'48 Olympian recalls Austerity Games
- Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 26, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Basketball legend Ramoncito Campos said yesterday the experience of competing in the Olympics will go a long way in building the character of athletes beyond sports and recalled how his participation at the 1948 London Games paved the way to becoming a three-time Olympian and a proud Filipino.

Campos, 86, competed in his first Olympics in London which hosted the recent Games to gain the distinction as the only city to stage the quadrennial event thrice. He went on to play at the 1952 Games in Helsinki and the 1956 Games in Melbourne. But his most memorable Olympics was the first.

“It took us five days to travel from Manila to London,” said Campos, referring to his 1948 trip. “We rode on a propeller plane on the first Philippine Airlines flight to Europe. We had overnight stops in Bangkok, Burma, Karachi, Greece and Spain before finally arriving in London. The same flight attendants were with us throughout the trip. We were 23 athletes in all. Our delegation included Ambrosio Padilla, Jorge Vargas, Simeon Toribio, my father Dr. Ramon Campos, Sr. the team doctor, basketball coach Chito Calvo and boxing coach Aling Enriquez.”

London had not fully recovered from the devastation of World War II and the Olympics were called the Austerity Games as food and milk were rationed. Athletes were holed up in military camps and schools. The Philippine delegation was billeted at a Royal Air Force installation in Uxbridge, about a two-hour bus ride from Harringay Arena where basketball was played. “There was still rubble in the streets,” said Campos. “We could eat only one dish in restaurants. Sugar, eggs and milk were limited. There were four countries assigned to Uxbridge and we stayed four to a room. My roommates were Pocholo Martinez, coach Chito and my father. Organizers did a good job. Buses came on time. The events were conducted efficiently.”

Campos said the 1948 Games produced several standouts including 17-year-old decathlon gold medalist Bob Mathias of the US, 10,000-meter gold medalist Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia and 30-year-Dutch mother of three Fanny Blankers-Koen who took gold medals in four track events. Of course, he’ll never forget cheering for Fil-British diver Vicky Manalo Draves who won two golds in the platform and springboard events.

In basketball, the Philippines placed 12th of 23 after posting a 4-4 record, beating Iraq, 102-30, Korea, 35-33, China, 51-32 and Argentina, 45-43 while losing to Chile, 68-39, Peru, 40-29 and Belgium twice, 37-35 and 38-34. Campos said the win over Iraq marked the first time any country scored at least 100 points in an Olympic game. His teammates were Manolet Araneta, Eddie Decena, Andy de la Cruz, Fely and Gabby Fajardo, Ding Fulgencio, Bay Mumar, Francisco Vestil and Martinez.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Campos. “Traveling is a great form of education, equivalent to a year in class. You broaden your knowledge. We visited Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, London Bridge, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and even the Chamber of Horrors. We watched the competitions in fencing, athletics, diving, swimming and boxing. Most of all, we made lots of friends and that is what’s important. The Olympics are all about international goodwill.”

After the Olympics, Campos said he was left out of the national team that played at the 1950 Asian Games. “I was so disappointed that I wanted to prove I could make it to a second Olympics,” said Campos who shot with both the left and right hands. “So for three weeks before the tryouts for the 1952 team, I trained in Bacolod with my classmate Patrick Montilla. I did over 120 laps without stopping in my cousin’s pool and played badminton to sharpen my reflexes. When I showed up for tryouts, I was in the best shape of my life. My experience in London was my motivation to qualify for two more Olympics.”

Campos said it took years of hard work to make it to his first Olympics. In 1941, he played on the La Salle team that won the NCAA juniors title, scoring 30 points over defending champion Jose Rizal in the championship game. In 1944, Campos starred for the Nippon Kempi Kabushiki Kaisha squad that won the national crown. In 1946, he played on the unbeaten UST varsity that took the UAAP seniors basketball title. In 1948, Campos was on the UST squad that captured the National Open pennant. That track record led to his inclusion in the Philippine team for the London Olympics.

Campos was the first Filipino to play on a US NCAA Division I football team at Columbia University. He would’ve played on the Columbia basketball team under coach Gordon Ridings but rules required residency. Campos earned a chemistry degree at Columbia in 1950 then enrolled in business management at La Salle. In all, Campos played on at least 25 championship teams in basketball and football, including seven straight with YCO.

“There’s too much one-on-one play in basketball today,” said Campos who has five children and seven grandchildren. “I’d like to see more weaving, passing the ball around until you find a free shooter. My advice to future Olympians is to persevere, always be in shape. If you don’t win, show the people you’ll go down fighting ‘til the end. Don’t play for yourself, play for your country. Try your best because national pride is at stake.”

Campos was inducted into the La Salle Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 and the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

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