Limpag: Best of the decade

Mike T. Limpag

THE decade is about to close and in the past 10 years, we’ve seen Philippine sports make some leaps and bounds. For me, among those who stood out were the Azkals, Gilas Pilipinas, Hidilyn Diaz, Carlos Yulo, EJ Obenia and of course Manny Pacquiao.

The Azkals started the ball rolling with their impressive run that has since been simply referred to as the Hanoi Miracle. Flying in under the radar for Southeast Asia’s championship and grouped with powerhouse and host Vietnam, former champion Singapore and dark horse Myanmar, they weren’t given much of a chance. But Chris Greatwich started the run with a late equalizer against Singapore, continued it with one of the best goals via a header against Vietnam in the country’s biggest upset to date. Phil Younghusband, in a performance for the ages, battled stomach flu and scored the insurance goal, sending Dan Palami and members of the coaching staff to celebrate in front of the sideline camera and scream, “Go Philippines!”

That win against Vietnam has been played and replayed numerously by fans, who by now have almost memorized the lines of the commentators. Three years later, another game involving a Philippine team was immortalized and the line, “Jimmy Alapag launches....BANG!!!” was immortalized. It was the semifinals of the FIBA Asia Cup and against our regional tormentors South Korea, we finally slew the ghost of 2002. If in 2010, a small sector jumped and danced like crazy, the whole country did in that unforgettable August night when brave Gilas, with naturalized center Marcus Douthit sidelined with an injury, battled the Koreans until the Koreans could give no more.

Who could forget Marc Pingris, battling over the loose ball, putting it back and celebrating like crazy while making sure not to forget to go back on defense? We got to the World Cup because of that and though we’ve lost most of our matches, our showing in Madrid, 2014 was nothing to be ashamed of with Gabe Norwood’s poster and Alapag’s long distance sniping among the standouts.

Two years after Madrid, another unlikely hero burst out in the world stage with Diaz winning a silver medal in weightlifting, the country’s first in the sport in the Olympiad and the country’s first Olympic medal in 20 years. To be honest, I never thought we could excel in weightlifting but I sure was glad Diaz changed that. It seemed nothing was impossible for the Filipino athlete.

Then, as the decade was about to close, two more Filipino athletes broke the mold and proved that given the right support, a Pinoy athlete can be world-class. Obenia won the gold medal in the pole vault in the Asian Athletic Championships and has since been included in the conversation for the gold medal in Tokyo Olympics. From sending mere token athletes in athletics, we now have one who is a contender.

Yulo followed through with the country’s first gold medal in the world championships in gymnastics and also earned his spot in 2020 Tokyo.

And of course, we can’t have a conversation about the decade’s best without including Pacquiao. If the previous decade was all about Pacquiao’s phenomenal rise, this one was about his resiliency and staying power.