All about national pride

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

The book “50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All-Time” will be launched in grand fashion at the Sheraton Manila Hotel Ballroom on Andrews Avenue, Pasay City, tonight and with the featured sports heroes expected to attend, it promises to be a monumental event.

How the book was conceived is a story in itself.  Publisher Vernon Go has been on top of the Philippines Yearbook project for years, coming up with a theme to make every edition unique and memorable. It was in 1936 when the first Philippines Yearbook, called the Fookien Times Yearbook, was published by Vernon’s grandfather Dr. James Go Puan Seng. The format was then a collection of articles written by authors who were specialists in their field. Since taking over the publication of the annual, Vernon has turned it into an enduring collector’s item with an encompassing theme to provide a clear focus for every issue.

Last year, the Philippines Yearbook had as its theme “Then and Now – A Story of the Philippines in Photographs,” providing a visual of the country’s evolution with pictures of the past and present under civitas, culture, mobility, public spaces, leisure, education and worship supported by articles written by Paulo Alcazaren, Gemma Cruz Araneta, Lou Gopal, Tricia Morente, Ditas Bermudez, Jose Eleazar Reynes Bersales, Karen Ann Hipol and Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis. The book deserves a place in every library in the country and is an excellent presentation of history from the perspective of changing structures.

This year, Vernon thought of something different. For the first time in the yearbook’s history, the theme is sports and it honors the 50 greatest Filipino athletes of all time. The yearbook’s chairman/CEO Grace Glory Go and Vernon broached the idea of putting out a sports edition in a meeting with fellow Star sports columnist Bill Velasco and me in January last year. For Bill and me, it was a dream-come-true project and we loved the idea. 

The first task was to determine the list of 50. That was extremely difficult. Without consulting each other, Bill and I put out our lists. We then compared notes and found 38 common names so we had 12 more to decide. If for some reason a chosen athlete couldn’t be located or wouldn’t cooperate in the project, we moved on and found somebody else with a resume just as glowing. In the end, we agreed on a final list of 50. We would’ve liked to include the likes of Anthony Villanueva, Teofilo Yldefonso, Miguel White, Vicky Draves, Simeon Toribio, Wesley So and Pancho Villa but we ran out of time chasing sources. Gymnast Carlos Yulo would’ve made the list but won his world championship beyond our deadline.

The second task was to arrange photo shoots because Vernon’s guideline was to publish only original photographs taken by the top-notch husband-and-wife team of Joel and Ma-Anne Garcia. The creative challenge was to portray a deceased athlete in today’s time with a relative, descendant or close associate posing with something to identify the person. Cranking out appointments to fit everyone’s busy schedules wasn’t easy but somehow, it got done. The yearbook staff of Nic Angeles, Lerma Ebio and Jennie de Leon worked wonders to make things happen.

There were shoots in Iloilo and Cebu, in a swimming pool in Cavite, in a boxing gym, on a football pitch, in a table tennis center in Marikina and wherever it was appropriate to situate an athlete. Bill and I seized every opportunity to attend each shoot, talking to the athletes, drawing out new insights and looking for interesting angles that wouldn’t only be revealing but also inspiring.

Represented in the list of athletes were 23 different sports so the distribution was widespread. Basketball had the most entries with eight and that’s understandable, considering it’s the country’s favorite sport. Five-time PBA MVP JuneMar Fajardo made the cast with Robert Jaworski, Caloy Loyzaga, Alvin Patrimonio and Ramon Fernandez. Ambrosio Padilla stood for the 1936 Olympic team, Tony Genato for the 1954 FIBA World Cup team and Allan Caidic for the 1990 Asian Games team. Boxing checked in with six – Sen. Manny Pacquiao, Donnie Nietes, Nonito Donaire Jr., Gerry Peñalosa, Flash Elorde and Onyok Velasco. Bowling also had six – Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo, Lita dela Rosa, C. J. Suarez, Biboy Rivera and Krizziah Tabora. 

The other sports were billiards (Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Rubilen Amit), swimming (Gertrudes Lozada, Haydee Coloso Espino, Akiko Thomson), athletics (Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros, Mona Sulaiman), football (Paulino Alcantara, Phil Younghusband), bodybuilding (Cheryl Nakanishi, Roman Cortuna), arnis (Roland Dantes, Ciriaco Canete), golf (Ben Arda, Jennifer Rosales), tennis (Felix Barrientos, Treat Huey), gymnastics/taekwondo (Bea Lucero-Lhuillier), equestrian (Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski), MMA (Eduard Folayang), jiu-jitsu (Meggie Ochoa), powerlifting (Adeline Dumapong), table tennis (Josephine Medina), chess (Eugene Torre), shooting (Jethro Dionisio), motor sports (Pocholo Ramirez), baseball (Boy Codiñera) and weightlifting (Hidilyn Diaz).

You’ll be blown away by the stories of each athlete. For instance, t’s not a well-known fact that Lozada was the youngest Filipino athlete in the Olympics ever. She was 13 years old, 280 days when the Olympics started on June 10, 1956, in Melbourne. The Olympic record books mistakenly show that Belgian rower Jos Van Thillo was the youngest at 13 years, 338 days. Thomson was also 13 when she competed at the 1988 Olympics but was 21 days shy of turning 14 when the Games began in Seoul. 

In another revelation, Coo disclosed that her husband left her and their two sons, aged three and four, and took up bowling at 21 as a diversion to heal the depression of a broken marriage. She used to imagine her husband’s head was the kingpin so she wouldn’t miss. Suarez revealed that he’s a proud member of the LGBT community with his partner Brian Herrera. Pacquiao spoke about his rise from rags to riches, detailing how he arrived in Manila’s ports penniless as a teenager in a boat from General Santos City. Then, para-athletes Dumapong and Medina related their challenging journey from disability to capability.

Vernon had the idea of focusing on sports long before the Philippines won the overall championship at the Southeast Asian Games last month. His foresight was well-rewarded because the Philippines Yearbook’s latest edition couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time as the country celebrates the achievements of our latest sports stars who worked a miracle at the SEA Games. More than honoring the 50 greatest Filipino athletes, the book is a celebration of spirit. Our sports heroes sacrifice and bring honor to our country and people. This book isn’t just about them, it’s about national pride.

For copies, please contact me at Tel. 0918-9381821 or via email at reporterquinito@yahoo.com, Instagram @therealdeanquinito, Twitter @TheDeanQuinito or Facebook @Joaquin Henson. We’ll coordinate delivery and make sure you get your copies quickly. It’s a book to enjoy, relish and appreciate. It’s a book that will inspire you and make you even prouder to be a Filipino for sure.

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