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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will always be a campaign to remember for the Philippines. It is where the country tasted its historic first gold, and delivered an unprecedented four-medal haul, even amid a precarious COVID-19 pandemic.
Every Filipino who carried the flag in Japan deserves all the praise and respect. Still, in a field where results are the prime measure of success, who are the athletes that performed well for the Philippines at the Tokyo Games?
Here are the grades of the 19 Filipino athletes who fought their hearts out for the country, based on their performances at the Games:
Hidilyn Diaz (Weightlifting)
The only athlete deserving of the highest grade possible is Hidilyn Diaz. In her fourth Olympic stint, she did what no other Filipino has ever done in the Summer Games as she struck the historic first gold medal for the Philippines, ending what once seemed to be an unending wait for a breakthrough.
In the process, the 30-year-old also shattered two Olympic records in the women's weightlifting 55kg division, as she cleared 127kg in the clean-and-jerk and accumulated a total lift of 224kg.
Diaz made all of these achievements possible despite facing unbridled pressure from sky-high expectations, as well as a turbulent buildup where she was tagged in the so-called "oust-Duterte" matrix back in 2019.
Nesthy Petecio (Boxing)
Nesthy Petecio may have fallen short of capturing gold at the Tokyo Games, but she remains a trailblazer in her own right. After all, she became the first Filipina Olympic boxing medalist when she earned silver in the women's featherweight division, a milestone that she had to go through the wringer for.
Standing at 5'2 in height, the 29-year-old Davao del Sur native dealt with opponents who were taller than her in a sport where longer reach can be a decisive advantage, and still found success. She also had to face the toughest route to the podium, as she was pitted against the likes of world No.1 Lin Yu-ting of Chinese Taipei and a former lightweight contender in Irma Testa of Italy.
For someone who deserves the gold as much as the eventual winner, Sena Irie of Japan, it is only right to give Petecio an A for effort.
Carlo Paalam (Boxing)
Contrary to what his surname Paalam (goodbye in Tagalog) suggests, it took quite a while for Carlo Paalam to bid farewell to his Olympic stint in Tokyo. He was the last Filipino athlete in contention when he fought for glory in the gold-medal bout of the men's flyweight division, and bagged a silver medal on the penultimate day of the Tokyo Games.
More remarkably, no one had expected him to earn the Olympic silver, except perhaps the people who have seen him fight before. He was nowhere to be found in most of the lists of projected medal finishers. Still, he rose above the expectations and seized his moment.
The 23-year-old fighter from Carmen, Cagayan de Oro, steadily built his reputation as a promising world-class athlete, taking down one formidable foe after another through his methodical counter-punching tactics.
His biggest head-to-head victory on the road to silver was when he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the competition by sending Olympic gold medallist and world champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan packing.
Eumir Marcial (Boxing)
Heading into the Tokyo Games, expectations were high that Eumir Marcial will take home the first gold for Philippine boxing. Even the Associated Press listed him as the one who would stand atop the podium of the men's middleweight division.
However, the professional boxer under the Manny Pacquiao-founded MP promotions came up short as he crashed out of contention in semi-finals to end up with bronze medal.
Still, Marcial had looked every inch the gold-medal contender as he orchestrated some of the most impressive drubbings at the Kokugikan Arena. He was so dominant in two of his three bouts that he needed less than six minutes to secure his bronze medal, defeating both of his first two opponents in the opening round.
Even when he lost to Oleksandr Khyzhniak of Ukraine, the man who was undefeated for five years, he still put in a performance that lived up to his billing.
The highlight of Marcial's memorable campaign was when he sent Arman Darchinyan of Armenia crashing to the canvas with a vicious right hook in what turned out to be one of the most ferocious knockout wins in the event.
Carlos Yulo (Artistic Gymnastics)
Bowing out of contention in five apparatuses in the artistic gymnastics was not the best way to start a maiden Olympic stint, but that did not stop Carlos Yulo from giving the Philippines a fighting chance at clinching a medal.
Yulo struggled in the preliminaries as he failed to advance to the medal rounds of the still rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, pommel horse, and floor exercise, an event in which he is the reigning world champion and thus the heavy favorite for gold.
Still, his made it through to the vault final, and with a crack at Olympic glory and a shot at redemption, the 21-year-old competed with aplomb. He set a national record-shattering performance, with the best average score (14.716) and vault score (14.866) of any Filipino in the event, according to Philippine Star. It proved to be just a fraction of a point short of landing on the podium, the closest the Philippines got to winning a medal outside of boxing and weightlifting at the Tokyo Games.
Margielyn Didal (Skateboarding)
Margielyn Didal came up short of winning a historic medal in the inaugural skateboarding competition at the Summer Games, coming in seventh in an eight-woman finale.
The 22-year-old managed to stay in pace with the world's top skateboarders as she delivered a confident display of stunts right from the preliminaries. However, an ankle sprain dealt her a bad blow in the final round, as she lacked the strength to complete four of her five stunts, which dashed her hopes of landing on the podium.
Still, the Cebuana skateboarder captured the hearts of every supporter — be it at the Ariake Urban Sports Park or those watching through online livestream — with a buoyant attitude that embodied the spirit of sportsmanship in skateboarding.
Elreen Ando (Weightlifting)
The first Olympic appearance of Elreen Ando was nothing short of pressure-packed for the 22-year-old weightlifter. Billed by many as the heir apparent to Hidilyn Diaz, her competition came a day after the Philippines secured its historical gold courtesy of Diaz.
Still, Ando made an impressive account of herself in the women's 64kg division. In the running for a podium position at one point in the competition, she eventually tallied 100kg from snatch and 122kg from clean-and-jerk for a total of 222kg to place seventh.
All of the numbers she put up proved to be historic, as they eclipsed three of the country's previous records in the weight class.
EJ Obiena (Pole vault)
In the months leading up to the Tokyo Games, EJ Obiena shattered national records and edged out big names in the pole vault circuit, such as 2016 Rio Games gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil and Andrew Irwin of the United States, in overseas tournaments.
With the strong buildup, many believed he would be among those who will contribute to the medal haul of the Philippines, but that did not go as expected.
The national pole vault outdoor record holder at 5.87m, Obiena struggled for form as he settled for results that pale in comparison to his average cleared heights in pre-Olympic tournaments, where he consistently soared 5.80m and over.
His best clear in the Summer Games was 5.75m which was enough to push him past the preliminaries but could not catapult him to the podium as he ended his maiden Olympics campaign at 11th place.
Still, it was a creditable performance as he was the lone Asian representative in the final round of the event. He is also the first Filipino pole vaulter to reach that deep into the competition.
Luke Gebbie (Swimming)
Luke Gebbie may have failed to make it past the preliminaries of both the men's 50m and 100m freestyle events, but he still set a national mark during his Olympic outing.
The Filipino-Australian swimmer finished 41st in a 73-man field in the 50m race, and 36th out of 71 competitors in the 100m event. He was able to set a national record of 49.64 seconds in the men's 100m free, eclipsing the previous record of 49.94sec he set in the 2019 FINA World Championships in South Korea.
Yuka Saso (Golf)
Much like Obiena, Yuka Saso also had a promising buildup to the Tokyo Olympics after making history in tying South Korean golfer Inbee Park as the youngest US Open winner at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days old earlier this year.
Expectations were high that Saso would be able to sustain her winning form through the Olympics. However, a less-than-stellar start to the four-day competition marred her chances of landing on the podium in the women's individual golf tournament.
The Filipina-Japanese golfer, who was the youngest Filipino athlete competing at Tokyo, found herself in 47th place with a three-over 74 before surging in the last three rounds where she carded a 68, 67 and 65 in succession to wind up with a 10-under overall at ninth place.
Cris Nievarez (Rowing)
It had been 20 years since a Filipino last competed in rowing at the Olympics before Cris Nievarez entered the men's sculls competition of the Tokyo Games. It's safe to say then that his appearance was already an achievement in itself.
Still, Nievarez did not settle for just appearing at the Olympics, as he became the first rower from the Philippines to ever reach the quarter-finals of a rowing competition.
The Atimonan, Quezon native had a strong start to his campaign after clocking in at 7min 22.97sec in the opening round on the opening day of the Summer Games. This secured him a quarter-finals berth, but that was as far as he could go as a fifth-place finish in 7:50.74 was not enough for him to advance.
Relegated to the classification rounds, Nievarez jockeyed for position and finished 23rd overall with a time of 7:21.28, the fastest time he recorded in his maiden Olympic campaign.
Bianca Pagdanganan (Golf)
In the women's individual golf tournament of the Tokyo Games where Saso bucked a dismal start and finished strong, Bianca Pagdanganan suffered an opposite fate.
Pagdanganan shone in the opening round after firing a two-under par 69 on five birdies, two of which coming in the first and second holes to allow her to be perched atop the leaderboards at one point in the event. She ended Day One in seventh place, before losing steam in the next three rounds, where she fell 36 places in the table and wound up at 43rd with a one-over 285 overall.
Juvic Pagunsan (Golf)
Juvic Pagunsan, the oldest delegate of the Philippines in the Tokyo Games at 43 years old, has been a mainstay in the Japan Golf Tour circuit and his familiarity propelled him to an impressive start when the men's individual golf tournament swung into action at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Pagunsan carded a five-under 66 in the first round as he stood tied for fifth place in an elite 60-man field. However, inclement weather and game delays marred the outings of the 2021 Mizuno Open champion, causing a long slide across the leaderboards throughout the last three rounds. At the end, he fell 50 places down and settled at 55th with a one-over par overall.
Irish Magno (Boxing)
The Philippine boxing team collected the most medals for the country in the Tokyo Games, with two silvers and a bronze coming from Petecio, Paalam and Marcial. The only boxer to depart Japan without a medal was Irish Magno.
Magno, the first Filipina boxer to book a trip to the Olympics, reached the round of 16 in the women's flyweight division before crashing out after losing to Jutamas Jitpong of Thailand.
It was a deflating loss, considering the fact that Magno had defeated her Thai foe in the 2019 SEA Games. She also could not sustain the momentum she had built in the round of 32, where she dismantled Christine Ongare of Kenya.
Remedy Rule (Swimming)
As the Philippines' record holder in the the women's 100m and 200m butterfly events, Remedy Rule was expected to match or eclipse her personal-bests to contend for a podium spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
However, the Filipina swimmer could not rise to the occasion. In the 100m heats, she clocked 59.68 seconds, which lagged behind her national record of 59.55sec set in the Longhorn Elite Invite. She bowed out of the event in 25th place, in a field of 33 swimmers.
In the 200m fly, a pet event of Rule, she managed to crack into the semi-finals only to crash out of contention once again. She came up short of the top eight ranking needed to advance to the final, following a 15th overall finish with a time of 2min 18.89sec. This was a sub-par showing considering that the Olympic qualifying time stands at 2:12.28 and her national record is 2:09.35.
Jayson Valdez (Shooting)
Jayson Valdez displayed resiliency as he took part in the highly-competitive 10m air rifle shooting competition which requires athletes to shoot 60 shots in 75 minutes. Still, his efforts did not prove enough to finish near the podium, let alone secure a medal for the Philippines.
A second-generation athlete who is the son of three-time SEA Games champion Julius Valdez, he managed to buck a slow start to his campaign but his score of 612.6 points could only place him at 44th spot out of 47 participants. He was 16.6 points short of making it into the top eight to advance to the medal round.
Kiyomi Watanabe (Judo)
Kiyomi Watanabe rode the crest of her fourth gold medal conquest in the 2019 SEA Games as she headed to the Tokyo Olympics seeking a spirited run for a podium spot. Her campaign, however, came to a screeching halt almost as soon as it started.
The Filipina-Japanese judoka, ranked No.41 in the world, fell at the hands of Cristina Cabana Perez of Spain in the round of 32 of the women’s Under-63 kilogram event. The match lasted only 38 seconds as the Spaniard caught Watanabe by surprise with a sumi-otoshi, a throw that was ruled a waza-ari at first but was later deemed an ippon upon review.
While her stint ended in less than a minute, Watanabe still made an impact for the Philippines, as she served as one of the two flag bearers in the opening ceremonies, alongside Marcial.
Kristina Knott (Athletics)
Another Filipina Olympian whose campaign ended in a flash was Kristina Knott.
Knott, who holds the Philippine national record of 23.01 seconds in the women's 200m sprint set at the 2019 SEA Games, laced up her track shoes at the Olympic Stadium with high hopes of reaching at least the semi-finals. However, she failed to keep in step with the rest of the competition, finishing fifth and last in her heat during the preliminaries with a time of 23.80 seconds.
Kurt Barbosa (Taekwondo)
Luck plays a decisive part in an athlete's success, and Kurt Barbosa experienced it the hard way in the biggest sporting event of his young and promising career.
The lone representative for the Philippines in taekwondo at the Tokyo Olympics, Barbosa received the short end of the stick he was drew reigning world champion Jang Jun in the opening round. The Filipino athlete put up a valiant stand before the South Korean inflicted a 6-26 defeat.
Hours after the crushing loss, Barbosa remained upbeat since he could still have a chance at contending for bronze in the repechage, should Jang make it into the gold medal bout. But Jang suffered an upset loss to Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi of Tunisia that officially dashed the hopes of Barbosa, who was the first Filipino to crash out of contention in the Tokyo Games.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.