Pacman, Hidilyn, Gilas, Azkals highlight a golden age for PH sports

Dec 22, 2019

WHEN historians look back on this decade about to pass, they'll find plenty of milestones that changed the course of Philippine sports.

From Manny Pacquiao's record-setting fight against Floyd Mayweather to Gilas Pilipinas' return to prominence in Asia, from the Azkals phenomenon to Team Philippines' climb to the overall championship in the Southeast Asian Games, the decade was filled with momentous events that defined a golden age for sports.

SPIN.ph was there to chronicle the Filipino athlete every step of the way. Join us as we look back on the good times and bad.

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Hidilyn Diaz ends Olympic medal drought

Until this iron-willed lady came along, the Philippines had not won an Olympic medal of any color for two decades, or not since Onyok Velasco's silver in boxing at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Hidilyn changed that with a silver medal in the 53-kilogram weight class in weightlifting in the 2016 Rio Olympics - the Philippines' first in a sport outside of boxing since 1936. At the turn of the decade, the Zamboanga native is far from done at 28, winning gold medals in the Asiad and SEA Games to become the Philippines' best hope for a first-ever Olympic gold medal in 2020 in Tokyo.

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Historic Pacquiao-Mayweather fight

By the turn of the decade, Manny Pacquiao had already established himself as one of the best boxers of all time - and the greatest Filipino athlete ever. But the 2010s saw the Filipino icon transcend sport via career in politics and figure in a historic match against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. The so-called 'Fight of the Century' never lived up to the hype as Mayweather hacked out a boring win, but it set all-time records in terms of pay-per-view buys and purses for both fighters. At 41, Pacman keeps on punching as he writes the final chapters of a Hall of Fame career.

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Gilas Pilipinas' return to prominence

After the dark days of the Basketball Association of the Philippines (BAP) and the hit-and-miss first years of the Gilas program, the national team finally returned to prominence in Asia with a runner-up finish behind Iran in the 2013 Fiba Asia Championship on home soil. The epic semifinal win over longtime nemesis Korea booked Gilas its first trip to the Fiba World Cup in 35 years and announced that the Philippines is once again a force to be reckoned with in Asia and the world.

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Emergence of June Mar Fajardo

As soon as Cebu's worst-kept secret landed in Manila, there was no question that the PBA will never be the same again. For the pro league, storied as it is, had never seen a Filipino player so big yet so nimble and so skilled as June Mar Fajardo. A freak of nature, in a good way. The 6-10 San Miguel big man not only lived up to expectations, he surpassed them. Fajardo has now won eight PBA championships and a record five MVP awards, going six. And the best part? He remains the most humble PBA player ever.

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Volleyball's renaissance

For so long in the doldrums, volleyball experienced a wonderful reawakening in the 2010s, the resurgence painstakingly nurtured by the old Shakey's V-League before experiencing a boom in the early days of the La Salle-Ateneo rivalry in the Fab Five era. The sport has since enjoyed never-before-seen growth and following behind a crop of players led by the charismatic Alyssa Valdez. But as the decade comes to a close, the sport faces challenges. Beneath that unprecedented popularity is a toxic feud among rabid fans fed by discord between rival leagues, as well as a struggle to stay relevant, no thanks to the national team's failure to make an impact overseas. Fortunately, the fast-rising men's game faces no such crisis after a team led by Bryan Bagunas and Marck Espejo ended a medal drought at the Southeast Asian Games.

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PBA's team of the decade

When you mix the PBA's most successful coach with one of its most fabled teams starring the league's most clutch player, something special was bound to happen. That came true when Purefoods managed to lure Tim Cone out of Alaska in one of the biggest coaching coups in local basketball. Cone wasted no time weaving his magic, leading a San Mig side led by James Yap, Marc Pingris and PJ Simon to one of the most dominant runs the league had seen - four successive championships crowned by only the fifth grand slam season in PBA history. Team of the decade? You bet.

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Brawl leaves PH basketball with a black eye

Brawls are common in a contact sport like basketball, but the July 2, 2018 melee between the national teams of Australia and the Philippines had far more serious repercussions. Players from both sides, but mainly from the Gilas ranks, were suspended by Fiba which also fined the Philippines and put the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) on probation. The fallout forced the SBP to reboot the Gilas program beginning with the departure of head coach Chot Reyes. Gilas is now slowly getting back on its feet, but challenges remain as the co-hosting of the 2023 Fiba World Cup loom in the horizon.


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Azkals phenomenon

By the nineties, Philippine football was no more than an afterthought. The national team had fallen to No. 195 in the world, and there was not much activity locally except for the occasional football camps. But then a local entrepeneur, Dan Palami, brought together a band of Fil-foreign players and a vintage Barotac Nuevo hero named Chieffy Caligdong. Together they pulled off a singular victory in the 2010 AFF Championship against Vietnam that is now remembered in history as the 'Miracle of Hanoi.' That sparked a revival that brought football back to the front pages and turned Phil Younghusband and Co. into rock stars. More successes followed, but for some reason the sport is struggling to sustain its gains and regain the momentum, as the decade comes to a close.

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Team Philippines reclaims lost glory

Philippine sports, mired in politics, corruption, and mediocrity for decades, found something to celebrate for a change in 10 memorable days that saw the Southeast Asian Games host win an unprecedented 149 gold medals and claim the overall championship for the first time in 14 years. Aside from the golden feats, there were momentous occasions to celebrate - from the men's volleyball team's breakthrough medal to surfer Roger Casugay's show of sportsmanship, all proof that there's hope for Philippine sports.


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High five for Blue Eagles

College basketball enjoyed more than its share of highlights during the decade, from San Beda's sheer dominance in the NCAA to Letran's two Cinderella runs to the reinvigorated La Salle-Ateneo rivalry. The high point, no doubt, was Ateneo's run of five straight UAAP championships until 2012, which was next only to the seven straight titles won by the University of the East under the great Baby Dalupan in the sixties to early seventies. Coached by Norman Black and led by a revolving cast of characters led by Nico Salva and Greg Slaughter and Kiefer Ravena, the Blue Eagles distinguished themselves as the team to the decade. As the 2010s draw to a close, Ateneo is on another impressive run under Tab Baldwin - a three-peat crowned by a perfect 2019 season. Will these Eagles surpass their predecessors? Well, only time can tell.

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