Tale of two Olympian brothers
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - November 10, 2016 - 12:00am

In Olympic history, there have been several Filipino siblings to represent the country in various sports. Fely and Gaby Fajardo were on the Philippine basketball team at the 1948 London Games. Boxers Arlo and Ronald Chavez saw action in 1992 while Arlan and Danilo Lerio fought in 2000. Jocelyn Von Giese swam in 1956 and sister Sandra in 1960. Three Fortaleza brothers were boxers – Renato in 1972, Ricardo in 1972 and 1976 and Reynaldo in 1976. Isidro Vicera competed in boxing in 1992 and his brother Virgilio did the same in 1996.

The most popular Filipino Olympic brothers were Roel and Onyok Velasco who brought home medals in boxing. Roel bagged the bronze in Barcelona in 1992 while Onyok took the silver in Atlanta in 1996.

Two brothers who wore the national colors proudly in Olympic swimming were Lee and Guy Concepcion. Lee, 48, did the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke at the 1988 Seoul Games and the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke and the 4x100 medley relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Guy, 47, swam in the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley at the 1988 Games.

Lee graduated from elementary at La Salle Greenhills where he was a prep freshman before moving to Serra High in San Mateo, California, in 1982. He earned a political science degree at the University of California-Berkeley in 1990 and a Master’s degree in leadership ministry at Victory Leadership Institute in Global City in 2004.

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The national record holder in the 200-meter breaststroke from 1988 to 2004, Lee started to make waves at the ASEAN age group competitions in 1978, placing fourth in the 10-and-under 50-meter breaststroke. In 1985, he bagged a gold and two silvers at the Southeast Asian Games and in 1991, took two golds and a silver at the same conclave.

Today, Lee is a pastor at Victory Pioneer. He said he’s helping people to start a relationship with God and grow in their relationship with Jesus. “Having five kids (Andrew, 6, Sabrina, 8, Luke, 10, Ian, 12 and Daniel, 14) keeps me busy and they’re a great joy in my life,” he said. “My children don’t swim competitively but they know how to. Didn’t want to pressure them into something they may not enjoy. They’re into music and piano. My wife (Jiji Fabregas) also isn’t a swimmer. But recently, I was encouraged to hear my youngest son Andrew say to me that he wants to be in the Olympics. I asked, ‘What sport?’ and he answered, ‘swimming, like you, Dad’ So 14 or 18 years from now, we’ll see. We have very talented athletes in the Philippines and with proper support, training and the right mindset, anything is possible. We have produced world champions in different sports. When our athletes focus and develop their God-given gifts, anything is possible. Maybe, we can have our own Joseph Schooling in a few years, maybe, it will be  Andrew Concepcion in 14 years.”

Representing the Philippines in two Olympics was an unforgettable experience for Lee. “I’m a sports fan and I enjoy watching all the Olympic features on different athletes,” he said. “At the Olympic Village, you get to see all those that you watch on TV. World record-holders of different events. You see how big some athletes are and how small female gymnasts are. You get to see all of them around the village and in the dining commons, you find yourself sitting and eating with the best of the world. It’s a great honor to represent the Philippines. My message to aspiring Olympians is to work towards your goal, enjoy the journey and fulfil your dreams.”

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It was Lee’s mother who taught him how to swim in the family pool when he was five. His first competition was a novice meet at the Rizal Memorial in October 1975. He was about to turn nine and celebrated by finishing first in one event, second in another and third in still another event. But it was Lee’s father who planted the dream of someday competing in the Olympics.

“My dream started when I watched the 1976 Olympics,” said Lee. “My father kept reminding Guy and me that if we work hard, anything is possible. Having supportive parents without being overly pushy is so important. He would wake up at 4 a.m. to bring us to morning practice. Unfortunately, my father died in 1983 when I was 15 and Guy was 14. My mom took over those driving chores until I got my own license. She was there for every meet in high school and college. My dad never saw his dream fulfilled as Guy and I both swam in 1988 but somehow, he did see it by planting the seed in our minds that it was possible. Thanks, Dad and Mom, for believing in us and for your sacrifices for us.”

Training in the US gave Lee the opportunity to compete with high-caliber talent. Matt Biondi, who collected 11 Olympic medals, was his teammate at Berkeley. “In 1985, I was selected to swim at the US Olympic Festival and got second in the 200-meter breaststroke,” he said. “In that same event, I beat eventual world record-holder and 1992 Olympic gold medalist Mike Barrowman. I also got eighth at the 1987 NCAA Division I Championships, good for All-American honors. At the time, I swam the 25th fastest time in the 200-yard breaststroke.”

Life in the US studying, training and competing wasn’t easy. “Berkeley has a great history in swimming and it was nice training with the best,” said Lee. “In 1992, we had 16 swimmers representing different nations. No regrets in putting in the hard work. At some point, you enjoy pushing yourself to the limit. You end up surprising yourself with what you are capable of and gaining confidence for the next competition. Our training regimen was about 10 sessions per week, at least two hours per session not including running and dry-land work.”

In 1988, Lee and Guy swam at the Olympics with their mother in the stands. It was a special moment in their lives. “Guy and I pushed each other,” he said. “He was more accomplished than me at first, making the SEA Games team at 13, winning a bronze in 1983. Being my younger brother, he pushed me to work hard to join him on the Philippine team.”

More on the Concepcion brothers in tomorrow’s column.

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