It is just halfway through 2021, and yet Philippine sports are already teeming with top achievers.
The month of June alone saw a number of Filipino athletes proudly wave the country’s tricolors on the international stage, with a pair of lady teeners showing the way.
Golfer Yuka Saso displayed steely nerves in beating Nasa Hataoka in a three-hole playoff to win the US Women’s Open. She is the first-ever Filipino golfer in history to become a major winner.
At 19, the double-gold medalist in the 2018 Asian Games tied South Korean Park Inbee as the youngest champion in the tournament.
The historic feat of Saso put her in a strong position for the Athlete of the Year honor and other recognitions handed out by the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) at year’s end.
Everything snowballed after Saso’s triumph.
Rising 16-year-old netter Alex Eala won the French Open girls’ doubles title with Russian partner Oksana Selekhmeteva. They beat eighth seeds Russian Maria Bondarenko and Hungarian Amarissa Kiaratoh in straight sets, 6-0, 7-5 at Roland Garros in Paris.
It was the second Grand Slam doubles title for the Filipina scholar of the Rafael Nadal Academy. She earlier bagged the Australian girls crown in 2020.
Pole vaulter and Olympic-bound EJ Obiena also had his share of the limelight. He won a number of gold medals, including a record-breaking performance in the Jump and Fly International Athletics in Mossingen, Germany. There he established a new national record of 5.85 meters.
He has since surpassed the mark by soaring to 5.87 meters. His record netted him a silver in the World Athletics Continental Tour in Poland.
In the same month, more Filipinos also clinched berths in the Tokyo Olympics including golfers Juvic Pagunsan, Bianca Pagdanganan, and Saso; along with skateboarder Margielyn Didal; judoka Kiyomi Watanabe; shooter Jayson Valdez; sprinter Kristina Knott; weightlifter Elreen Ando; swimmers Remedy Rule, and Luke Gebbie. Para-athlete jin Allain Ganapin also secured a berth in the Tokyo Paralympics.
In all, 19 athletes will represent the country in the Olympiad that gets going on July 23.
Gilas Pilipinas and the Philippine Azkals also made good accounts of their respective international campaigns.
Meanwhile, the men’s basketball team coached by Tab Baldwin formally clinched a berth in the FIBA Asia Cup. They scored a three-game sweep of its schedule in the final window of the qualifier in Clark, Pampanga — including back-to-back victories over regional rival South Korea.
The Filipinos later gave world no. 5 Serbia a big scare then no. 19 Dominican Republic a run for its money. This, despite losing to both teams in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
The Azkals meanwhile, fell short of reaching the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Still, they managed to earn a berth in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
In esports, Execration made short work of Blacklist International, 4-1, to win the Mobile Legends Southeast Asia Cup 2021 in an all-Filipino grand finals.