The recent triumph of a Malaysian diver in the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest has brought to sharper focus the chaos in the Philippine swimming community.
Cheong Jun Hoong, 27, won the 10-meter platform for women with 397.50 points, beating top contenders Si Yajie of China (396.00 points) and Ren Qian, another Chinese (391.95 points).
It was the first-ever win for Malaysia in the world diving and swimming championships since way back when in either the men or women’s division.
What made Cheong’s victory more remarkable was that the event was thought to have been in the bag for Ren—reigning Olympic champion—even before she took her first dive on July 19.
The Malaysian, all 4’11” of her, was not exactly an underdog in the diving and swimming competition in Hungary almost two weeks ago.
At the Rio Olympics last year, she partnered with compatriot Pandelela Rinong, now 24, to take the silver medal in the synchronized 10-meter platform.
Pandelela herself landed third in the individual 10-meter platform in the 2012 London Olympics, making her the first Malaysian woman to medal in a sport other than badminton, where her country is a world-beater.
In contrast, Philippine swimming is sinking deeper and deeper into mediocrity as a result of turf wars among people who all claim to have only the advancement of the Filipino tanker at heart.
Time was when the Philippines, as early as the 1930s, was slugging it out in the pool with the United States and Germany, among other traditional powerhouses in the sport.
Until the 1950s and the 1960s in the highly competitive Asian Games, the country was a mighty force in regional swimming, matching the Japanese stroke for stroke, in a number of events in both the men and women’s divisions.
In those decades, Malaysia was not even in the picture, and so was Singapore, which in Rio got its first-ever Olympic gold medal in any sport since joining the quadrennial games through Joseph Schooling (100 meter butterfly).
Before we know it, athletes from the rest of the Southeast Asian countries would be climbing up the podium in the worlds and the Olympics, with us poor Filipinos cheering—or envying—them and probably asking ourselves how they did it.
Well, we could weigh ourselves down with slabs of concrete in the deep blue sea if, and no disrespect or offense meant, a runner or a swimmer from Timor-Leste made it to the semifinal of the 50 meter free or the 100 meter sprint in the Southeast Asian Games, a “small” tournament that incidentally bred Cheong, Pandelela and Schooling.
Teofilo Yldefonso, where were you when we needed you?