MANILA, Philippines - Three champions who made the country proud on the world stage and a dominant college basketball team whose championship reign makes it one of the most successful cage programs ever, have been chosen as co-winners of the Athlete of the Year award by the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA).
Reigning super-bantamweight king Nonito Donaire Jr., Big League Softball World Series winner Team Manila, AIBA World Women's Boxing Championship gold medal winner Josie Gabuco, and reigning five-time UAAP men’s basketball title holder Ateneo Blue Eagles take the spotlight in the PSA-Milo Annual Awards Night presented by Milo, as they share the highest honor bestowed by the country’s oldest media organization for the remarkable feats they achieved in 2012.
All four lead the list of last year's top achievers to be recognized on March 16 at the historic Manila Hotel.
By sheer impact and the way they dominated their respective fields made all four worthy of the award, according to PSA president Rey Bancod of Tempo.
Gabuco is a first time recipient of the accolade, and so do the unassuming Manila softbelles and the amazing Blue Eagles, both of whom also became the first group to be given such honor since Southeast Asian Games overall champion Team Philippines achieved it in 2005.
For Donaire, it's his third Athlete of the Year trophy and second straight since sharing the award with billiards great Dennis Orcollo in last year's staging of the event also supported by Sen. Chiz Escudero, Philippine Sports Commission, Smart, Harbour Centre, Philippine Basketball Association, LBC and ICTSI.
A first time winner in 2007, the "Filipino Flash" became just the seventh three-time winner of the award since the PSA began keeping its records in 1981, joining an illustrious list that included Lydia De Vega, Bong Coo, Paeng Nepomuceno, Luisito Espinosa, Efren `Bata’ Reyes, and the great Manny Pacquiao.
The man truly deserved it.
Donaire had earlier been named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) for his exemplary performance that saw him win a third world title in the year just past, and successfully defending it thrice – the last one against all-action Mexican Jorge Arce – in a busy reign as World Boxing Organization (WBO) 122-lbs. champion.
Not to be outdone are fellow fearless boxer Gabuco, the gallant Manila softbelles, and the class act Blue Eagles.
The 25-year-old Gabuco became the first Filipina boxer to win a gold medal in the World Women's Boxing Championship as she bucked a partisan crowd to eke out a close 8-7 win over local bet and world no. 8 Xu Shiqi in the light-flyweight finals at the Olympic Sports Center in Qinhuangdao, China.
On her way up, the two-time SEA Games gold medalists beat out three of the top six boxers in the world as per AIBA rankings of 2013. In the semis, Gabuco defeated current world no. 1 Gnevanova Svetlana of Russia, 12-7, while in the quarterfinals, the world no. 2 outclassed no. 3 Kim Clavel of Canada, 21-15.
Lack of funds almost cost Team Manila to skip the World Series, the very same tournament where it thrice finished runner-up in the past.
The cash-strapped team struggled to travel together as one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, causing them to lose their two games of the tournament.
But came the dramatic turnaround, that saw the Manila softbelles – with all of the players finally accounted for – won all of their next seven games, including a 14-2 trouncing of California in the title-clinching match to complete one of the most inspiring stories in Philippine sports.
The Blue Eagles meanwhile, were short of untouchables in Season 75 of the UAAP.
With coach Norman Black steering the ship for one final time, Ateneo lost just twice in 17 games last season in its drive for a rare fifth straight seniors cage title.
The Blue Eagles capped their astounding season by eliminating bitter rival La Salle Archers in the Final Four and then swept the University of Santo Tomas Tigers in a highly-emotional best-of-three Finals to mark their niche in local collegiate basketball history.
By bringing the championship back to Katipunan for a fifth consecutive time, the Eagles became the second longest reigning champions in UAAP annals after University of the East Warriors ran away with seven straight titles from 1966 to 1972.