Restless about ‘The 50 Greatest’
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2020 - 12:00am

Tomorrow is the formal launch of “The 50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time,” and its release has caused a growing buzz in the local sports community. Those who have already received the copies they have ordered have been generous with their praise for the profiles penned by this writer and fellow The Philippine STAR columnist Joaquin Henson. Even more praise is being heaped on the marvelous photography by Joel Garcia. We can’t help but be proud and grateful for this rare opportunity. It’s like having a child you were allowed to design. 

This writer has had a few sleepless nights, similar to theater performers before opening night. The excitement mixed with wondering how people will receive our book is overwhelming. The anticipation of having so many of these all-time greats in one room keeps one up at night. So many are friends, colleagues, childhood heroes and mythic figures. The phrase “kid in a candy store” doesn’t even cover it, not by a long shot. Such delicious agony.

But even more awakening is the impending question: who is the greatest of them all? Even in the face of extreme distillation down to 50 historic athletes, who deserve to be on top of the heap? There are so many factors to consider, and circumstances beyond everyone’s control. 

Pioneers always get extra points in my book. Breaking down walls holds a special place in my heart. There will only be one first. And it takes special courage to carve a path where there was none. But we also know that longevity is the true measure of athletic immortality. If you defeat – or at least straight arm – Father Time, then you are a true titan. And times change. The longer your achievement stands, the more inspiring. Uniqueness, and perhaps volume, would be the next major consideration.

Combining those criteria is where a handful of names in “The 50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time” stand out. We don’t yet know where the likes of Hidilyn Diaz, Rubilen Amit, June Mar Fajardo, Meggie Ochoa and Eduard Folayang may end their careers. They’re still in the thick of adding to their legacy. When they do decide to retire, perhaps we shall then revisit – and maybe, just maybe, revise – our conversation. 

There are a few names that may make the ultimate shortlist. Of course, one immediate, popular choice would be Sen. Manny Pacquiao, the only boxer to win world titles in eight weight classes. If you’re a purist, he’s also the only one to win belts in four of the original weight divisions. Will that feat ever be equalled? Unlikely, but you never know what will happen in a hundred years. Paeng Nepomuceno would likewise be up there. He has won more and more often than any other bowler. In some international events, he is simultaneously the youngest, oldest and most frequent winner. His stature in his sport is similarly unequalled, even excluding his formidable contributions beyond playing. Bowlers from other countries have called him a god. And though he does not compete as often, he is still always competitive. 

Then again, look at what Efren Reyes has accomplished in a lifetime of pool. He has basically won everything there is to win in his sport, in every permutation, on every part of the planet. You name it, from rotation to snooker to every form of the game with cues, colored balls and cushions, he’s the man. How many athletes strike complete fear into opponents’ hearts? What is even more impressive is that Bata is so consistently excellent that players from other countries have given up campaigning for billiards to be in the Olympics. They simply know that Reyes or his pool progeny will beat them on that stage, too. 

There are still other underdog names to consider. Jethro Dionisio was so brilliant so young that the Americans shut down the world championship Steel Challenge after he embarrassed them three times in a row as a teenager. In Cebu, arnis Supreme Grandmaster Ciriaco Cañete was so far ahead of his time that competitions were only organized when he was already 60. And he still went undefeated. 

There are other favorites whose names are forever etched in our histories. You can meet them all in our book, and wrestle with the endlessly debatable question yourself.

* * * *

You may order “The 50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time” for P2,000. By calling 83327452 or e-mailing philsyearbook@gmail.com. Delivery is free within Metro Manila.

JOEL GARCIA
Philstar
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