Boxer Anthony “Boy” Villanueva would not have been a 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games hero had it not for his father Jose “Cely” Villanueva’s dream of improving his own bronze medal finish in the quadrennial conclave fashioned out 32 years earlier before his son’s feat.
Cely, owner of one of the Philippines’ three bronze medal harvest during the 1932 Games held in Los Angeles in what was the country’s best showing in the “Greatest Sports Sow on Earth.”
Other Filipino athletes who ended up similar third place finishes in that 10th staging of the Summer spectacle where swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, owner of a back-back bronze having won, too, in 1928 in Amsterdam, and high jumper Simeon Toribio.
Cely had always been vocal in not being satisfied with his bronze heroics each time he had chances of talking to anybody, especially newsmen, while working as a Malacañang employee until the early 70s.
“Sayang, nasa semifinal round na sana, pero hanggang doon lang umabot,” Cely recalled during one of the training sessions of then world junior-lightweight champion Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, one of his pupils at that time. “Babawi tayo balang araw.”
“Walang nakakaalam na si Boy ang tinutukoy ko na pupuno sa kulang ko,” he told this writer with a wide grin. “Noon pa man naman, paslit pa lamang si Anthony kasama-sama ko na sa gym kapag nag-e-ensayo si Bay (Elorde).”
Cely loved to reminisce about Anthony’s excitement when he presented him with a pair of boxing gloves when the son was only four years old. “Minsan nga nagkasunog sa kapitbahay namin, ang unang isinalba ni Anthony ‘yung gloves nya.”
When Anthony announced to his family that he earned a slot in the Far Eastern University boxing team, the happiest man was the father. Boy was chosen member of the Philippine boxing squad at age 17 shortly after in winning the National Open bantamweight title in 1962. He quickly rewarded the country with a gold medal in the sin championships held in Taipei.
Anthony was picked member of the strong six-man Tokyo Olympic boxing team along with flyweight Dominador Calumarde, bantamweight Arnulfo Torrevillas, lightweight Rodolfo Arpon, welterweight Manfredo Alipala and light-middleweight Felix Ocampo, all Asian amateur champions in their classes then.
Armed with the skills he learned from his constant visits to the gyms with his father and determination to excel and bring honors to the country, Anthony, then already a featherweight and still a high school student, hacked out three straight victories – Giovanni Girgente of Italy, 3-2; Tahern Ben Hassen of Tunisia, 4-1, despite suffering a cut on his eye brow, 4-1; and Piotr Gutman of Poland, KO in 1st round, to make it to the semifinals.
Already a toast at Tokyo’s famous Korakuen Ice Palace, the good looking Anthony, had to call on his firm resolve when the cut suffered in previous was re-opened in the first round, before disposing off fighting but outclassed American named after a popular comic character Charlie brown, 4-1, to arrange a showdown for the gold medal against USSR’s Stanilv Stepashkin.
Newspaper accounts had it that British referee, a Dr. Joseph Blonstein, nearly stopped the fight because of the Filipino’s injury, which after examination turned not deep enough as to cause a stoppage. That opened the gate for the southpaw Anthony to pummel Brown with stinging right jabs and punishing left crosses the rest of the way.
“Son, the gold is within reach. Pease win it for the Philippines,” was Cely’s message sent to his son through the wires after the bout.
In the gold medal encounter held October 20,1964, Villanueva looked the stronger fighter as he landed more telling blows. But despite the Filipino’s unrelenting attacks, Stepashkin never slowed down.
After the fight, the Indian judge scored it a close 60-58; his Lebanese counterpart, 60-59; and the Tunisian, 60-58. The German and the Egyptian saw the fight in Anthony’s favor in identical 59-58 counts.
Boy, thus, settled for a silver, but to many in the arena and hundreds of thousands back home, including father Cely, his son’s performance was worth the gold. His countrymen gave him a hero’s welcome when he got home. From the men and women on the streets, to the highest official of the land, President Diosdado Macapagal, all celebrated his victory.
From the motorcade that started at the Manila International Airport, to the sunset strip Roxas Boulecard, to then premier commercial center Escolta, shower of confetti rained the streets with many raising banners printed with the word MABUHAY!
There were others in the crowd who even shouted VILLANUEVA FOR PRESIDENT … PUYAT FOR VICE … the latter in reference to then ABAP head Eugenio “Gene” Puyat.
Anthony was lured into the movies but failed. He turned pro at age 2o and failed, too, forcing him to shuttle back-and-forth to the U.S to earn a living. He even tried to sell his Olympic silver medal.
Anthony Villanueva, a Filipino Olympic hero, died poor a man May of 2014, a failure too, to get help from his government even when he tried to recover from a stroke a few years since returning to his homeland to be with his family for good.