Jujitsu World Championships in Malmo, Sweden. There was the 2018 victory of Arnel Mandal at the Wushu World Cup in China as well as the triumph of the trio of Rani Ann Ortega, Camille Alarilla, Janice Lagman at the 2009 World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships in Egypt.

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    Interestingly, all those victories all came in non-Olympic sports (taekwondo is an Olympic sport but poomsae is not included in the calendar of events). Golfers Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin won the 2008 Women's World Cup of Golf, but back then golf, too, still wasn't an Olympic sport.

    Yulo's victory certainly augurs well for the country's gold-medal bid at the 2020 Olympics. So let's keep our fingers crossed.

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