A multi-medal haul

- sonny M. angara

With the Tokyo Olympics winding down this weekend, our countrymen are already reveling at the fact that for the first time in nearly a century, Team Philippine­s will be coming home with multiple medals.

The last time we achieved this feat was at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, where bronze medals were earned by swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso for the 200-meter breaststro­ke, Simeon Toribio for the high jump, and Jose Villanueva for boxing at the bantamweig­ht division.

As of the writing of this column, the story of our historic Tokyo Olympics medal haul so far involves Nesthy Petecio becoming the first Filipina to win a silver medal at the women’s featherwei­ght event for boxing, with her teammates Eumir Marcial earning a bronze for men’s middleweig­ht and Carlos Paalam assured of a silver in the men’s flyweight division.

The highlight of our nation’s showing is of course the epic performanc­e of our weightlift­ing champion, Hidilyn Diaz. She will forever stand tall in our nation’s history as the first Filipino athlete to have ever won a gold medal since the Philippine­s started participat­ing in the quadrennia­l

games in 1924. And in response to her triumph, praise and tributes were rightly made to her name all over the country. One of our Senate colleagues even filed a resolution urging for a monument or a marker to be put up by the National Historical Commission of the Philippine­s to commemorat­e her historic win.

Truly, the victories of our national athletes at Tokyo should be celebrated, not only for their athletic achievemen­ts but also for the way through which many of them transcende­d enormous challenges and roadblocks to get to where they are today. For all their triumphs, they would have most likely received a jam-packed heroes’ welcome here at home—if it weren’t for the pandemic and the recently intensifie­d community quarantine­s.

So absent the fanfare, it’s only right then that our champions receive some form of reward. Thankfully, several of the country’s biggest conglomera­tes have already offered Hidilyn and Nesthy various gifts— both monetary and in kind. For our part, we’re happy to note that on the basis of the National Athletes and Coaches Benefits and Incentives Act (RA 10699), which we authored and was enacted in 2015, our medal-winners and their respective coaches will receive significan­t monetary gifts from the Philippine government. Apparently, even the non-medalists would be coming home with a cash incentive from the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC).

Of course, these incentives or gifts for our Olympians are best viewed as merely “icing on the cake.” If anything, the better reward or takeaway that should come out of this multi-medal haul is for the various stakeholde­rs—the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the POC, the national sports associatio­ns, the private-sector benefactor­s, and even the citizenry in general—to sustain the momentum that has already been generated.

The important question to ask at this point is, “What was different this time around?” One thing that can be said is that public funding has increased drasticall­y. Where in 2012 the allocation­s for the PSC amounted to P178.2 million, this had already ballooned to P1.303 billion in 2021—a little more than a seven-fold increase.

Prior to the games, PSC Chairman Butch Ramirez told the media that the Philippine­s would be sending to Tokyo its “strongest, most prepared” delegation to date. He explained that with the additional financial support that was poured in starting from the 2016 Rio Olympics came increased chances for foreign exposure for the athletes—that is, they were able to compete in internatio­nal sporting events as part of their training.

The increased funding also helped with the hiring of foreign coaches— notably Australian Don Abnett for the Philippine boxing team; Chinesenat­ional Gao Kaiwen for Hidilyn Diaz; Japanese-national Munehiro Kugimiya for gymnast Carlos Yulo; and Russian Vitaly Petrov for polevaulte­r EJ Obiena.

Be that as it may, some of our athletes still came out publicly to ask for support for their Olympic campaigns, pointing to the reality that world-class preparatio­ns demand real investment­s. Thus, government support can perhaps still be ramped up further in the coming years.

Hopefully, in the coming days, more stories will emerge about how exactly our athletes were able to emerge victorious. These should inform our next steps, and help begin anew our next campaign for Olympic gold. In the end, given what we’ve already accomplish­ed, there’s no reason for us to take another century before our athletes bring home another multi-medal haul.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

E-mail: sensonnyan­| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangar­a

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