Olympic hero interred today

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The first Filipino Olympic silver medalist Anthony Villanueva will be interred at the Loyola Memorial Park in Paranaque this afternoon after a Requiem Mass and cremation with his widow Liezel relieved that their son Joey Rembrandt, 15, has been assured of a scholarship by a generous private donor.

Villanueva, 69, died in his sleep after a heart attack in a rented home in Cabuyao, Laguna, last Tuesday morning. He had previously suffered four strokes and was bed-ridden the last two years. The 1964 Tokyo Olympic featherweight boxing finalist is survived by common-law-wife Liezel Beldia, son Avery, 43, daughter Agatha, 41, son Jose Giovanni, 18, who is in the US and Joey who is an incoming senior at the Infant Montessori High School in Cabuyao.

“When my father received P1.2 Million from the government as a sports achiever over 10 years ago, he invested some of the money in a memorial plan at Loyola,” said Avery who was named after former IOC president Avery Brundage. “My father also received P100,000 from the PSC in 2010 as a Hall of Famer. During PSC chairman Butch Ramirez’ term, he received P7,000 monthly plus P3,000 for medicine. Then, the medicine allowance was cut. Later, even his monthly allowance of P7,000 was removed. It was later brought back by PSC chairman Richie Garcia. I hope in the future, there is continuity in the policies of the PSC. Whenever there is a new chairman, allowances for athletes are reviewed and those like my father living a hard life are sometimes taken out of the payroll without recognizing what they’ve done for Philippine sports.”

Avery himself was a victim of the change in PSC administrations. He was once employed in the PSC but later retrenched. Today, he coaches kids’ soccer at UP Diliman and works as a real estate broker. Avery has three children and lives in Teachers Village. His sister Agatha, who has two children, works at PAGCOR.

“My lolo (Villanueva’s father Cely, a 1932 Olympic bronze medalist who was the late Flash Elorde’s trainer) taught me how to box as a boy but I never got into it,” said Avery. “There was just too much pressure. My lolo got a bronze, my father a silver so I was expected to get a gold. My lolo died of a heart attack watching the Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard fight on TV at home in 1983 and with his death, I gave up boxing forever.”

Avery said he is touched by the outpouring of sympathy and support from sports officials, fans and media for his father. The PSC released a check of P50,000 as a death benefit to Villanueva’s wife. A sports official, who requested anonymity, gave P50,000 and another sports official, P20,000. Boxers from the national pool passed the hat around and also contributed their share. A generous donor said he will take care of the youngest son’s education.

“We are very grateful to everyone for the support and assistance,” said Avery. “How we wish the help came when my father was still alive so he could show his appreciation. We hope this generosity could be extended to those retired Filipino athletes who are now sickly and struggling to make ends meet.”

Liezel said her son Joey’s dream is to become a seaman. After his high school education, Joey will likely enroll in a maritime school preparatory to a career as a seaman. “Three weeks before he died, he hardly spoke, just gesturing if he was hungry or wanted coffee,” she said in Filipino. “Sometimes, he would just give a thumbs up. Last year on his birthday, his friends from Kamuning where we used to live came over to Cabuyao. He was very happy and could still speak a little. For two years, he was bed-ridden. We earn a little selling vegetables and food condiments through a small window in our home but we’re lucky to net P200 in a day. We couldn’t afford to give him meat or his favorite afritada. We only gave him rice, fish and vegetables. Whatever we got from the PSC, we used to buy his medicine.”

Villanueva and Liezel lived together for 17 years. Avery and Agatha were children from his first wife and Jose with another woman. Villanueva’s sister was married to the late Manfredo Alipala who was also on the Philippine boxing team at the 1964 Olympics as a welterweight. Villanueva, Alipala, flyweight Dominador Calumarde, bantamweight Arnulfo Torrevillas, lightweight Rodolfo Arpon and lightmiddleweight Felix Ocampo were on the squad coached by Aling Enriquez.

Villanueva opened the Tokyo campaign with a close decision over Italy’s Giovanni Girgenti. In his second bout, Villanueva bled profusely from a cut on the right eyebrow and held on to hack out a 4-1 verdict over Tunisia’s Tahar Ben Hassen. In the quarterfinals, Villanueva suffered another cut on his eyebrow but like a wounded tiger, brushed the blood away and decked Poland’s Pyotr Gutman thrice before the referee stopped it at 2:41 of the first round. In the semifinals, Villanueva scored a 4-1 upset decision over the highly-favored American Charlie Brown. The victory guaranteed Villanueva, an FEU student, the silver medal, surpassing his father Cely’s Olympic feat.

In the finals, Villanueva began hostilities with a long jab to the head but Russia’s Stanislav Stepashkin countered with a right to the body. It was a close contest. Stepashkin clinched the gold on a 3-1-1 verdict. The Italian judge Aniello, Khalife of Lebanon and Vuellaty of Tunisia scored it for the Russian while Maghraby of Egypt had it 59-58 for Villanueva and Nussgen of Germany saw it even at 59-all. Ring Magazine editor and founder Nat Flesicher said, “I have seen highway robbery before but not anything as bare-faced as this.” Peter Wilson of the London Daily News called it “one of the worst decisions I have seen in the Olympics.”


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with