Bowling: Olympic champ Arianne Cerdeña recalls journey to PH Sports Hall of Fame

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Mar 14 2021 07:57 AM

Bowling: Olympic champ Arianne Cerdeña recalls journey to PH Sports Hall of Fame 1
Bowling: Olympic champ Arianne Cerdeña recalls journey to PH Sports Hall of Fame 2

Arianne Cerdeña (from left) with Bong Coo and Lita dela Rosa at the 1983 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore. Photo from Arianne Cerdeña Valdez Facebook page

Arianne Cerdeña, who now resides in the US, says she is honored to be enshrined in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame. Photo from Arianne Cerdeña Valdez Facebook page

Former national bowling team standout Arianne Cerdeña Valdez was overjoyed when she learned that she was chosen among the latest honorees in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s a good birthday gift. Heaven, heaven,” exclaimed the Los Angeles-based Cerdeña, who celebrated her 59th birthday last March 11, Saturday after being selected among the latest batch of 10 outstanding athletes.

She joined a distinguished list bannered by basketball legend Robert Jaworksi and former prolific Barcelona striker Paulino Alcantara.

“This is truly gratifying. Hindi ko mai-explain. Napasigaw nga ako while working kanina sa work ko when I told my my co-nurses I won an award back home,” said the former athlete, who has been working as a nurse at the medical and surgery unit for six years at California Health Hospital Medical Center.

“The hospital is in the heart of LA,” added Cerdeña, of the 318-bed community hospital located just a 10 to 15-minute stroll from Staples Center, the joint home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.

The multi-awarded kegler’s main claim to fame is winning the women’s masters gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games at the Royal Bowling Center, beating Japanese veteran Atsuko Asai 180-197, 249-211 in the stepladder finals.

The highlights of that riveting duel 33 years ago can still be seen on YouTube.

It was only the second time that tenpin bowling made an appearance in the quadrennial meet in 52 years as a demonstration sport after it was staged as a prelude event to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Given its exhibition status, the sport thus was not included in the official Olympic medal standings both times, although Cerdeña’s golden accomplishment certainly created a lot of fanfare back in the Philippines.

This wasn’t the first time, however, that she had given honor to the country, having won a gold medal at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, which served as a dress rehearsal for the Olympics two years later, in the women’s 5-a-team event with Bong Coo, Bec Watanabe, Cecil Gaffud and Catalina Solis.

Cerdeña said that during their day, it was not all about monetary reward “but giving glory and honor to our country,” recalling that when they won the Asian Games gold she and her teammates got $200 each for their efforts.

“But the Olympics was truly something special,” she stressed after being selected among the elite cast of 12 players each in the men’s and women’s divisions from 20 countries who saw action in the event.

-- Exciting Olympic women’s masters finale --

With the late Ernesto “Toti” Lopa coaching by her side, Cerdeña, who was only 26, then a rising star in the sport, was in top form, securing the top seed after pacing the 10-game elimination series with a top score of 2354 pinfalls to earn a twice-to-beat advantage in the finals. 

In contrast, Asai wound up No. 4 in the eliminations, needing to hurdle two more players in the stepladder finals before finally getting a crack at the Filipina and the gold.

Nerves must have gotten to Cerdeña while waiting for her rival in the championship round, faltering in the first game to pave the way for the Japanese in forcing a do-or-die finale.

Asai seized the early initiative with four strikes and surged ahead by eight pins after six games over the reeling Cerdeña.

“But I suddenly found the pocket and all I remember was rolling seven straight strikes, a seven-bagger, to finally win the gold,” she recalled of her finish with a flourish in securing the coveted title.

Cerdeña said her golden feat at the Seoul Olympics was a huge confidence-booster, “since I realized that I could win on my own without being part of a team.”

“After Seoul, I went to three international competitions in two weeks and won two of the women’s masters titles in these events,” she recalled.

What followed was a dominant stretch in local and international play that lasted for more than a decade, Cerdeña said, including a gold in women’s singles at the 1999 Brunei Southeast Asian Games and capped by a women’s doubles mint with Liza del Rosario at the Malaysian edition two years later.

“At that time I wanted to retire and prayed to God to give me a sign because I wanted to have a good ending to my career. When I won that gold with Liza in Malaysia that was the sign I needed,” she said.

-- New chapter in the US, battling cancer --

Cerdeña migrated to the US soon after, marrying Raymond Valdez, a former dentistry classmate at Centro Escolar University, with whom she has a daughter, who is also a registered nurse.

She said that the lessons she learned from her bowling experience had served her well, especially when she was battling ovarian cancer while pursuing her nursing degree in the States.

“You really had to sacrifice a lot, and I even skipped classes during that time so I could train and practice,” she said.

Having overcome the illness, Cerdeña said she was grateful in having a new and productive chapter in her life, although she keeps in touch with Coo regularly to keep herself updated on developments in Manila, adding that she makes it a point to visit the national team when the squad travels to the US. 

She was also thankful that despite her job as a medical frontliner, “we have been spared from COVID-19 even during the surge of the virus here. Indeed, thank God for that,” revealing that she and her family were vaccinated recently with the Pfizer Bion-Tech vaccine.

Now that the Philippines has recognized her once again as one of the latest inductees in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame, Cerdeña said that “I am truly proud and honored to be paid this great tribute. This ranks second to my winning the gold in Seoul.”

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