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It has almost been a century since the Philippines made its Olympic debut in 1924, but the coveted gold medal remains elusive for the country.
However, there's a high chance that a breakthrough will happen in the 2021 Tokyo Games as a handful of Filipino athletes have a legitimate shot at ending the drought for the beleaguered nation.
With three silvers and seven bronze in the country's medal haul, no Filipino has ever struck gold in the Olympics, but that can soon change with Carlos Yulo leading the fold.
Yulo is no stranger to making a memorable name for himself. Back in 2019, the 21-year-old became the first Southeast Asian male to reign over the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships after stamping his class over the men's floor exercise event.
He then emerged as the most bemedalled athlete of the Philippines in the 30th Southeast Asian Games in 2019, when he put up one masterful showing after another and clinched two golds and five silvers.
Yulo, who trains under the tutelage of Japanese coach Munehiro Kugumiya, is well aware of the mission at hand, and remains laser focused on fulfilling his duty. A testament to this was when he passed up the chance of serving as the country's flag-bearer in order to stay on track with his preparations.
With the Olympic glory within reach, expect Yulo to give it his all in a bid to make the Filipino dream a reality.
The 19-strong Philippine contingent is set to field a crop of Olympic first timers in Tokyo, but only one member of the team has had experience competing in previous editions. This battle-tested athlete is none other than Hidilyn Diaz.
Diaz, who is heading into her fourth straight appearance in the quadrennial Games, made history in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics as she ended a 20-year medal drought for the Philippines after winning silver in weightlifting event. It marked her first Olympic medal in three attempts, the first and second of which were at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games.
There is no way but up for the 30-year-old, whose medal haul in the international scene include three golds, five silvers and five bronzes, as she continues to carry the ambition of a nation hungry for Olympic glory.
Having trained in Malaysia where she set a personal record of 130kg in clean and jerk, Diaz is raring to participate in the women’s 55kg class and land atop the podium.
Yuka Saso may not have the same amount of experience Diaz has had over the years, but the youngest member of the Philippine delegation also brings a wealth of exposure from the international golf circuit.
The 20-year-old Filipina wunderkind, who turned professional in 2019, has competed in several golf tournaments across the globe. The biggest achievement in her young yet promising career came in the US Women’s Open in June, where she reigned over the competition and tied South Korean golfer Inbee Park as the Open’s youngest winner at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days old.
The Filipina-Japanese, who last represented the flag in the 2018 Asian Games where she struck gold twice, is the top golfer of the Philippines. She is currently ranked No. 9 in the world heading into the Summer Games, making her one of the strongest bets of the country.
Expectations are also high for EJ Obiena to make history in Japan.
Obiena, the country's top pole vaulter who became the first Filipino to punch a ticket to the Tokyo Games, has been hard at work in the buildup to the Olympics.
In the past several months alone, the 25-year-old athlete has participated in various pole vaulting competitions overseas, collecting a handful of medals and even shattering national records in the process.
For one, Obiena cleared 5.87 meters in the Irena Szwewinska Memorial/Bydgoszcz Cup in Poland at the start of July to reset the national outdoor pole vault record, eclipsing the 5.85m record he set in Mossingen, Germany in June.
Days after his historical feat, he became the champion of the 2021 Taby Stav Gala Street in Sweden after beating 2016 Rio Games gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil.
Peaking at the right time, Obiena aims to ride the crest of momentum and lead the Philippines to Olympic success.
Another favorite to pull off a medal conquest is Nesthy Petecio.
The 29-year-old Filipina, who will compete in the Women's Featherweight event of the Summer Games, is one of the finest boxers the Philippines has produced in recent times.
For starters, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) world rankings listed Petecio as the second best boxer in the Women's Elite 57-kilogram weight class last September of 2020.
She is also the second Filipina world champion behind Josie Gabuco in 2012 after reigning over the 2019 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships featherweight division.
When it comes to representing the country, Petecio has delivered the goods as well, earning a total of one gold and three silvers in four editions of the Southeast Asian Games.
As the Olympics fast approaches, the Filipino athletes are eager to make history and this year might just be the year the Philippines will get to experience the sweet taste of golden success.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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