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    COLUMN: Women flex muscle; ‘weaker’ sex no more

    Indeed, Philippine sports have of late been powered by women, nearly igniting a debate on which is the better gender in local sports
    Jul 30, 2021
    PHOTO: AP | Jerome Ascaño

    FIRST, it was golfer Yuka Saso. Soon, it was weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz. Who’s next? Why not boxer Nesthy Petecio, already with a bronze and still alive for a gold in the Olympics?

    The women have taken over!

    In a span of just two months, female athletes have delivered stunning good news for the Philippines on the world stage, lifting the spirits of a country battered by Covid and economic missteps, and weary of politicians prancing about for attention in the runup to next year’s elections.

    Although internationally famous Manny Pacquiao can seize the limelight again for the male species when he fights Errol Spence on August 21 in Las Vegas, the spotlight is clearly now on the Filipina athlete. This July, Hidilyn won the country’s first Olympic gold medal in 97 years of trying. In June, Yuka captured the U.S. Women’s Open, the most prestigious and toughest of five majors. With this, Yuka introduced the Philippines as a golfing power to a global audience.


    Debate on better gender in sports

    Indeed, Philippine sports have of late been powered by women, nearly igniting a debate on which is the better gender in local sports–male or female?

    For now, all eyes are on Hidilyn and Yuka. Who knows, among a people given to igniting debates about everything, there’s probably one going on about who between the two have made a bigger impact. Hidilyn may be slightly ahead in this regard because the Olympics are once every four years and, more importantly, because hers is the first-ever gold medal for the Philippines after nearly a century of frustration. Yuka, on the other hand, is the first major golf winner, male or female, for the Philippines.

    Hidilyn’s ascension to the pantheon of gods is made even more venerable by her beginnings. She comes from a poor family in a mildly prosperous province where she worked at a young age to help keep her family together.

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    Hidilyn Diaz snatch

    Her athletic journey was in fact marked by ups and downs, including being bounced off from one gym to another and receiving erratic monetary help from sports officials. It took her 12 years to reach the Olympic medal podium, and she did it on her third try, at the Rio Games in 2016, where her silver medal was the first-ever earned by a female Filipino athlete.


    In between, she got herself named in an anti-government plot that, as the President’s official spokespersons announced, sought the ouster of the President himself. This got Hidilyn fearing for her family’s lives and hers. In a number of interviews, she was seen teary eyed while trying to make sense of this strange passe. The public never believed it, Hidilyn was eventually cleared, and the conspiracy matrix was soon buried under the rug. Still, the trauma distracted her from her training regimen and very nearly ruined her career. Yet the government, to this day when she has brought the country its first Olympic gold, has not apologized for the silly conspiracy talk.

    Saso’s feat was similarly historic, if not grandly spectacular. She was new, she was unknown, and nothing in her golf history made others think she was even a longshot bet to triumph before the start of the tournament.

    But as it now stands, although she needed three extra holes to turn the trick, she beat the world’s best women golfers! Her win wouldn’t have generated the noise it did had the tournament been a run-of-the-mill LPGA tournament. But she won the premier tournament, the U.S. Women’s Open, many of whose winners are enshrined in golf’s Hall of Fame.


    Yuka Saso

    Unlike Hidilyn, however, Yuka did not go through financial challenges. Coming from a fairly well-off family, she was introduced early to the game by a golf-crazy Japanese father who had visions of his daughter as a world-class player.

    The father’s visions came to be. Yuka won gold medals at the Asian Games, and when the girl turned pro at 18, she was an immediate success. As a rookie, she won two tournaments in the Japan LPGA Tour, quickly establishing her reputation.


    The golf world took notice of her victories in Japan and, aided by her rise in the world ranking, invitations to compete in the majors came. The rest, as they say, is history.

    With their wins, both Hidilyn and Yuka have commanded international media attention. Their Cinderella-like journey is the stuff of press and television reports, and both have been featured in lengthy pieces in prestigious American publications.

    Hidilyn’s victory was reported extensively by the New York Times and the Washington Post, while Yuka had her triumph widely covered by the same prestigious media outlets plus leading golf magazines. The duo also received vast television exposure.

    The Times article on Hidilyn, was particularly dramatic:

    “The finale of the 55-kilogram competition provided high drama in a sport that can sometimes feel preordained, given the dominance of a Chinese squad that was expected to prevail in all four weight classes it was contesting in Tokyo.


    “Diaz, a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, went into the competition hoping to win a medal but the gold seemed like it was the preserve of Liao Qiuyun, the Chinese reigning Asia champion. In the most recent Asia championships, Diaz, who is 4 feet 11 inches, had come in fourth.

    “But as the other top contenders approached the barbells grim-faced on Monday, Diaz kept smiling. On the final lift, the top three competitors and their coaches scrambled to decide what weight they should call. Too light, and they might be outpaced. Too heavy, and they might not make the lift.

    “For her last turn, the Chinese competitor cleared 126 kilograms, an Olympic record, with barely a hint of discomfort. To win, Diaz would have to surpass what she had done before—by two kilograms. She pulled the bar to her clavicle, then staggered for a moment as she thrust the barbells into the sky. One Mississippi, two Mississippi.


    “The gold was hers.”

    When Yuka scored her victory, the Times reported:

    “Yuka Saso of the Philippines bent her leg like a flamingo, using her body language to will in the birdie putt. It was the first playoff hole after Saso and Nasa Hataoka of Japan finished 72 holes of the 76th United States Women’s Open on Sunday tied at four-under 280, one stroke better than the third-round leader, the American Lexi Thompson.

    “But Saso had been responding to Hataoka’s putt, and when it fell short, she looked more disappointed than her opponent. After prevailing on the first hole of sudden death — the third playoff hole — when her own birdie putt dropped, Saso, 19, explained her reaction.

    “I just don’t want to be selfish,” Saso said. “Everyone here is a great player. If it’s their time, it’s their time, if it’s my time, it’s my time. I just want to cheer everybody.”


    “As she stood staring at the trophy, Saso, a first-time major winner, looked as if she couldn’t quite believe that her time had arrived.”

    Befitting the magnitude of their achievements, it was only natural that the duo would be compensated well. Indeed, the rewards were enormous.

    Hidilyn, as the country’s first Olympic gold medalist, stood to get cash amounting to about P36 million from government and various donors. This is besides other gifts, including two houses and lots and a P14-million condominium unit.

    Yuka, for her part, got a one-time windfall of 1 million dollars for winning the U.S. Women’s Open, or about 50 million pesos.

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    Endorsements will surely follow. These two athletes epitomize the best in Filipino women and sports heroes, and are going to be the choice of companies looking for perfect role models.

    All right, girls. Break a leg.

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    PHOTO: AP | Jerome Ascaño
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