Hidilyn Diaz’s golden lift banners top 10 PH sports moments of 2021
MANILA, Philippines—Filipino athletes made sure that 2021 would be remembered as one of the best years in sports, and they did it mainly in the world stage.
The year featured the best Olympic campaign for the country, young stars making their names in the international stage, and older personalities claiming titles that could’ve otherwise left their grasps.
There was also the departure of an icon, who is described as one of the best to ever do it.
Here are Inquirer Sports’ top 10 sports stories of the year.
10. Goodbye, boxing
It wasn’t the perfect ending but it was a conclusion nonetheless.
Manny Pacquiao, considered as one of the greatest boxers of all time, bid farewell to the sport that was his home for 26 years.
His final match, however, wasn’t the perfect exit as he lost via unanimous decision to Yordenis Ugas with the Cuban taking ownership of the WBA welterweight Super championship.
Pacquiao, despite retiring on a loss, has a career as unparalleled as his charisma having won World titles across eight divisions, being the only boxer to hold a championship in four decades, and becoming the oldest welterweight champion in history at the age of 40.
9. Filipinos take over international leagues
The year also marked the sudden influx of Filipino talents in leagues abroad, most especially in Japan as both the B.League and the V.League.
Jaja Santiago remains as a towering presence for the Saitama Ageo Medics in the women’s division of the V.League as well as Bryan Bagunas for Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler in the men’s division while Marck Espejo returned to Japan to sign for FC Tokyo.
Thirdy Ravena, who plays for the San-En NeoPhoenix since 2020, got to play against his brother Kiefer, who signed for the Shiga Lakestars, in the B.League with other Filipinos Bobby Ray Parks Jr. (Nagoya Diamond Dolphins), Dwight Ramos (Toyama Grouses), Kobe Paras (Niigata Albirex BB), Javi Gomez de Liaño (Ibaraki Robots), Matthew Aquino (Shinshu Brave Warriors), Juan Gomez de Liaño (Earthfriends Tokyo Z), and Kemark Cariño (Aomori Wat’s) also joining Japanese clubs.
Gilas center Kai Sotto then became the first Filipino player to enter the National Basketball League when he signed for the Adelaide 36ers for the 2021-22 season.
Jack Danielle Animam then took her talents to Europe when she signed for ŽKK Radnički Kragujevac in the Women’s Serbian League while Mylene Paat found herself with Nakhon Ratchasima Women’s Volleyball Club in the Thailand League. Players Jordan Heading and Jayson Brickman are also playing in the Taiwan T1 League.
8. Alex Eala continues to serve
Alex Eala had a stellar year in 2021 as she won a Junior Grand Slam, an ITF Circuit singles title, and two ITF Junior championships.
The 16-year-old collected her second Junior Grand Slam win in 2021 when she and partner Oksana Selekhmeteva captured the doubles title in the 2021 French Open beating Maria Bondarenko and Amarissa Kiara Tóth, 6-0, 7-5, in June.
Eala couldn’t have started the year any better as she came back from a first-set loss and take down Yvonne Cavallé Reimers, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, in the ITF Manacor Circuit finals in January.
She then claimed both the singles and doubles titles in the ITF Milan Juniors championship in July.
Eala beat Nikola Bartunkova 6-3, 6-3, in the singles tournament and she paired up with Madison Sieg for the doubles title to score a difficult 6-4, 4-6, (13-11) win over Lucija Ciric Bagaric and Sofia Coustoulas.
7. Carlo Biado is right on cue
For 44 years, the US Open Pool Championship only had the magical Efren “Bata” Reyes as its lone Filipino champion then Carlo Biado came knocking and joined the Philippine legend in the exclusive club this year.
Biado broke a 27-year wait for the Philippines to once again see its cue artist reach the pinnacle of the 9-ball landscape.
The 38-year-old also had a flair for the dramatic as he came back from a five-rack deficit, 8-3, and stun Singapore Aloysius Yapp, 13-8, in the final in Atlantic City.
Barely a couple of months after his US Open win in September, Biado collected the Abu Dhabi 9-Ball Championship when he dominated fellow Filipino Jordan Banares, 13-6, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
6. EJ Obiena becomes Asia’s elite
EJ Obiena may have failed in his bid for Olympic glory, but he made up for that setback in spectacular fashion as he became the Asian record-holder in pole vaulting.
The 26-year-old cleared 5.93 meters in the 17th Golden Roof Challenge in Austria shattering Igor Poptapovich’s 23-year record of 5.92m in September.
Just a month before his continental mark, Obiena vaulted over 5.91, which, at the time, was his personal and national best.
Obiena, who ranks no.6 in the world, managed to qualify for the Olympic finals in Tokyo but finished 11th in the medal round.
5. Donaire continues to shut down Father Time
He may be getting up there in age but Nonito Donaire isn’t close to stopping and 2021 saw him rise to a form reminiscent of his run in 2012 when he was named Fighter of the Year.
Donaire, who didn’t step inside the ring in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, pulled off two vintage performances in 2021 when he wrested the WBC bantamweight title from Nordine Oubaali in May.
The 39-year-old had his first successful defense of his newly-won strap when he knocked out fellow Filipino Reymart Gaballo in the fourth, the same frame Oubaali got stopped.
Donaire, who was 38 when he beat Oubaali, also became the oldest fighter to win a World title in the bantamweight division.
4. Yuka Saso makes history
Star golfer Yuka Saso made history as the first Filipino to win the prestigious US Women’s Open this year.
She beat Japan’s Nasa Hataoka in a three-hole playoff a mere couple of weeks before her 20th birthday on June 20, making her the youngest winner of the tournament at exactly 19 years, 11 months, 17 days, tying with Park In-bee.
Saso, who announced in November that she will be switching nationalities to Japanese, also represented the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics where she missed out on the medal as she finished ninth—after ending round 1 at 47th—despite a furious comeback in the final two rounds.
3. Carlos Yulo stays a World Champion
Carlos Yulo had a glorious redemption arc after the Tokyo Olympics as he captured the men’s vault gold medal in the 2021 FIG Artistic World Gymnastics Championships to stay a world champion.
Despite failing to defend his floor title crown, Yulo chalked up a 14.916 in a stunning showing to top the the men’s vault final while also collecting a silver medal in the men’s parallel bars with a 15.300 score.
The 21-year-old, who was considered as one of the country’s best bets for a medal in Tokyo, finished fourth in the men’s vault in the Olympics–the closest he got to the podium.
2. Boxers become the most successful team in Tokyo
Boxing was already the Philippines’ best sport in the Olympics having amassed five medals from 1932 to 1996, and the 2021 crew added three more.
Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial each had their inspiring runs in Tokyo as the country’s boxers remain the standard for Olympic glory among Philippine sports.
Petecio became the country’s first female boxer to step into a podium after battering Lin You Ting, Yeni Arias, and Irma Testa to set up the gold medal match against Japan’s Irie Sena in the featherweight division—a match she eventually lost.
Paalam also claimed his silver after decisive victories against Mohamed Flissi, reigning champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, and Tanaka Ryomei, but he eventually lost steam against Galal Yafai in the flyweight finals.
Marcial, meanwhile, collected the bronze after suffering a semifinal loss against Oleksandr Khyzhniak but he had the most spectacular run of any Filipino boxer as he knocked out Younes Nemouchi and Arman Darchinyan in the middleweight division.
1. Hidilyn Diaz is the golden girl
It was the lift that carried a nation’s sporting dreams.
What better way to wrap up a list of a country’s sporting achievements than the best medal in all of sports.
Hidilyn Diaz was the personification of a grueling road to Olympic glory as she slowly went from afterthought to becoming the Philippines’ greatest Olympian.
Ending a near-century wait for the country, Diaz successfully lifted 224 kilograms to claim the women’s 55 kg gold medal–an accolade she had worked for most of her life.
From an 11th place finish in the 2008 Beijng Games to not even finishing in the 2012 London Games, Diaz burst into the public consciousness when she secured the silver in the 2016 Rio Games.
Her mental and physical masterpiece in Tokyo eventually immortalized her as her lift was ahead by one kilogram over silver medalist Liao Qiuyun of China.
The Olympic channel’s “denies China the gold!” commentary was just the perfect broadcast cry to Diaz’s greatest ever lift.
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