(First of two parts)
Tomorrow, October 10, marks the day when the once every four-year “Greatest Sports Show on Earth” arrived in Asia for the first time.
On that day in 1964, the Olympic Games traveled to Japan’s capital of Tokyo, which then had yet to recover from the devastation Japan suffered from World War II.
Among the numerous contingents that marched during the colorful opening rites that day was the tiny 64-athlete and 25-official aggrupation from nearby Philippines, which was participating in its only eighth Games since it first took part in 1924 in Paris.
After 14 days of strutting their athletic wares, the Filipino hopefuls and their officials returned home with a silver medal, its first, courtesy of featherweight boxer Anthony Villanueva, who broke the country’s 32-year medal draught since winning three in 1932 in Los Angeles.
The good-looking Villanueva, “Boy“ to family and friends, ended up second in the featherweight division, improving the three bronze medals the 1932 contingent pocketed in L.A. That three-medal output proved to be the best for the country up to the present time.
Incidentally, one of the three bronze medals the Filipinos won in that 10th edition of the Games came through the efforts of Anthony’s father Jose “Cely,” who reached the semifinal round as a bantamweight.
The other 1932 medallists are swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, who would become the only Filipino Olympian to win back-to-back medal having won, too, the 200-meter breaststroke bronze in 1928, and high jumper Simeon Toribio, who improved the fourth place finish he fashioned out, also four years ago in Amsterdam.
For 32 years, the young Villanueva’s silver medal remained unmatched until Mansueto”Onyok” Velasco, another fighter, likewise, took another silver during he Centennial Games in 1996 in Atlanta held in celebration of the Summer Games’ 100th year.
Last year in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, lady weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz duplicated the feats of Villanueva and Velasco as she also wound up second in the 53-kilogram category of her event bringing to 10, seven of them bronze, the total medal the Philippines has so far brought home since an obscure sprinter, David Nepomuceno, was given the honor of putting the country’s name in the Olympic map in Paris.
Other Filipino Olympic bronze medallists are hurdler Miguel White in 1936 in Berlin, boxer Leopoldo Serrantes in1988 in Seoul, and Roel Velasco, Onyok’s elder brother in 1992 in Barcelona.
The Philippine has, actually, already won the much sought-after Olympic gold medal when bowler Arianne Cerdena topped the women’s singles event in1988 in Seoul where her sport was played as a demonstration event.
A pair of Olympic bronze medals were also captured unofficially courtesy of taekwondo jins Stephen Fernandez and gymnast turned-jin Bea Lucero in the 1992 Barcelona Games when their sport was, likewise, contested as a demo.
Despite suffering a lot from the devastation brought about by World War II, Tokyo still was able to manage the 1964 Games with success in spite of the continuing political storms.
South Africa was barred from participating by the International Olympic Committee on account of its apartheid policies. Indonesia, too, for having hosted the unsanctioned Games of the New Emergent Forces in 1962 and North Korea withdrew in protest of the move.
But, as in previous staging of the Olympics, the heroics of the athletes occupied center stage. American boxer Joe Frazier battled his German opponent Hans Huber with a broken right hand to rule the heavyweight division.
Abebe Bikila, this time wearing shoes, annexed his second marathon title – 40 days after having an appendectomy. Australian swimming sensation Dawn Frazier took his third consecutive gold in the 100-meter freestyle dewpite having neck injury suffered in a serious car accident.
An incredible Al Oerter bucked terrible pain torn cartilage in his ribs, a slid cervical disk and internal hemorrhaging, and still with bandages hurled he discus for his third gold medal. (Next issue: How Villanueva won his Olympic silver medal)