Filipino athletes

LOOK: Top 10 breakout Filipino athletes for 2022

JR Isaga

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LOOK: Top 10 breakout Filipino athletes for 2022
The Philippines boasts of a bevy of up-and-coming stars who are dead set on continuing the country’s excellence in the sports arena

MANILA, Philippines – The word “historic” gets thrown around a lot in sports, and more often than not, for good reason. But perhaps there are few better examples, for Filipino athletes in particular, to encompass the meaning of that word better than the year 2021.

Despite being bogged down by the pandemic, the country’s sporting cream of the crop fought through adversity as only Filipinos can, and produced one of the best campaigns in the country’s history, if not the best.

Hidilyn Diaz ended a near-century search for the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. Carlos Yulo endured heartbreak in the same Olympiad before coming back with a vengeance to claim world championships in vault and floor exercise.

Yuka Saso gave the Philippines its first major golf championship as a parting gift before choosing Japanese citizenship, while EJ Obiena rose to sixth in the world’s pole vault rankings before he was recommended for expulsion by his own association.

Clearly, the year 2021 had its share of dizzying highs, and heart-wrenching, anger-inducing lows, but that doesn’t mean 2022 will already pale in comparison, at least on the positive side of things.

Here are more of the country’s up-and-coming stars who are dead set on continuing Philippine excellence in the sports arena:

Kai Sotto – basketball

Long heralded as the Philippines’ best basketball prospect, towering 19-year-old Kai Sotto is finally making real strides in his quest to become the first full-blooded Filipino player in the NBA.

After a disappointing stint in the NBA G League, the 7-foot-3 star regrouped and joined the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League, where he made his professional basketball debut in December 2021.

In 2022, Sotto will be eligible to join the NBA draft for the first time, but fans must always remember to exercise patience if ever the teenage titan decides to keep honing his skills away from the world’s biggest spotlight.

Dwight Ramos – basketball

Gone are the days of Marc Pingris and Jimmy Alapag in the Philippines’ international hoops scene, but the country will almost certainly never run out of talented Filipinos just waiting to be called to represent, and Dwight Ramos is one such example.

After Gilas Pilipinas program director Tab Baldwin opted to run with an all-prospect team back in 2020, the Fil-Am guard immediately shot up as one of the young guns to watch in international competition after strong showings in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers.

At just 23 years old, Ramos is already a star-caliber import in the Japan B. League for the Toyama Grouses, and will continue to fly the country’s colors as often as possible moving forward.

Jack Animam – basketball

Men’s basketball has always received a significant amount of fan attention in the Philippines for the better part of the last century, which is why many Filipinos may have missed the mesmerizing professional debut season of national team star Jack Animam.

Playing as an import for Radnicki Kragujevac of the First Women’s Serbia League, the 23-year-old turned heads with averages of more than 20 points and 14 rebounds per game before unfortunately going down with an undisclosed leg injury.

Although Animam has since headed to the US for treatment and recovery, she is still set to join the 2022 WNBA Draft and is more than ready to become the league’s first Filipina player.

Eumir Marcial – boxing

Over in boxing, Eumir Marcial makes this list after a rousing Olympic debut in Tokyo, where he ultimately won the bronze medal in the middleweight division.

One year after that historic medal win, however, the 26-year-old has already secured his financial future by turning professional, but only after getting a guarantee that he may still represent the country in international competition.

Although Marcial currently holds just a 1-0 pro record, his historic performance in the Olympics is a clear indicator that he is ready to be a dangerous prize fighter in 2022.

Stephen Loman – mixed martial arts

Team Lakay may have seen its fair share of ups and downs over the last few years, but fight fans can always count on the Baguio-based stable to hone the country’s best up-and-coming fighters, and Stephen Loman surely fits the bill.

Despite being already 30 years old, Loman still has a long road ahead of him starting in 2022 as he tries to keep his six-year undefeated streak intact.

Nicknamed “The Sniper,” Loman aptly introduced himself as one of ONE Championship’s newest and biggest acquisitions with a one-punch knockout of Yusup Saadulaev in his long-awaited debut match with the promotion in December 2021.

Faith Nisperos – volleyball

In a Filipino volleyball scene filled with big-name stars in their primes, Faith Nisperos stands out as one of the few young standouts already looking like the next big thing.

A member of perennial collegiate powerhouse Ateneo Lady Eagles, the 22-year-old outside hitter recently made waves at the Asian Volleyball Club (AVC) Championship for the Philippine national team.

Despite only having two collegiate games under her belt due to the onset of the pandemic, Nisperos has shown that she is ready to take the lead as the next volleyball star, whether as a representative of her school or her country.

Mhicaela Belen – volleyball

Like Nisperos before her, Mhicaela Belen seized her opportunities outside the dormant collegiate scene and made the most out of them when her number was called.

A member of the storied National University volleyball program, the 19-year-old was also one of the country’s standout performers during the AVC campaign, and, like Nisperos, was another silver lining for what was otherwise a lackluster run overall.

In the midst of a bleak early outlook for 2022 collegiate competition, Belen still remains a bright young star ready to soar in future overseas tournaments.

Elreen Ando – weightlifting

With all the buzz surrounding Hidilyn Diaz and her shocking gold medal win, it is quite understandable for fans to have overlooked another Filipina weightlifter who made history in the Tokyo Olympics: Elreen Ando.

Although the 23-year-old did not bring home a medal like her ate Hidilyn, Ando’s inclusion in the Olympiad is in itself a big achievement for the country, and her rise all but guarantees that weightlifting is in good hands after Diaz’s eventual retirement.

The 2019 Southeast Asian Games silver medalist recently competed in the 2021 International Weightlifting Federation World Championships, and will likely go for gold in the 2022 SEA Games in Vietnam, and possibly, even the Asian Games in China.

Jamie Lim – karate

While Jamie Lim has proven that excellence in sports is genetic, she has been set on carving her own path to greatness, especially after wrapping up her studies as a summa cum laude BS Mathematics graduate of the University of the Philippines.

The 24-year-old karateka and daughter of basketball icon “Skywalker” Samboy Lim kept busy in 2021, and most recently won a silver medal in the 2021 Asian Karate Championships alongside Filipino-Japanese veteran Junna Tsukii.

Lim, the reigning 2019 SEA Games champion in the women’s karatedo +61 kg category, is likely set on defending her crown at the 2022 Games in Hanoi.

Bianca Pagdanganan – golf

Finally, Bianca Pagdanganan wraps up the list of 2022’s breakout candidates as another young star with a loaded schedule ahead to prove herself.

Soon after her Olympic debut in Tokyo, the 24-year-old secured her 2022 Ladies Professional Golf Association season membership and is likely set to debut at the Gainbridge LPGA in Florida from January 27 to 30 (January 28 to 31, Manila time).

Following Yuka Saso’s acquisition of Japanese citizenship, all eyes are now on Pagdanganan, also a reigning SEA Games champion, to represent the Philippines in the 2022 Games in Vietnam. –

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