Mona Sulaiman, Asia’s fastest woman of early ’60s, dies at 75

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Mona Sulaiman, Asia’s fastest woman of early ’60s, dies at 75
Sulaiman had starred for the Philippines at the 1962 Asian Games

MANILA, Philippines – Mona Sulaiman, the stocky woman from Cotabato who was Asia’s fastest woman in the first half of the 1960s, passed away on Thursday, December 21 at the East Avenue Medical Center. She was 75 years old.

Her niece, Mary Jean Neri, said her aunt was admitted on December 16, and though she fought on, she had numerous illnesses. No date or venue for her wake has been announced. 

“She was OK until this year. She could still go out,” said Neri.

Sulaiman’s raw power made up for an ungainly form in her best year, the 1962 Asian Games where she won the 100m in a games mark of 11.6 and the 200 in 24.5. In the 4x100m relay final, Sulaiman overcame the challenge of Japan’s anchor Ikuko Yoda as the Philippines won in 48.6.

“Inocencia Solis was the smoother sprinter but Mona was more powerful,” said Romeo Sotto, the ex-discus king who was in two Asian Games.

Sotto was referring to Solis, who won the 1958 Asian Games 100 meters, and whom Sulaiman dethroned in 1960. So ironclad was Sulaiman’s reign over women’s sprints that no one from the fabled Cebu Tech amazons, who were the core of the national team, and which Solis belonged, could defeat her.

Josephine de la Vina was the only Cebu Tech athlete who could and was because Sulaiman also ventured into the discus, which Big Jo easily dominated as easily as Mona lorded it over in the sprints.

Sulaiman, despite her fame, called friends, “pare“. Despite a rugged and a masculine-looking face, she was easy to talk and always deferred to people who helped her. 

This came after Sulaiman refused to take a medical test in the 1966 Asian Games in Bangkok, saying it would be counter to her Muslim beliefs. There were allegations that she would have issues with a gender test but this never came to pass as Sulaiman left the Asian Games village amid furor and controversy. Decades later, she said head coach Ruperto Evangelista shielded her during that period. “I am very grateful to him. He helped me a lot,” she said.  

Her departure cost the Philippines two sure golds in the 100 meters and 200 meters. The winner Miko Sato of Japan clocked only 12.3 in the century. In the 200, Debra Marcus of Israel prevailed in 25.3. The Philippines had to wait for Lydia de Vega in the 1982 Asiad for a gold medal and that was in the 100 meters in 11.76.

Her athletic fame ended abruptly. For decades she would pop up at the Rizal Memorial Track Oval. There was a time when she was an employee or later a consultant at the Philippine Sports Commission. People would defer to her as they were faced with Asia’s former fastest woman and still she would reply in the same easy manner. –

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