Olympics and the Philippines: The Filipino Pioneers
The Philippines was not new in the Olympics. In fact, we have been competing for 88 years now. The country first became a member of the Olympics in 1924. In order to make the membership valid, the Philippines, then under American sovereignty, sent its first athlete in 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. The pioneer’s name was David Nepomuceno, the only Filipino athlete in that competition. Nepomuceno competed for a 100-meter dash in only 2/10ths short of the world record then.
The Philippines eventually won its first Olympic medal in 1928, the first in Southeast Asia, thanks to the Filipino Olympic swimmer, Teofilo Yldefonso. Also known as the “Ilocano shark” for his swiftness, he took bronze for swimming the 200mm breastroke in 2 minutes and 48.4 sec at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. He won another bronze in the 1932 Olympics in L.A. on the same event and had been expecting to win the next one. In 1938 however, in a devastating turn of events, he fell on the 7th place. The olympics, as it turned out, would not be his finest hour.
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, and hours later, invaded the Philippines. Yldefonso, an Olympian, volunteered to defend his country to the shock of many. He was part of the garrison that defended Bataan and in effect, Corregidor, allowing the incumbent Philippine president, Quezon, to escape to Australia. Bataan fell, and he, like all the other soldiers with him, was forced by the Japanese to walk 128 kilometers, in what would be known as the Bataan Death March. He survived the ordeal, thanks to his tedious training as an olympic swimmer. But he never survived. He died in the Capas Concentration Camp and his body has never been found.
His life was so similar to what Rizal had in mind when he wrote this excerpt in El Amor Patrio:
The motherland is in danger! Soldiers and leaders as if by charm spring from the ground. The father leaves his children, the sons leave their parents and all rush to defend their common mother. They bid farewell to the quiet pleasures of the home and hide under their helmets the tears that tenderness draws. They all leave and die. Perhaps …. he is a young man of smiling hopes—a son or a lover—it does not matter. He has defended the one who gave him life; he has fulfilled his duty. Peter or Leonidas, whoever he might be, the Motherland will know how to remember him.
Some have sacrificed for her their youth, their pleasures; others have dedicated to her the splendors of their genius; others shed their blood; all have died bequeathing to their Motherland an immense fortune: Liberty and glory.
And what has she done for them? She mourns them and proudly presents them to the world, to posterity and to her children to serve as an example.
Yldefonso may not have won his last stint in the Olympics, but he gave the Philippines two Olympic bronzes and most of all, his life. What Olympic award could be better?
May we remember these Olympic stories as they inspire us to win our race in life where God has called us. God has enabled us to win it.
*Photo above: Olympic Arena of the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam.
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