Get To Know The Filipino Athletes Who Have Brought Home Olympic Medals
Hopes are high that a gold medalist will be added to that list this year.
UPDATE: Hidilyn Diaz makes history as she wins the first-ever Olympic Gold medal for the Philippines in the Women's 55kg Weightlifting Division. She beat Liao Qiuyun of China (Silver) and Zulfiya Chinshanlo of Kazakhstan (Bronze) on Monday, July 26. Congratulations!
The Olympic Games have always been a highly anticipated event by sports fans and enthusiasts all over the world. It is a time when nations are brought together in a celebration of camaraderie and sportsmanship, and where athletes have the opportunity not only to show off their skills in their respective fields, but to also inspire the people watching them.
The Philippines made its Olympic debut during the 1924 Paris Olympics with only one representative, runner David Nepomuceno. Since then, the country has had a total of 9 athletes who have been awarded a combined total of 10 medals: 3 silvers and 7 bronzes.
Get to know the Philippines’ Olympic medalists!
Teofilo Yldefonso was the first Filipino and Southeast Asian to ever win an Olympic medal. He was a competitive swimmer who won the Bronze Medal for the Men’s 200-meter Breaststroke in the 1928 Amsterdam Summer Olympics. He then won another Bronze Medal for the same event in the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, making him the only Filipino to have ever won back-to-back Olympic medals!
Yldefonso was born in Piddig, Ilocos Norte near the Guisit River where he taught himself how to swim. Even without a formal training, his skills allowed him to gain prominence as a competitive swimmer, and was even called “The Father of the Modern Breaststroke.” Yldefonso was also a soldier who fought during World War II against the Japanese in Bataan.
The 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics was an all-time high for the Philippines as it was awarded with 3 bronze Olympic medals—one of which was for Simeon Toribio. Toribio finished third after Duncan McNaughton of Canada and Bob Van Osdel of USA in the Men’s High Jump competition.
Toribio was born and raised in the island of Bohol. It was by chance that he joined his school’s track and field team, but he quickly discovered and improved his skills up to a national standard, setting multiple national records! In 1930, he was even awarded the title "Asia’s Greatest Athlete."
He later became a lawyer and served as a congressional representative for the province of Bohol.
Jose Villanueva was the third of the trio who bagged bronze medals during the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. He was able to reach up to the semi-finals of the Men’s bantamweight division boxing event, winning against Joseph Lang of USA in the fight for third place.
Villanueva was an amateur boxer born in Binondo, Manila who later on became a boxing trainer. Among those he trained was boxing legend Gabriel “The Flash” Elorde. His son, Anthony Villanueva, also later became a boxer and took home a silver Olympic medal of his own.
The Philippines continued its streak during the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics when Miguel White won a medal for his specialty, 400-meter hurdles. He placed third after Glenn Hardin of USA and John Loaring of Canada.
White was a track and field athlete of Filipino-American descent from Legazpi, Albay. After winning his Olympic medal, he served as a lieutenant for the Philippine Army.
After 1936, the next time the Philippines received an Olympic medal was during the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. It took more than 30 years for the next win, but Anthony Villanueva was able to bag the first-ever silver Olympic medal for a Filipino athlete! He faced Soviet boxer Stanislav Stepashkin in the final boxing match for the featherweight division.
Villanueva followed his father’s footsteps in becoming a boxer. His father, Jose Villanueva, also won an Olympic medal for boxing 32 years earlier. After the Olympics, Villanueva pursued a professional career in boxing, but it was short-lived.
In the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, Leopoldo Serantes snatched a bronze medal boxing against Ivailo Marinov of Bulgaria in the semi-finals. He was coached by silver Olympic medalist Anthony Villanueva.
Four years after Leopoldo Serantes’ win, Roel Velasco from Bago, Negros Occidental took home another bronze medal for the same event in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics after losing to eventual winner Rogelio Marcelo of Cuba in the semi-finals.
He is the elder brother of Mansueto Velasco, who would later win another Olympic medal for boxing.
Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco Jr.’s win during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics marks the 5th time a Filipino athlete has won in boxing! Competing in the same division as his brother, Velasco was awarded a silver Olympic medal after facing Daniel Petrov of Bulgaria.
After retiring from boxing, Velasco proceeded to build a successful career as a comedian and actor. You may have seen him from his appearances on Tropang Trumpo, Beki Boxer, among others.
The Philippines’ most recent win in the Olympic Games was for the Women’s 53-kg weightlifting event during the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro. Hidilyn Diaz, a Filipino weightlifter and airwoman took home the third silver medal for the Philippines.
Diaz is the first-ever Filipino woman to be awarded an Olympic medal. She was also the first female weightlifter to represent the Philippines and has competed in the two Olympic Games prior to her win in 2016, making that her 3rd consecutive time representing the country! Talk about girl power!
Will we finally get a gold medal this year?
Since 1924, the gold medal has eluded our athletes, but we have high hopes that this year, that medal will finally come our way. Among the 19 top Filipino hopefuls for gold are boxer Nesthy Petecio and weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz.
Nesthy Petecio was named champion in the 2019 AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships. Hidilyn Diaz looks to claim another Olympic medal after winning in the last 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics is ongoing until August 8, 2021.Related article