As of publishing, we can hardly wait for 2020 to end. This author is certainly many people share the same sentiment, seeing as how all our best-laid plans were flushed down the drain once COVID-19 took over the entire planet.
One of the things badly hit by the pandemic was sports, with our favorite athletic leagues, meets, and events either postponed, downsized, bubbled, or outright canceled.
Still, 2020 was not without some slivers of light.
Perhaps foremost among these athletes is Thirdy Ravena, who jumped from a UAAP three-peat in 2019 to playing for the national team in February 2020 and eventually blazing a trail as the first Filipino import in Japan’s top tier B.League.
This cause quite a few ripples, of course, owing to the fact that many PBA fans were looking forward to maybe seeing Ravena enter the pros after an illustrious collegiate career for Ateneo. Instead, Ravena chose a road that was erstwhile not taken, taking his talents to the San-En NeoPhoenix and opening the doors for Filipino hoopsters to view Japan, not as a pipe dream but a viable option in their post-UAAP or NCAA careers.
Another, of course, is Kai Sotto, who continued his training in the United States. Soon after finishing his stint with The Skill Factory, Sotto jumped straight into the NBA G League’s Ignite squad together with Filipino-American Jalen Green. As such, Sotto has been able to play against top-flight competition as he readies and steadies himself for possibly entering the next NBA Draft.
Ken Tuffin also made his mark down south — in New Zealand to be exact. Drafted as the 44th overall pick by Taranaki, he helped steer the Mountainars to the semifinals of the New Zealand-National Basketball League.
Staying in the realm of basketball, former NU Lady Bulldog and 2019 SEA Games gold medalist Jack Animam also went overseas, opting to play for Shih Hsin University in Taiwan’s UBA (University Basketball Alliance). Since making her debut, Animam has become one of the UBA’s top frontcourt players, earning high praise from her coaches and teammates.
Another lady who made a lot of noise in the international scene was Alex Eala, who topped the 2020 Australian Open Doubles in January before debuting at the ITF Women’s Futures in Monastir, Tunisia in March and turning a lot of heads at the 2020 Roland Garros Junior Championships in France a couple of months ago. She rose to as high as no. 2 in the ITF Junior Rankings this year!
In the taraflex, Marck Espejo, the country’s first-ever import, made history once more by becoming the first Filipino to play in the Middle East as he was signed by Bahraini club Bani Jamra. Bryan Bagunas and Jaja Santiago also became mainstays in the Japanese V.League as they were renewed by Oita Miyoshi Weisse Adler and Ageo Medics, respectively.
Over in football, Neil Etheridge opened a new chapter in his career signing with Birmingham City. Thailand’s premier league also tapped numerous Filipinos including Patrick Deyto and Patrick Reichelt (Suphanburi); Kevin Ingreso (Buriram); Daisuke Sato, Jarvey Gayoso, and Mar Diano (Muangthong); OJ Porteria, Javier Patino, Luke Woodland, Justin Baas, and Curt Dizon (Ratchaburi); Iain Ramsay (Prachuap); Alvaro Silva (BG Pathum); Amani Aguinaldo (Trat); Dennis Villanueva (Nakhon Ratchasima); Josh Grommen (Sukhothai); Michael Falkesgaard (Bangkok United); and Martin Steuble (Port).
There were also Filipinos who qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, which will hopefully finally push through in 2021.
One of them was boxer Eumir Marcial, who won gold in the 2020 Asia-Oceania Olympic Boxing Qualifiers in March. He also made his professional boxing debut this year, defeating Andrew Whitfield about a week ago in Los Angeles. Another was Irish Magno, the first-ever Filipina boxer to qualify for the Games.
Another guy who has also qualified for the Olympics is EJ Obiena, who continued to rack up the accolades this year, including a top-three finish for pole vault at the 2020 Diamond League in Italy.
These athletes, among others like Duke’s Vanessa de Jesus, golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan, and many more, continued to carry our country’s colors and to serve as inspirational figures in a year fraught with loss and adversity.
In spite of the bleakness of this year that’s about to end, may their examples spur us into more earnest and urgent action as we usher in what should be a bigger, brighter 2021.