The best of 2017, the ladies take over
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - December 30, 2017 - 12:00am

2017 was an impressive year for Philippine sports. In team sports like basketball and individual events like boxing, the country has performed well. Gilas Pilipinas in its various incarnations and world champions like Donnie Nietes, Jerwin Ancajas and Milan Melindo continue to reign. But it cannot be denied that women have made sports history for the Philippines in so many ways this year. Here are a few of them who will continue to make an impact in global sports for the years to come.

Sepak Takraw. It is exceedingly rare that Filipinas are appointed or elected to the world governing bodies of their sports. A few weeks ago, Karen Caballero was chosen as the first female vice-president for the International Sepak Takraw Federation (ISTAF), after she became an official of the Asian federation. This not only gives her a certain amount of influence, it helps the Philippines improve the sport. Caballero’s journey was not without its peril, however. When wind of her invitation to join the federation’s highest echelon got out, a Philippine Olympic Committee official (who already holds sway over more than one national sports association), tried to crash the proceedings and usurp Caballero’s position. Fortunately, the gambit did not work, and sepak takraw remains untainted.

Loujen Saldo. It has been six years since Luzviminda McClinton won the FAME world bodybuilding championships, giving women’s bodybuilding a huge boost. This year, multi-sport athlete Loujen Saldo registered two breakthroughs. First, she became the first female overall winner of the first Muscle Beach event held in Asia in Boracay. It was a challenge because participants had to find their own funds for travel to the island. Then, in another exclusive reported by The STAR in July, Saldo won two major awards at the Fitness Universe in Miami, Florida. She qualified by winning a local competition, but was only entered in one event and thus, had to raise additional funds to get into the second event. The gamble paid off.

Hidilyn Diaz. Student and world-class athlete. Diaz organized her own competition to give back to her sport, continued her studies at College of St. Benilde, and placed in the World Championships. That’s a full plate if there ever was one. More significantly, Diaz is one of the athletes in an elite pool which will be supported by the Philippine Sports Commission in the hope of winning an Olympic gold medal. 

Ada Milby. In November of 2017, Ada Milby of the Philippines became the first female member of the World Rugby Council. The council opened up 17 new membership spots, as long as all of them would be women, an unprecedented move for an international sports federation. Asia Rugby responded first, submitting Milby’s name. Prior to that, she had been in charge of the Philippine Rugby Football Union’s grassroots development program. She then ascended to the Asia Rugby Executive Committee, and became its chairperson for women’s rugby.

Ana Julaton. Three-time world women’s boxing champion Ana Julaton continues to carve a new path for others to follow. The first WBO and IBA women’s super bantamweight champion this year signed a contract to fight with Bellator. And despite losing to hometown girl Lisa Blaine via split decision in her debut in October, Julaton continues to stay upbeat and blaze a trail for female fighters everywhere.

The Golden 25. The Philippine Sports Commission has identified 25 athletes with the outstanding potential to earn gold medals at the Asian and Olympic level. The PSC did its homework and identified these stellar performers as stars for the medium term. These chosen ones will receive supervision and support through the agency. For this purpose, the PSC assigned Mark Velasco, who was part of the team that developed Hong Kong’s resurgence in international sports competitions, to head the Philippine Sports Institute’s development program. Velasco joined the PSC in September of 2016.

Among the athletes in the pool are judokas Kiyomi Watanabe and Mariya Takahashi, who both won gold medals in this year’s Southeast Asian Games, and Diaz. The goal is to win the overall championship in the 2019 SEA Games, exceed the single gold medal from the last Asian Games, and finally win an Olympic gold medal in the Tokyo Games in 2020. Lofty hopes, but worth the investment. As Winston Churchill said “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

An abundant, safe New Year to readers of The STAR everywhere.

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