Asian Swim Queen needs help

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

There are not many Filipino Olympians left who can claim to be contemporaries of Muhammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay, or Abebe Bikila or Wilma Rudolph. All three carved their names into history books at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. Clay won the gold medal in light heavyweight boxing then became the most-recognized athlete in the world. Bikila became the first sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal, running the marathon barefoot. Rudolph blasted through world records on her way to three golds in the sprints.

Competing alongside those immortals was 22-year-old swimmer Haydee Coloso-Espino, then hailed as the Asian Swim Queen. Haydee started swimming in her adolescence in her native Iloilo, after years of playing in the sea just for fun. She developed a serious training regimen which included two hours of swimming before dawn and two more hours at sunset, then moved to Manila to finish her studies in physical education. Breaking two national records in the pool, she was hailed as the Women’s Swimmer of the Year by the Philippine Sportswriters Association for three straight years, from 1954 to 1956. She was inducted into the Philippine Sports Commission Hall of Fame in 2016. But since Jan. 16 of this year, she has been confined at Medicus Medical Center in Iloilo, and she needs help.

“I have a chronic respiratory infection,” the 82-year-old told this writer over the phone, speaking with great difficulty. “I am paying for my medicines, antibiotics and other expenses. I hope that the Philippine Sports Commission can help me. I hope that Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s people can also reach me.”

Coloso-Espino is featured in the 2020 edition of The Philippines Yearbook, “The 50 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time” (penned by this writer and fellow The STAR columnist Joaquin Henson), which was launched last January. For the photo shoot for the book, photographers Joel and Ma-Anne Garcia flew to Iloilo. Having just recovered from illness, Haydee gamely put swim clothes on and swam and posed. Asia’s Swim Queen was beaming with pride. Earlier this week, her family sent this writer a photo of her in her hospital bed, clutching a copy of the book.

Coloso-Espino says that over a decade ago, she received P5 million from the government, representing half of what was due her under the Athletes Incentive Act. She says she has not yet received the other half of her incentive, which would be a great help now that she is infirm.

“My mother is crying because she has difficulty in breathing,” explains Haydee’s son, Dindo. “It’s hard for her to talk. She’s gradually getting better, but it’s expensive, and she’s sad because she’s been in bed for over a month.”

In three successive Asian Games (1954, 1958 and 1962) Coloso-Espino earned three gold, five silver and two bronze medals. In the second Asian Games in 1954 in Manila, she claimed the inaugural gold in the 100-meter butterfly event, as well as the gold for freestyle at the same distance. The crowd screamed so loud she feared the roof at the Rizal Memorial swimming pool would collapse. Her mother, overcome with emotion, fainted. At her next Asian Games in Tokyo, Haydee won her third gold medal as part of the 4x400-meter medley relay. 

After one last Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Coloso-Espino retired from competitive swimming to become an educator. She briefly tried living overseas, then returned to the family’s ancestral home in Iloilo to raise her seven children. The physical education major taught at Far Eastern University, Lyceum and Araullo High School until she retired in 1993. Now, she is hoping for a stroke of good fortune, and for some generous benefactors to help her in her time of need.



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