Hidilyn banishes ghosts of Olympics past

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

MANILA, Philippines — Hidilyn Diaz’ exceptional Olympic performance lifted the spirit of her nation. She made history, setting records in her sport. Along the way, she registered new personal bests, as well. It will be difficult to run out of metaphors for her achievements. But she did more than that. Hidilyn also banished the ghosts of Olympics past.

In 1936 (Berlin), the Philippines was cheated (twice) out of a gold medal in the first Olympic basketball tournament. The German organizers were so afraid of a US boycott that would embarrass Hitler, they allowed the Americans to do pretty much what they wanted. In basketball, the US sent double the number of players allowed, and half of them were well over the prescribed height limit of 6’2.” And due to a miscalculation of the length of the tournament, they changed the rules from double elimination to knockout. Thus, a single loss to the US dropped the Filipinos to the consolation bracket.

In 1948 (London), Victoria Manalo Draves won two golds in platform diving for the US. Born to a Filipino father, Vicki did suffer some racism at exclusive northern California swim clubs. After swimming, she coaches a teammate Patricia McCormick to four Olympic golds, too. Draves is therefore responsible for six US Olympic gold medals. In 1964 (Tokyo), boxer Anthony Villanueva was likewise denied a gold against Stanislav Stepashkin. The late Joe Cantada, who covered the fight, swore that Villanueva was grossly cheated by the judges.

In 1988 (Seoul), Arianne Cerdeña won a gold in bowling, which was then only a demonstration sport. Since then, bowling has not been seen in the Olympic Games. Contrast this with taekwondo, which took only three Olympic cycles to be included in the medal standings.

In 1996 (Atlanta), Onyok Velasco was cheated out of an obvious gold medal. He outboxed Bulgarian Daniel Bojilov in the first round, but was curiously behind in the experimental electronic scoring. This threw his game plan off totally, as Ron delos Reyes called it, the robbery in Atlanta. In 2008 (Beijing), Willy Wang bags gold in wushu, which was merely a side event, and like Cerdeña’s win, did not count, except as a footnote.

In 2020, the Tokyo Olympics are postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19. Many Filipino Olympians were stranded overseas, supported still by the Philippine Sports Commission and Philippine Olympic Committee. For a full year, their future remained uncertain. Then in 2021, Hidilyn Diaz banishes all those ghosts with an Olympic gold medal and an Olympic record. Lifting in a new consolidated weight class, everything she did was a record, including hoisting a weight she had never lifted before.

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