SO who wants to dwell on the bad things?
As the New Year dawns on us, wouldn’t it be better to remember the ups rather than the downs of Philippine sports - moments that warm the hearts, bring joy, and leave a positive feeling.
And there were quite a number of them. Here now is SPIN.ph’s list (not necessarily in order) of feel-good moments in Philippine sports in the year about to pass.
1. Women power in Asian Games - Winning four golds in the Asiad was quite an achievement, what more with four young ladies pulling off the feat. That’s exactly what happened to the country’s 2018 Asiad campaign in Indonesia as weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, golfers Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go, along with skateboarder Margielyn Didal made Filipinos proud by delivering a total of four gold medals that enabled the country to finish inside the Top 20. The last time the country won as many gold was in the 1986 edition of the quadrennial meet in Seoul, South Korea, but this marked the first time in history an all-women quartet climbed the top of the podium.
2. Pacquiao resurrects boxing career – The greatest Filipino athlete ever once again defied the odds with his triumphant return to the ring. Five months short of 40, Manny Pacquiao found a way to become world champion anew following his seventh-round stoppage of Argentinian Lucas Matthysse to win the World Boxing Association (WBA) welterweight championship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Many already labelled the eight-time world division champion and Filipino senator a has-been following his unanimous decision loss toJeff Horn in 2017 to yield his World Boxing Organization (WBO) version of the 147-lb belt. And following a falling-out with longtime trainer Freddie Roach, not a few people predicted the end of the road was in the horizon for the ‘Pacman.’ But as he did in the past, the legendary Filipino rose to the challenge and beat the crap out of the hard-punching, fearsome Matthysse.
3. NU Lady Bulldogs make history – In another inspiring triumph of women, the National University Lady Bulldogs rewrote history by extending their unbeaten run in the UAAP. Led by Finals MVP and national player Jack Animam and coached by Pat Aquino, the team completed an 80-game winning romp on the way to claiming its fifth straight championship. The season marked the fifth straight year the Lady Bulldogs had gone undefeated and at the same time, broke the longest winning streak of any sport in UAAP history previously held by the Adamson women’s softball team at 73.
4. Breakthrough gold medals in Asian Para Games – The country’s para athletes finally made their mark in the Asian Para Games, bagging not just one but a total of 10 golds in Jakarta. The chess team bannered by Sander Severino accounted for half of the total, while Ernie Gawilan hauled in three from swimming. The two others were courtesy of bowler Kim Ian Chi and Arthus Bucay of cycling. The rest of the gold winners were chess players Jasper Rom, Henry Roger Lopez, Menandro Redor, Arman Subaste, and Israel Peligro. The country placed 11th out of 33 participants for its best finish ever in the meet.
5. University of the Philippines returns to UAAP Finals after 32 years – The Fighting Maroons may not have made it all the way to the championship of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament, but theirs was a story of triumph. Rejuvenated by the acquisition of league MVP and bruising Nigerian big man Bright Akhuetie, the team put long years of anguish behind it when the Maroons barged into the Final Four for the first time in more than two decades. But the Maroons weren’t satisfied. The fourth-seeded school overcame twice-to-beat disadvantage in the Final Four by stunning No. 2 Adamson Falcons to finally make it back to the finals 32 years since winning its first and only league title in the post-war era. They were waylaid in two games by the experienced defending champions Ateneo Blue Eagles in the finals, but the season was certainly one hell of a ride for coach Bo Perasol and his boys.
6. PBA Board acting as one to support Team Pilipinas – Embroiled in a power play just a year ago, the PBA board got its act together to pitch in for Team Pilipinas’ campaign in the Asian Games and the FIBA World Cup qualifier. In the aftermath of the brawl and suspension that marred the July 2 game between the Philippines and Australia at the Philippine Arena, the league board members sat down, put their differences behind them, and finally agreed to unconditionally release the players needed by new national team coach Yeng Guiao. The corresponding results were not exactly what were expected, but at least hopes are high the country’s best players would be available for future endeavours by the national team.
7. First all-Filipino boxing world title bout in almost a century – It didn't turn out to be a classic, but it sure was one proud moment for Philippine boxing as reigning champion Jerwin Ancajas and challenger Jonas Sultan fought for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super-flyweight championship in Fresno, California. A crowd of more than 3,000 were on hand at the Save Mart Center on the night of May 26 to witness two Filipinos battle each other with a world title at stake. It was the first time in 92 years a fight of this magnitude happened, or since Pancho Villa won a 15-round unanimous decision against compatriot Clever Sencio on May 2, 1925 to retain the world flyweight crown. Ancajas also won via the same result to retain his 115-lb title.
8. Philippine Azkals book first-ever Asian Cup berth – They may no longer command the same popularity, but the Azkals made history after landing a berth in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Before a raucous crowd at the historic Rizal Memorial football stadium, the host defeated Taijikistan, 2-1, to qualify for the continental showcase for the first time. Phil Younghusband, for a long time the face of Philippine football, secured the victory for the national team after scoring a penalty in the 91st minute. It was Younghusband’s 50th international goal. Later on, the Azkals would add a big boost to their campaign when former legendary England manager Sven-Goran Ericksson came on board to handle the men’s football squad.
9. Marck Espejo carries torch for PH men’s volleyball – the Ateneo standout was the lone beacon of hope for the Philippine men’s volleyball amid the hoopla surrounding its women counterpart. The 21-year-old Espejo was UAAP MVP for the fifth season in a row, joining an elite company that also pulled the similar feat in the past such as swimmer Luica Dacanay and chess player John Paul Gomez. While he failed to lead the Blue Eagles to a fourth straight title after losing to the NU Bulldogs in the finals, his individual feat didn’t escape the attention of Japan-based ballclub Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler, who signed the former national team member to play for the franchise in the V.Premier League.
10. Rise of young gymnast Carlos Yulo – The 18-year-old Filipino settled for the bronze medal in the floor exercise finals of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, Qatar, but it sure felt like gold. After all, Yulo became the first Filipino to win a medal in the event and even more, the first one from Southeast Asia to pull off the feat. He also won three medals of different colors in three editions of the World Cup, including a bronze in Cottbus, Germany, which served as the first qualification process for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Honorable mentions: Team Manila (ruled the Pony International 18-U Girls Softball World Series crown), promising kiteboarder Christian Tio (the country’s only medal winner (silver) in the Youth Olympic Games), Alab Pilipinas (regained the ASEAN Basketball League title), June Mar Fajardo (became first player in PBA history to win MVP plum four straight seasons), Team Lakay (accounted for four current ONE championship title holders), PH Dragon boat team (collected five gold medals in the World Championships in Gainesville, USA), PH wushu team (bagging golds in World Cup and Asian Traditional Wushu Championships)