Yldefonso ‘father of modern breaststroke’

By Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines?When national swimmer Daniel Coakley made a splash in his 2007 debut by shattering a Southeast Asian Games record, his lineage also grabbed headlines.

But all that the Filipino-Hawaiian standout could offer then was just a few basic facts about his great, great grandfather and swimming legend Teofilo Yldefonso, the only Filipino to win two Olympic medals.

?Very little was known about his life, and after the family had moved to the United States, few people knew his life story,? Coakley?s mother Lani Eugenio wrote in a family account e-mailed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Coakley set a new record in the 50-meter freestyle by clocking 22.80 seconds in his debut with the Philippine team in the 2007 SEA Games in Thailand.

The man in old photos

The feat prompted his family to learn more about the man in the old family photos and the dusty mementos of over a hundred medals he left behind.

?Thus began the search for genealogy ties, the connection of the [Yldefonso-Yldefonzo-Ildefonso] families and the quest to set the record straight,? said Eugenio.

In what seemed like a timely tribute, the International Swimming Hall of Fame enshrined Teofilo as an Honor Pioneer Swimmer at Fort Lauderdale in Florida over the weekend, just days after he was also inducted into the first Philippine Sports Hall of Fame at the Manila Hotel.

Tagged as the ?Father of the Modern Breaststroke,? Yldefonso captured the Philippines? first Olympic medal by winning the bronze in the 200m breast in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.

Yldefonso, said to be at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds in his prime, clinched another bronze in the same event in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Breaststroke before Teofilo

?Before Teofilo, the breaststroke was swum in a very awkward manner with most of the body and head underwater which required unnaturally long breaths; it was not very hydro-dynamic,? wrote Eugenio.

?Though the Olympic gold eluded Teofilo, his swimming style was studied in Europe and adopted throughout the world.?

Among the research and family stories compiled by Eugenio were anecdotes of Teofilo?s younger brother, Teodoro.

Teodoro remembered the swimming icon as ?very popular and well liked? by Americans and Filipinos during their stint in the Philippine Scouts, where Teofilo developed his athletic abilities.

Life with his brother

Before Teodoro passed away at 102 years old just last Jan. 15, he served as the closest link to Teofilo and recorded first-hand account ?on his life with his brother.?

Teofilo, born on Nov. 5, 1903, was the middle child among the three sons of Felipe Yldefonzo (surname?s old spelling correct?Ed) and Aniceta dela Cruz. Their father died when Teofilo was four and their mother passed away four years later, leaving the three brothers under the care of relatives in Sitio Bayog, Bimmanga, in Piddig, Ilocos Norte.

?[They lived] near the Guisit river, where Teofilo and his brothers learned to swim,? Eugenio wrote. ?Teofilo, especially, took to the water.?

At 17, Yldefonso left for Manila and joined the Philippine Scouts before embarking on a storied 16-year swimming career. He was nicknamed as ?The Ilocano Shark? for his impressive international exploits that resulted in a staggering collection of 144 medals.

Death in concentration camp

Teofilo passed away on June 19, 1942, at the Capas concentration camp during World War II.

Teodoro, who served in the medical corps, said Teofilo ?died in his arms? at the camp due to injuries he sustained from bomb shrapnel. He was later buried in a mass grave for soldiers at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig.

?It is felt that the purpose for Daniel?s [triumph in the SEA Games] was to gather the family and information together to honor Teofilo ... and to celebrate the family connections,? said Eugenio.

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