Since the Philippines began competing at the Summer Olympics Games in 1924, Filipino athletes have won a total of 10 medals—unfortunately none of which were gold. In nearly 10 decades of vying in the prestigious quadrennial meet, winning that top spot at the medal podium has proven elusive. The Philippines is second only to Malaysia in the list of nations that have amassed the most Olympics medal without a gold.
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While euphoria remains high after our gold medal haul at the recently-concluded 2019 Southeast Asian Games (which we hosted), Filipino athletes are now looking beyond regional glory, aiming to place the Philippines alongside neighboring nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore on the Olympic honor roll.
The next chance to do so will be this July in Tokyo for the 32nd Olympiad. Pole vaulter EJ Obiena was the first Filipino to qualify for a spot there after he cleared 5.81m at the 2019 Salto Con L'asta in Chiari, Italy last September, breaking his own national record in the process. The following month in Stuttgart, gymnast Carlos Yulo joined Obiena, after his stunning victory in the floor exercise at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.
Another athlete just joined the Philippine contingent. Boxer Eumir Felix Marcial became the third Filipino to qualify after winning his quarterfinal bout at 2020 Asia & Oceania Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament in Amman, Jordan last Monday.
In that qualifying middleweight event, Marcial started off with a decisive 5-0 win over Australia's Kirra Ruston, setting up the pivotal, Olympic-clinching spot against Mongolian pugilist Byamba-Erden Otgonbaatar in the quarterfinals.
Marcial, who entered the competition as the top seed owing to his bridesmaid finish at the 2019 AIBA World Boxing Championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia, figured in what had been a one-sided match from the get-go. The 24-year-old slugger’s signature aggression was in full display from bell to bell, hammering his Mongolian opponent with blistering combinations. Despite getting a point deduction in the third round, the Filipino wasn't deterred.
Dream come true
Four years ago, it was just a dream for the Zamboanga native. Denied of a berth to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Marcial did not leave anything to chance on his second attempt at an Olympic spot.
“I’m very happy because, four years ago, I didn’t qualify,” he says in his post-fight interview. “For four years, I trained hard for this moment to qualify for the Olympics, so I knew I had to do my best and then God will do the rest.”
Marcial dedicated his victory to his first boxing coach and father Eulalio, who still trains young boxers in their hometown. The family patriarch also groomed the fighter’s cousin, Anthony “Rocky” Marcial, a former WBO Oriental super featherweight champion.
“All of this, I dedicate this win to my father because he worked hard for me, and trained me hard. He wanted me to take part in the Olympics,” he says in tears.
With boxing having the reputation as the top medal-producing sport for the country in the Olympiad, the Philippines have sent a solid roster to the qualifiers in Jordan. However, Marcial was the lone Filipino who survived. His teammates Nesthy Petecio, Riza Pasuit, Ian Clark Bautista, and James Palicte bowed out of their respective bids. Meanwhile, Carlo Paalam and Irish Magno were relegated to Olympic box-offs.
Marcial admitted that he shouldered a tremendous amount of pressure after seeing his comrades get eliminated one after another.
“I was hurt. I was saddened by what happened to them. We trained together for this competition. We exerted time and effort," he shares. "But, this is boxing. You win some, and you lose some. The only way that I can uplift their spirits is by winning. At least one of us was able to qualify."
QUALIFIED FOR TOKYO OLYMPICS!!! Eumir Felix Marcial stopped his Mongolian opponent in the 3rd round (RSC, Referee Stopped Contest) to book a ticket to the Summer Olympiad in July. Tomorrow, 4 more Filipino boxers- females Nesthy Petecio, Irish Magno & Riza Pasuit & flyweight Carlo Paalam attempt to join him in the continuation of the Asian Oceanian Olympic Qualification Tournament here in Amman, Jordan. Mabuhay! Sumbag Pinoy!!! #ABAP #PSC #mvpsf
Marcial kept his dominant run going, crushing India’s Ashish Kumar 4-1, in a semifinal duel of Olympic-bound pugilists. He operated behind his power punches and superb footwork to fashion out another lopsided win that lined him up for a crack at the gold medal against Abilkhan Amankul of Kazakhstan as of this writing.
He may be going through his plan of attack against his Kazakh foe, but his mind is already racing ahead to Tokyo. Marcial has the opportunity to end Philippine boxing’s Olympic drought. The nation notched its last medal in the sport over two decades ago when Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco bagged a silver in the 1996 Atlanta Games
“I want to win the gold here in Jordan, and I want to get the gold in Tokyo. But regardless of the results, I already accomplished my goal here. If I win, it’s just a bonus," he says. "The main goal is to get a medal in the Olympics. I have a few months to train for that. I promise that I will do my best to get the gold.”