Power plays, record romps: Top Filipino athletes of 2019

Power plays, record romps: Top Filipino athletes of 2019
Meet the athletes who made 2019 a year to remember for Philippine sports




MANILA, Philippines – An overall championship in the Southeast Asian Games capped the Philippines’ roller-coaster campaign in 2019. But before the regional romp at home soil, several Filipino athletes delivered record feats that made it a year to remember.



HISTORIC. Gymnast Carlos Yulo brings home the country's first gold in the world championships. Photo by Jat Tenorio/Red Ox Media Events



Carlos Yulo 

Teen gymnast Carlos Yulo made headlines this year as he bagged the country’s first gold medal in the world gymnastics championship while also securing a Tokyo 2020 Olympics berth.

Last October, Yulo placed 18th out of 160 athletes in the world to advance to the men’s individual all-around final, which booked him a ticket to the quadrennial sportsfest. (READ: How Carlos Yulo tumbled to success)

The celebration did not stop there as the 4-foot-9 dynamo tumbled to a table-topping score of 15.300 that gave the Philippines a historic gold in the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Although Yulo failed to sweep the 2019 SEA Games artistic gymnastics events in December, Yulo still emerged as the most bemedalled Filipino athlete of the regional meet after bagging 2 golds and 5 silvers.

The feat earned the 19-year-old a total cash incentive of P3.25 million from President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee.



BANNER YEAR. Boxer Nesthy Petecio reaps the reward of her hard work. Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler


Nesthy Petecio 

Nesthy Petecio  wreaked havoc in the women’s featherweight division in 2019 as the 27-year-old made history by winning a gold medal in the 2019 AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships last October in Russia. 

Petecio was the first Filipina in 7 years to win the worlds since Josie Gabuco ruled the light flyweight division in 2012. (FAST FACTS: Who is boxing world champion Nesthy Petecio?)

With the feat, she was deservedly chosen as the torchbearer in the country’s SEA Games opening ceremonies, where she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the legendary Manny Pacquiao as they declared the Games open. (WATCH: Pacquiao, Petecio set SEA Games 2019 cauldron aglow)

During the competition, it was definitely no surprise when Petecio conquered the regional meet and nabbed one of 7 total boxing golds for the Philippine contingent.



BREAKTHROUGH. EJ Obiena becomes the first Filipino to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler



EJ Obiena

Pole vault star EJ Obiena completed his comeback from an ACL injury with a stellar 2019 showing to become the first Filipino to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Last September, Obiena cleared the height of 5.81 meters in the 30th Summer Universiade in Chiari, Italy which surpassed the Tokyo 2020 Olympics cut of 5.80m. The feat also saw Obiena resetting his own Philippine record for the third time this year.

Three months later, the 24-year-old again proved he’s a force to be reckoned with as he finally claimed a SEA Games gold medal in record-breaking fashion after countless heartbreaks in the biennial meet since his debut in 2013.

Obiena shattered the SEA Games record for the men’s pole vault to prove he’s the best in Southeast Asia right in front of the home crowd. (READ: Dream come true: EJ Obiena caps off stellar year with SEA Games gold)

Prior to his breakthrough performances, the Tokyo-bound athletics star surpassed his own record twice in April and July.



GOLDEN. Hidilyn Diaz adds a SEA Games gold to her collection. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler



Hidilyn Diaz

Despite experiencing setbacks this year, Hidilyn Diaz showed she has become more comfortable in moving up to the 55kg weight division with a world championship bronze that boosted her bid to nab the country’s first Olympic gold in the 2020 Tokyo Games. 

The Philippines’ weightlifting star also bagged 3 runner-up finishes in the 2019 Asian Weightlifting Championships and capped off her year on a high note with a breakthrough SEA Games gold. (ATHLETE’S CORNER: Hidilyn Diaz out to snatch first SEA Games gold)

After getting a chance to train in China for two months, the 2016 Rio Olympic silver medalist, though, faced challenges in her road back to the Olympics.

Diaz could not continue her international training due to lack of funds, which prompted her to seek for financial support through social media. Although the PSC initially frowned upon her public call-out, the government’s sports agency committed to help in her Tokyo 2020 quest.

Another distraction this year was when Diaz feared for her life after being included in the Duterte foe list during the height of the ‘Bikoy’ controversy.



SOLID YEAR. Eumir Marcial picks up major podium finishes in 2019. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler   


Eumir Marcial

Eumir Marcial has been making headway in the international boxing scene and quietly racked up an impressive 2019 campaign. 

Although his amateur record of 35-13 with 10 KOs may seem lukewarm to the eye test, the 24-year-old slugger from Zamboanga won where it mattered most. 

Last September, Marcial etched his name in the history books by winning a silver medal in the 2019 AIBA Boxing World Championships held in Russia. He became only the third Filipino to nail a runner-up finish in the event after Roel Velaso in 1997 and Harry Tanamor in 2007.

Unsatisfied with his achievement, Marcial went on to dominate the middleweight division in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, where he put Vietnamese Manh Cuong Nguyen to sleep in the very 1st round of the gold medal match.



BREAKING BARRIERS. Jack Animam becomes the face and voice of women's basketball in the Philippines. File photo by Jerrick Reymarc/Rappler



Jack Animam 

Gilas Women stalwart Jack Animam became an integral part of the movement promoting women’s basketball in the Philippines.

For her, 2019 is the “year of women’s basketball” as she led the national team to a historic sweep of the SEA Games basketball events.

This year marked the first time the Philippines joined the Women’s Jones Cup as Gilas Women also participated in the FIBA Olympic pre-qualifying tournament – all part of the team’s push for more international exposure.

Animam wrapped up her UAAP career with a championship as the National University (NU) Lady Bulldogs bagged their sixth straight crown and extended their perfect league run with a staggering 96-0 record.


  BREAKTHROUGH. Bryan Bagunas helps spearhead the rise of Philippine men's volleyball. Photo by Michael Gatpandan/Rappler


Bryan Bagunas 

Bryan Bagunas also had a 2019 to remember as he led Philippine men’s volleyball to new heights. (READ: Clutch Bagunas delivers as PH rewrites SEA Games volleyball history)

Fresh off a dominant UAAP Finals MVP campaign in his final year with the National University Bulldogs, the 21-year-old scoring machine got right to work with the national team in preparation for their 2019 SEA Games campaign. 

Together with Marck Espejo, Kim Malabunga and Joshua Retamar, Bagunas steered the country to a stunning ouster of four-time reigning SEA Games champion Thailand in the semifinals before bowing to powerhouse Indonesia in the finals.

Despite the loss, the national team still clinched its best SEA Games finish in 42 long years, cementing Bagunas’ rise as the next Filipino volleyball superstar.



LEGACY. Thirdy Ravena is UAAP basketball's first three-time Finals MVP.  Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler


Thirdy Ravena

It was all worth the wait for Thirdy Ravena as he never imagined ending his UAAP career with a three-peat championship, 3 straight Finals MVP plums and a perfect 16-0 record with the Ateneo Blue Eagles this year.

Living most of his life in the shadow of older brother Kiefer, Ravena left a legacy in the collegiate league as the first ever three-time Finals MVP.

Ravena, though, decided not to turn pro yet as he skipped the 2019 PBA Draft. But surely, more opportunities await the Ateneo stalwart after playing a major role in the Blue Eagles’ rise to become one of the best collegiate teams the past decade.



INCREDIBLE JOURNEY. Jerrick Balanza completes a phenomenal basketball comeback. Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler


Jerrick Balanza

There’s a lot to be said about hard work getting repaid in due time, and Jerrick Balanza certainly fits that narrative. 

After a life-threatening brain tumor and subsequent surgery, the 23-year-old Letran Knights swingman incredibly worked his butt off in 2019 to get back to the player he once was prior to his illness. 

Sure enough, he reaped the fruit of his tireless labor in his final playing year as he helped the Knights take down the mighty three-time defending champion San Beda Red Lions in the NCAA Season 95

As a cherry on top, Balanza ended the decade with a bang after being selected in the 2019 PBA Rookie Draft by Barangay Ginebra.



UNDISPUTED. Filipino boxing champion Jerwin Ancajas extends his reign. Photo by Alvin S. Go/Rappler



Jerwin Ancajas

Although the magic of Manny Pacquiao has started to wane due to Father Time, Philippine boxing has been as steady as ever in 2019 with Jerwin Ancajas leading the way. 

Undefeated since 2012, the 27-year-old southpaw closed out the decade in fine style as he defended his IBF super flyweight title twice this year, with both matches against Ryuichi Funai and Miguel Gonzalez ending in stoppages. 

With his 7th and 8th title defenses in the bag, Ancajas improved his professional record to 32-1-2 with a staggering 22 KOs and is on his way to a surefire blockbuster start to the new decade. – Rappler.com



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