The year that was in sports: A tale of three champions

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  • Three sporting heroes. Three different tales. All flashing glory and honor for the flag and country. That’s the main story we would like to trumpet as we look back at what had been another colorful yet challenging times for Philippine sports.

    And as we scan each athlete, the names of lifter Hidilyn Diaz, boxer Manny Pacquiao and marathoner Mary Joy Tabal shone the best and the brightest among all stars, with the highly revered trio creating enormous impact for their stirring exploits on the international stage that reverberated all throughout the archipelago.

    Diaz came out as the valedictorian of our outstanding achievers the past year.

    Why not? Competing in a sport that beforehand we weren’t given even the slightest to win a medal, the diminutive weighlifter from Zamboanga City almost grabbed that elusive Olympic gold medal that slipped out of Phl’s hands for three quarters of a century already.

    Still, Diaz became a household name for her countrymen after she snatched silver medal in women’s 53kg weightlifting category at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil last August.

    Diaz thus ended the country’s 20-year medal drought in the prestigious sporting extravaganza that happens only once every four years. It was also Phl’s first non-boxing medal since 1936. More importantly, she enshrined herself as the first Pinay silver medallist in the Oympics.

    Along with her windfall of cash and fortune comes a greater challenge for Diaz to hopefully end Phl’s long wait for an Olympic gold in Tokyo, Japan come 2020.

    Now here comes Pacquiao. Despite some controversies he stirred – from his derogatory remarks to the LGBT community, his Senatorial bid and his coming out from a brief retirement period – we could still look at the Pinoy ring star with proud joy. The Pacman have proven that he still packs a punch despite serving his fellow countrymen in the higher echelon of public office.

    After reasserting his dominance over Tim Bradley in their third and final fight last April, Pacquiao, as promised, announced his retirement, something that some quarters did not take with a grain of salt even his promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank.

    To the eyes of many, what Pacquiao did was just a promotional stunt as he was running for Senator of the Republic of the Philippines in the May elections. But the people have spoken. He was successful in his bid after sweeping over 12 million votes.

    Weeks later, Pacquiao has declared that he is coming out of retirement along with a promise to his contituents that his duties as a senator won’t be affected by his boxing career.

    And fight again he did.

    Showing that he still has the fire in him, Pacquiao beat Jessie Vargas to the pulp to regain his WBO welterweight title last November in Las Vegas. The lone eight-division world champion carved another milestone as the first incumbent Senator to become a world titleholder.

    Pacquiao’s triumph was to decisive that it surely silence his critics who want him to hang up his gloves for good. It also leads Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach that his most prized ward has still something left in his tank and would fight on in the coming year, with the undefeated super ligthweight star Terence Crawford in their radar.

    Aside from Pacquiao, there were others too who stormed into world championship glory – Marlon Tapales, Jerwin Ancajas and Milan Melindo.

    The most impressive of them all is Tapales of Rex “Wakee” Salud Stable. The braveheart from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte  showed nerves of steel by getting up from the canvas twice to stop two-time world champion Pungluang Sor Singyu of Thailand in the 11th round and capture the WBO bantamweight belt.

    The action-packed show was nothing less a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate.

    Ancajas, on the other hand, outclassed Puerto Rico’s McJoe Arroyo to claim the IBF junior bantamweight crown by unanimous decision, while Milan Melindo of the fabled ALA Stable outpointed Thai Fahlan Sakkreerin, Jr. to win the interim IBF junior flyweight title.

    It was not all jubilation for the Pinoys though as Nonito Dionaire, Jr. lost his WBO super bantamweight strap after being outboxed by Jessie Magdaleno during the Pacquiao-Vargas undercard.

    That left Phl with only three world champs as we enter the new year – Pacquiao, Ancajas and Tapales. This as Donnie Nietes,  the longest reigning Filipino world champion, vacated his WBO light flyweight title to campaign in the flyweight ranks, while Johnriel Casimero abdicated his IBF flyweight throne to show his stuff in the super flyweight division where is set to challenge the unbeaten pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez of Nicaragua.

    So much about boxing, let’s shift our focus to another sporting heroine in Tabal, the country’s undisputed marathon queen.

    The pride of Guba, Cebu City, climbed the summit of success in historic manner, becoming the first Filipina athlete to compete in an Olympic marathon event in Rio de Janiero.

    For a runner from a mountain barangay who collapsed at the finish line during her first ever 10-kilometer battle, the 27-year-old Tabal has really gone a long, long way.

    The thing of beauty is that Tabal, blessed with such golden opportunities, has that longing in her heart and mind to give back something to the community by sharing her talents to the young aspiring runners with hopes of molding champions in the future under her guidance. (E. Villaruel, FREEMAN)

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