Top Asian-American athletes

FEEL THE GAME - Bobby Motus () - February 24, 2012 - 12:00am

The phenomenon that is Jeremy Lin is having the Asian race on the spotlight. Because of our naturally small stature, we tend to make up and excel on other aspects where bulk and heft are not necessarily given some premiums.

Lin’s recent success story, and as we all know by now, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, typifies some truly Asian traits – resilience, diligence and hard work. These also describes some of the top Asian-American athletes on the list complied by Yahoo Sports. 

There were ten on Yahoo’s list but I selected only five, athletes whose chosen sport is more familiar to us, we with the ethnic group that automatically race when he hear a girl named Chona Mae being called out. 

Tiger Woods – He needs no introduction. Practically every golfing record known to man Tiger has a hand. When his father Earl was stationed in Thailand with the US Army Rangers during the Vietnam War, he met a Thai-Chinese woman, which he eventually married. Tiger was born and raised as a Buddhist and I’m not exactly sure how he become so promiscuous. His world golf ranking could be #49 now but he is the world’s number one sports brand valued at $55 million, in large part due to his mega deals with Nike and Electronic Arts.

Michelle Kwan – Her parents are from Hongkong and migrated to California. She began skating at age 5 and by the time she was 13 was an alternate to the US Olympic figure skating team. At 15 she won her first US championships. In her time, she dominated the US and International competitions but never won an Olympic gold, settling for the silver in 1998 and the bronze in 2002. Kwan is the most decorated figure skater in American history with 5 World Championships and 9 US Championships. Last January, she was inducted to the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

BJ Penn - Arguably MMA’s best fighter in the lightweight division, Penn was born in Hawaii to a Korean-Hawaiin mother and Irish-American father. He was the first-ever non-Brazilian to win the black belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships at the age of 21 in 2001. He’s one of only two men to win UFC titles in two different weight classes, lightweight and welterweight.

Roman Ildonzo Gabriel Jr. – This one we can truly call our own. His father, Roman Sr., was a Filipino who migrated to the US in 1925. He labored in Alaska and California and eventually settled in North Carolina where he met and married an Irish-American woman. Roman, Jr. grew up poor, was sickly and asthmatic but somehow grew to 6-4, 235 pounds. His size, huge by our standards, brought him to North Carolina State where he played football and was selected 2nd overall in the 1962 NFL Draft by the LA Rams. He was the first Asian-American to play quarterback in the NFL. He played for 16 seasons and upon retirement in 1977, was LA’s all-time passing leader. He still holds franchise records for touchdown passes, passes attempted and wins by a quarterback. He was a 4-time Pro Bowl selection, league MVP in 1969 and comeback player of the year in 1973. And before I stumbled into this, I always thought that a Filipino would never make it to the NFL. 

Michael Chang – We should know him if we follow tennis since at one time, Chang was ranked number 2 in the world and is the most decorated Asian-American tennis player. At 17-yeears old, he was the youngest, and still is, to win a Grand Slam tournament (1989 French Open beating Ivan Lendl) and led the US to a Davis Cup title. When the communist took over mainland China in 1949, his parents fled to Taiwan and eventually moved to the US in the 1960s. Chang was born in New Jersey but their family moved to California. He started playing tennis at an early age and by 16 turned pro. At 5-9, he’s small compared to the other players on the circuit but he made up with his quickness. In 2008, he was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Another tennis prodigy is making good in the US age group circuits presently. The kid is still 14-years old but his coaches suggested that he play with the 18-under as there’s no competition already in his bracket. The kid’s parents are both Cebuano and the father is from the land of rosquillos and masi. I do hope he will be the first Cebuano and Filipino to play in the Grand Slam tournaments.

Of course, with success also comes envy and all outstanding performances, athletics or otherwise, always have their own equal shares of naysayers – envious and jealous people who cannot stand the record-breaking feats of these individuals. Hello Floyd Mayweather Jr. We can always expect this kind of attitude from a soon-to-be convict. One doesn’t have to be a physicist to figure out what’s going on inside the oxygen-deprived brain of a high school dropout compared to the logic of a Harvard economics graduate.

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