GWANGJU, South Korea – Chess champion GM Wesley So and taekwondo hero Samuel Thomas Morrison, the two biggest names in the Philippine Universiade history, are not around.
So made history by winning the country’s first – and only – gold medal in Universiade history with his stunning performance during the 27th edition in Kazan, Russia in 2013.
Morrison, bagged a silver medal – also a first – for the country with his brave showing in taekwondo during the 2011 Shenzhen Universiade.
But David Ong, president of the Federation of School Sports Association of the Philippines (FESSAP), the only Philippine sports association duly recognized by the FISU, believes the 120-strong Filipino contingent will perform well and make the country proud in the 28th Summer Universiade now underway in Gwangju “even without winning a medal.”
“As they say, winning isn’t everything. We are here to represent our country in the university sports level, just like we do in the Olympics for our elite athletes,” said Ong, who is widely credited for bringing So (chess) in Kazan and Morrison (taekwondo) in Shenzhen as part of the Filipino delegation under FESSAP.
The chess gold medal in the 2013 Kazan Universiade is widely believed as the last major achievement of the 21-year-old So before his much-publicized transfer to the United States Chess Federation (USCF) late last year.
Morrison, a member of the star-studded taekwondo team of Far Eastern University, also created a stir when he won the country’s first-ever medal in 2011, the first year that FESSAP started sending athletes to the Universiade.
In Gwangju, FESSAP is pinning its hopes on golf and swimming.
Former world junior golf champion Nico Evangelista and Lloyd Go will banner the Filipinos’ campaign in golf at the Naju Golf Lake Country Club.
Evangelista played for the Ateneo golf team from fifth grade up to second year high school before moving to America at the age of 16 to attend the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in South Carolina until fourth year high school.
The 22-year-old Evangelista, who was also recruited to play for the Johnson and Wales Universiy College in Miami, Florida for four consecutive years, made his mark as a golfer when he ruled a tournament in the International Junior Golf Tour (IJGT) in Hllton Head, South Carolina. He also had two Top 10 finishes in the IJGT and won a junior golf tournament in Burbank, California.
Evangelista was also invited to play in the Optimist Tournament of Champions in Orlando, Florida. He has competed in different major golf courses all over Florida and played tournaments in Singapore during the off-season.
Another Fil-Am, Go, will join Evangelista in the golf competitions.
Go is a Cebu-born student now studying at the Seton Hall University in New York.
The Filipino swimmers will take the plunge at the ultra-modern Nambu University Aquatics Center. In tennis, the six-player team under coach Antonio Quiza is composed of Kazan Universiade veteran Kurt Bryant Ocampo, Maria Eloisa Guillermo, Kezia Adelyn Jabines, Mystica Cher Laureta, Charles Ivan Adato and Janeo Ross Sanchez. Val Stephen Jaca and Dannel Tormis, both of University of Cebu will spearhead the country’s table tennis campaign.
In judo, Alfred Querubin will carry the fight.
The Philippines, however, does not have a team in basketball for the first time in three Universiade appearances.
The Filipinos were represented by Cebu champions University of Cebu in 2011 Shenzhen and University of the Visayas in the 2013 Kazan. PBA superstar Junemar Fajardo led the Webmasters in 2011 Shenzhen, while Wowie Escocio bannered the Lancers in 2013 Kazan.
World-class student-athletes now attracting attention here include European Games multiple gold medalist Hayle Ibrahimov of Azerbaijan (long distance running), Kazan gold medal winner Thomas van der Plaetsen of Belgium (decathlon), Beijing Olympics gold medalist Lee Yong-dae of South Korea (badminton), 2012 gold medalist Yang Hak-seon of Korea (gymnastics), Incheon Asian Games champion Son Yeo-jae of Korea (rhythmic gymnastics), 2014 world champion Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine (artistic gymnastics), world No. 3-ranked twins Luo Ying and Luo Yu of China (women’s doubles badminton), two-time world champion Wang Kio-chun of Korea (judo), and world champion Yang Haoran of China (men’s 10m shooting).
Easily the most popular athletes in the Universiade Village are Americans Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III of the University of Kansas Jayhawks in men’s basketball. The United States is one of 24 countries divided into four groups competing in basketball.
Also a fan favorite is retired Chicago Bull Luc Longley of Australia. The 7-2 Longley is the first Australian to play in the NBA , playing alongside Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman during the Bulls’ 1995-96 championship season. He is now part of the Aussie Sports Federation.
Among the most notable stars who saw action in past Universiades are NBA superstar Yao Ming of China (basketball), Park Chyan-ho of Korea (baseball) and Cullen Jones of the US (swimming).
Yao, who played for the Houston Rockets in the NBA, is best remembered by basketball fans for blocking a shot with 0.2 seconds left to preserve China’s close 83-82 semifinal victory over the US in the 2001 Beijing Universiade. Park became the first Korean to play in the MLB when he signed a $1.3 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, a year after leading Korea to the silver medal in the 1993 Universiade in Buffalo, New York. Cullen became the first African-American to win a 50-meter freestyle swimming gold in the 2005 Izmir Universiade in Turkey, seven years before he bagged the gold in the 2012 London Olympics.
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