MANILA – If there is a discussion on which year should be considered the best in Philippine sports, 2021 should at least be in the conversation.
This past year gave a lot of good news to sports fans locally amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
This year-ender will tackle some of the people that won big time in 2021.
1. Hidilyn Diaz
Kicking things off is no less than the first-ever Filipino gold medalist in the Olympics.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz's historic moment on July 26 in Tokyo could even overshadow President Rodrigo Duterte's last State of the Nation Address earlier in the day.
Diaz's feat turned out to be the icing on the cake of what would be the Philippines' best showing in an Olympiad.
2-4. Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial
That lead us to the other three medalists in the Tokyo Olympics.
Although they came up short of duplicating Diaz's gold medal conquest, silver medalists Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam, and bronzer winner Eumir Marcial showed that the Philippines remains a threat in Olympic-style boxing globally.
Considering that this year has been the closest the Philippine team has gotten to the elusive Olympic boxing gold, expect Petecio and Paalam to come back with a vengeance in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
While Marcial already hinted that he will now focus on his pro career from hereon, do not be surprised if he gives the Olympics another shot with the experience that he has attained.
5. Yuka Saso
Yuka Saso was on the rise this year especially when she won the US Women's Open.
Saso in the process became the first Filipino golfer to win a major tournament.
And at age 20, the future looks bright for Saso.
However, come 2023, Saso is expected to honor her Japanese citizenship and will represent Japan in events.
But whatever happens from here on, we can still be proud of and continue to support arguably Philippine golf's newest superstar.
6. EJ Obiena
After setting the new Asian record, EJ Obiena has solidified his status as Asia's newest pole vaulting sensation.
While he failed to land a medal in the Tokyo Olympics, being the only Asian in the final round is something to treasure.
Not to mention the wins he had during his European tour.
However, while Obiena is a big winner this year, 2021 did not exactly end well for him.
He is currently embroiled in a clash with his national sports association, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association over allegations of not immediately paying his coach.
The row prompted the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) Executive Board to approve the recommendation of its Ethics Committee that declared PATAFA president Philip Ella Juico as persona non grata.
POC president Abraham Tolentino, however, said the PATAFA maintains the POC’s recognition as the national association for the sport despite the sanction on Juico.
7. Caloy Yulo
Caloy Yulo showed that he is more than just a floor exercise expert.
Despite faltering in his pet gymnastics event during the Tokyo Olympics and the World Championships, Yulo proved that he is a gymnastics champ by winning it all in the vault event of the World Championships in Kitakyushu also in Japan.
This came a few months after nearly snatching the bronze in the same event in the Olympics in the Japanese capital.
He capped the year with a silver in parallel bars.
Expect Yulo to assert his dominance in the Asian circuit in 2022 with the Asian Games and the Southeast Asian Games coming up.
8. Nonito Donaire
At age 39, Nonito Donaire is on a career resurgence in 2021.
He stunned the world on May 30 when he knocked out Nordine Oubaali for the WBC bantamweight title.
In the process, "The Filipino Flash" became the oldest boxer to win a title in the 118-pound division.
He successfully defended the belt on Dec. 12 after another knockout win, this time against Reymart Gaballo in an all-Filipino fight.
What awaits Donaire in 2022 is either a rematch with Japanese star Naoya Inoue or a grudge match against current World Boxing Organization champ John Riel Casimero.
For sure, the fans will watch it.
9. The fans
Yes, I can also say that Filipino sports fans are big winners in 2021 too.
Aside from witnessing history unfold before their eyes, they ended the year getting a chance to see live sports action again after both the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) opened their games to them.
While some Covid-19 protocols have been set, like requiring everyone to be fully vaccinated to enter the arena and not eating anything inside the bleachers, seeing the fans watching the games in flesh is a good sign that we might be going back to how it was pre-pandemic.
It came at a price, though, as both Quezon City, which hosted the PBA games, and Pasay, which hosted the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Invitational, have experienced a steep rise in Covid-19 cases as well as other Metro Manila cities which according to OCTA Research fellow Guido David is concerning.
Metro Manila has been placed under Alert Level 3 from Jan. 3 to 15, which means the PBA games must be held behind closed doors again and the players might need to enter a bubble, possibly with Novotel as the billeting area assuming the league insists to continue on at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Here's to hoping that the Covid-19 surge would be mitigated very soon. (PNA)