Yahoo Philippines recognizes the athletes and sports personalities who kept Filipinos engrossed in 2021.
10. Eumir Marcial
If Carlo Paalam dealt with a lack of expectation and attention heading into the 2020 Summer Games, Eumir Marcial experienced the opposite fate.
Multiple pre-Olympic predictions had stated that Marcial would be the first gold medalist of Philippine boxing, and even the Associated Press listed him as the top favorite to dominate the men's middleweight division. However, he came up short of the high expectations and settled for bronze.
Still, countless Filipino fans and boxing enthusiasts were left more than satisfied by Marcial, who orchestrated some of the most ferocious beatdowns at the Kokugikan Arena. He even delivered one of the most impressive knockout victories of the tournament when he sent Arman Darchinyan of Armenia crashing to the canvas with a vicious right hook.
9. Carlo Paalam
2021 was filled with inspirational tales of Filipino athletes, but no one served up a good underdog story better than Carlo Paalam.
In the buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 23-year-old Filipino flyweight boxer, who was once a scavenger in the landfill areas of Cagayan de Oro, flew under the radar of boxing analysts, forecasters and enthusiasts. No one expected him to put up a decent campaign, let alone make a deep run for a medal, except for the people close to him. Be that as it may, he rose above expectations.
With sheer determination and a methodical counter-punching tactic honed through years of hard work, Paalam overcame the toughest of competition and delivered a hard-earned silver medal for the Philippines.
8. Carlos Yulo
From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Carlos Yulo experienced it all in 2021.
Heading into the 2020 Tokyo Games as the reigning world champion in the floor exercise, Yulo was projected to win at least a medal for the Philippines. However, disaster struck the 21-year-old Filipino stalwart, who crashed out of contention in the preliminaries of his pet event, still rings, parallel bars, horizontal bar, and pommel horse. Even in vault, the only apparatus he reached the Olympic medal round, a podium finish remained elusive as he came to a mere .017 points short of bronze.
Frustrations and disappointment filled Yulo, but he made sure to use it as fuel for his redemption. He made an emphatic bounce-back effort in the 2021 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, where he stamped his class in the qualification phase before securing gold and silver in the vault and parallel bars, respectively.
7. Nesthy Petecio
The Philippine boxing scene has always been a male-dominated sport, but Nesthy Petecio made sure to cast a spotlight on the distaff side in 2021.
A trailblazer in her own right, the 29-year-old Davao del Sur native fought her heart out and pulled off one stunning upset after another in the women's boxing featherweight division of the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she emerged as a silver medalist. Through grit, hard work and dedication, she became the first Filipina to earn an Olympic medal in boxing, proving that female boxers can find success and leave a lasting impact on the sport.
6. Alex Eala
Another promising talent who brought pride and honor to the Philippines in 2021 is Alex Eala.
Bursting with passion and energy, the 16-year-old Filipina stalwart was nothing short of productive as she competed in various tennis tournaments in both the juniors and professional scenes. She found success in the W15 Manacor ITF Rafael Nadal Academy World Tennis Tour where she captured her first professional title in January, and the 2021 French Open where she secured the doubles title with Russian Oksana Selekhmeteva last June.
Eala also reached a career milestone after climbing to a personal-best second seed in the ITF Juniors World Rankings, where she currently stands at No. 4, as of November 8, 2021.
5. Yuka Saso
2021 is a monumental year for Yuka Saso.
The 20-year-old golf wonder put the world on notice after conquering the prestigious US Women's Open in June. She then carried the Philippine flag as a member of the historic contingent in the 2020 Tokyo Games, where she finished ninth in the individual women's golf tournament. All of her recent success culminated to her ascension in the women's golf rankings, becoming the fifth-best player in the world.
In a sudden turn of events, Saso, who was born to a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, opted to become a citizen of Japan in November. She reached such a decision due to the country's nationality law, which states that a person who holds dual citizenship must choose which country to represent before turning 22.
4. Efren 'Bata' Reyes
Efren "Bata" Reyes, the legendary cue master who is often referred to as The Magician, made the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2021.
Less than a month into the year, the 67-year-old Filipino icon trended online following fake news of his death, a hoax that would soon die down after her daughter posted a video of him, saying: "OK lang ako! (I'm fine!). He would then find himself in another social media storm later in March when footage of him breaching health protocols over a pool game played amid the COVID-19 pandemic circulated online.
Reyes was honored with a commemorative stamp by the Philippine Postal Corporation, along with Filipino sports legend Paeng Nepomuceno and Eugene Torre, in November.
3. Kai Sotto
Born and raised in the Philippines, where the sport of basketball is almost treated as a religion, the 19-year-old Kai Sotto is well aware that every move he makes, a whole nation follows. After all, the collective NBA dream of every Filipino lies on his shoulders.
To that end, the 7-foot-3 basketball prodigy steadily elevated his game while taking significant steps to reach the big league.
In the first half of 2021, Sotto decided to part ways with Ignite, an NBA G League select squad, return to the home soil, and suit up for Gilas Pilipinas. He served as an integral cog for the Tab Baldwin-mentored national team that completed a three-game sweep of the Clark window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers. He would then sign a three-year deal with the Adelaide 39ers in the Australian National Basketball League (NBL) not long after, continuing his quest for the NBA.
2. Hidilyn Diaz
For over a long stretch of time, an Olympic gold once seemed impossible to achieve for the Philippines. Countless sporting greats have attempted to break through over the years, but no one managed to do so. That, until Hidilyn Diaz turned the national dream into a reality in 2021.
In the 2020 Tokyo Games, Diaz captured the historic first Olympic gold medal for the Philippines, ending a drought that lasted for 97 years.
In the process, the pride of Zamboanga City shattered two Olympic records in the women's weightlifting 55kg division – the 127kg clearance in the clean and jerk, and the total lift of 224kg. Furthermore, the 2016 Rio Games silver medalist also became the first Filipina athlete to earn multiple medals in the Summer Games.
1. Manny Pacquiao
Revered as a living legend in the boxing realm, Manny Pacquiao reached the end of his storied boxing career in 2021. His retirement came on the heels of his bout with WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas in August, where he appeared to have lost the speed, stamina and power that made him an all-time great, which resulted in a unanimous decision loss.
At the age of 42, the lone eight-division world boxing champion, who held 12 major titles throughout his professional stint, walked away from the ring with 62 wins, 39 of which were knockout victories, eight losses and two draws. Beyond the records and accolades, the Filipino icon left a lasting legacy, one which emphasizes his unwavering resolve to face the toughest of challenges head-on.
As soon as his time as an athlete came to a close, Pacquiao then decided to take the biggest fight in his political bid as he vies for the presidency in the 2022 Philippine elections.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
Watch more videos on Yahoo: