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A year to remember

Philippine sports soared to great heights in 2022, a year when three big names stood out, a track star took a final bow and a perennial producer of honors sustaining a savage knockout defeat.

Still, it was a year when the Filipino athlete continued to shine on the world stage unlike in the not-so-distant past when all he did was leave a trail of heartaches and failures along the way.

Italy-based long jumper EJ Obiena continued to make heads turn after a dismal showing in the Tokyo Olympics as he captured medals mostly gold one after the other in Europe and even in the United States.
Obiena stamped his class across Europe by winning accolades in Switzerland, Austria and Germany but it was his upset of the incomparable Armand Duplantis in the Wanda Diamond League in Brussels, Belgium, that reverberated around the world.

Obiena, 27, did 5.91 meters to take top honors while Duplantis settled for second with a 5.81 effort. Chris Nilsen of the United States was third with a 5.71.

Before that, Obiena also seized the bronze medal during the IAAF world championships in Eugene, Oregon, becoming the first Filipino to medal in the prestigious tournament.

When his season was over, Obiena had successfully posted a new Asian record of 5.94 meters.

Photograph COURTESY OF ALEX EALA/FB
ALEX Eala emerges as the country’s next tennis sensation.

World champion Carlos Yulo was also in the mix after dominating the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi in May, capturing three gold medals in the Asian Artistic in Doha, Qatar, in June and going home with a silver and bronze from the world championships in Liverpool, England.

Alex Eala, after being unable to make waves in the SEA Games, struck hard in September by pulling off a landmark victory at Flushing Meadows.

Strutting her stuff at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, Eala crowned herself as US Open girls champion without ever dropping a set.

Photograph COURTESY OF EJ Obiena
EJ Obiena continues to be the country’s prime candidate for an Olympic medal. 

Eala downed Lucie Havlickova of the Czech Republic, 6-2. 6-4, to become the first Filipino to win a Grand Slam title.

But the year undoubtedly belonged to Tokyo Olympics champion Hidilyn Diaz, who remained on track for the Paris 2024 Games by winning the -55 kg gold in the 2022 IWF World Weightlifting Championship in Bogota, Colombia in early-December.

The worlds gold was the only medal of note lacking in Diaz’s collection as she had also flaunted her might in the Asian championships, Asian Games and the Asian Indoors.

In her previous stints, Diaz could only finish at third place thrice in the world championships in Pattaya (2019), Anaheim (2017) and Houston (2015).

Diaz’s other memorable moments took place in Rio 2016 when she was awarded the silver and in the SEA Games in 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2019.

As the Azkals lost their bite, the Filipinas took the spotlight when the women’s team finished third in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in India, to make the grade for a slot in the 2023 FIFA World Cup that will be played in New Zealand.

As they rev up for the WC, the Filipinas traveled extensively, making training and competition stops in Australia, Chile, the United States, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea.

In basketball, Jordan Clarkson made the cage-crazy Filipinos forget about the horror in Hanoi during the SEA Games when he powered Gilas Pilipinas to victories in the fourth window of the qualifiers.

Like their pro counterparts, college basketball was also ablaze when two coronations were held in the UAAP and NCAA.

In May, the University of the Philippines topped Season 84 in May but Ateneo rebounded in Season 85 in December.

Letran was the master of the NCAA when the Knights reigned supreme in May during Season 97 and showed everyone that it was not a fluke when it won the title again in December in Season 98.
In the fight game, amateur boxing outclassed their pro counterparts for titles.

After winning three gold medals in the Hanoi SEA Games courtesy of flyweight Rogen Ladon, bantamweight Ian Clark Bautista and middleweight Eumir Marcial, the string of good luck extended well into the months that followed with Carlo Paalam, silver medalist in the Tokyo Games the year before, emerging triumphant in the Asian championships in Amman, Jordan, in November.

In the beginning of the year the pro fighters appeared as though they were all going to spend 2022 making successful defenses while also seeing other worthy fighters joining them on the roster of champions.

But that wasn’t the case when all five world champions fell one after the other like dominoes.

In a snap, Jerwin Ancajas, Mark Magsayo, Rene Cuarto, Nonito Donaire and John Riel Casimero all lost their grips on their respective belts.

Save for Casimero, who got stripped, all four lost in title defenses overseas.

Marcial, who is being groomed for bigger things, continued to struggle in the pros even after winning his second and third pro outings.

In April, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Marcial suffered three knockdowns before stopping Isiah Hart in Las Vegas.

A few months later, Marcial attempted to make up for that unimpressive showing but had to go the distance against Steven Pichardo in Carson, California.

While there were bright lights from January to December, there were hours of darkness as well as deaths coming from all over the sporting community.

The most noteworthy was the passing in August of former Asia’s spring queen Lydia de Vega, who succumbed to cancer at the age of 57.

De Vega was Asian Games champion in 1982 (New Delhi) and Seoul (1986).

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