One of the most celebrated Filipino Olympians of all time is boxer Mansueto "Onyok" Velasco, who gained national fame for his Atlanta 1996 gold-medal fight that many thought he deserved to win.
Twenty-two years old at the time, Velasco looked primed to give the Olympics another go and have at redemption.
But he turned down the chance to lace up his mitts again, and instead cashed in on his popularity to enter show business, where he was cast in slapstick comedies.
Filipino taekwondo icon Monsour del Rosario, who competed in Seoul 1988, said that career shift boggled him and when he had a chance to talk to Velasco about it Velasco's answer broke his heart.
"When he became an actor, I worked with him a couple of times in some sitcoms. I asked him, 'Why are you an actor, you're so young? You're only 21, 22. Why don't you go back to next Olympics four years from now, and you can win the gold?' " del Rosario said in a recent interview on "Post Game", ABS-CBN News' sports podcast.
The Philippines looked on the verge of clinching its first Olympic gold medal, as Velasco looked brilliant against Bulgaria's Daniel Petrov in the final of the light-flyweight division.
But Velasco lost convincingly, 19-6, a result many Filipinos described as a robbery.
Velasco, del Rosario said, quit boxing because he didn't think the payoff was worth it. Only half of the government incentive that was due him, he said, was given to him.
Del Rosario recalled Velasco saying: " 'Yung pangako sa akin ng gobyerno 50 percent lang ang ibinigay, 'yung 50 percent wala. Tapos kung alam mo iyong sakripisyo namin sa Cuba, yung training na dinanas namin na napakahirap, napakasakit yung bugbugan, para makalusot ako sa Olympics. Parang hindi ko na kayang ulitin yan. At magkano ang sweldo ng isang atleta? May tatlo akong anak . . . Hindi ko sila mabubuhay sa ganyang sweldo'."
Del Rosario told Velasco that it made him uncomfortable seeing an Olympic silver medalist like him, who was close to winning a historic gold for the Philippines in Atlanta, playing roles where he was being made the butt of jokes.
"Sabi ko, 'Dito sa sitcom binabatuk-batukan ka lang ng artista rito.' Sabi niya, 'P20,000 naman kada batok'," Del Rosario remembered Velasco saying.
" 'Olympic medalist ka, 'wag kang magpabatok'," Del Rosario added, to which Velasco answered, " 'mas malaking kita dito sa pag-aartista kesa mag-training pa ako ulit sa Philippine team'."
In August 2016, Velasco sought Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s help to get the P2.5 million he said was owed him.
Del Rosario said Velasco's story is an example of how many Filipino amateur athletes who have won in international tournaments are being treated shabbily.
"I know the sacrifices these people go through," he said. "I went through it. It's a lonely road."
After giving up competitive taekwondo, del Rosario went on to become an action star in the 1990s. He eventually turned his focus to public service, winning a seat at the House of Representatives in 2016.
Unlike him, Del Rosario said many Filipino athletes do not have a flourishing career after they retire, and the prospect of being neglected by sports leaders when their playing years are over worries them to the point that they look for other things to do.
"Kasi sometimes, you see a lot of previous Olympians how their life ends and a sad ending they have. So you don't see a future being an Olympian, so some of them are alanganin to dedicate themselves to that kind of life," he said.
"A lot of our athletes don't come from well-to do families, we should really take care of our athletes."
“Post Game” is the ABS-CBN News sports podcast. To listen to “Post Game” and other ABS-CBN podcasts and audio programs, download the ABS-CBN Radio Service App.
FROM THE ARCHIVES