Fifth of a series
The landscape of Philippine sports has changed. Women athletes are the country's new frontliners in major international competitions.
That has been the case for the past five years.
In the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the Philippines won only one medal, a silver by Hidilyn Diaz in women's weightlifting.
In the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, the Philippines collected four gold medals, all coming from the distaff side. Diaz scored another gold in weightlifting. A street smart 19-year-old from Cebu, Margielyn Didal, surprised the sporting world with a gold in skateboarding. And Yuka Saso, who was 17 then, showed a glimpse of brighter things to come when she topped women's individual golf. She would win another gold in the team event with compatriots Lois Kaye Go and Bianca Pagdanganan.
Saso made world headlines anew when she ruled the prestigious 2021 US Open Women's Championship at age 19.
Didal, on the other hand, was hailed as Women's Asia Skater of the Year in 2020 and was included in the list of Forbes Asia "30 under 30" in 2020 and TIME's 25 Most Influential Teens in 2018.
Diaz, Didal, Saso and Pagdanganan will take centerstage anew as they spearhead the Philippines' campaign in the Tokyo Olympics, carrying the hopes of the entire Filipino nation that the Philippines will finally win its first Olympic gold.
Celia Kiram, the lone female commissioner of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and a longtime advocate of women empowerment through sports, has high hopes in Tokyo.
"Malakas ang kutob ko na babae ang mananalo ng gold sa Tokyo Olympics (I've a strong feeling that a woman will win a gold in Tokyo)," she said in an interview with The Manila Times.
"They are all capable of winning the gold. Hidilyn Diaz is competing in her fourth Olympiad, and I am sure she wanted to end her weightlifting career with a gold medal. Si Yuka Saso rin, she's playing well these days and who knows? She might win the gold, too. Same goes for Margielyn Didal and our women boxers."
The Philippines is fielding Nesthy Petecio and Irish Magno in women's boxing.
Petecio is among the top boxers in her field after having won the gold in the 2019 AIBA Women's World Championship in Russia. Meanwhile, Magno, the first boxer to qualify for the Tokyo Games, is considered a dark horse in her weight class.
Ten of the 19 athletes the Philippines is sending to the Tokyo Games are competing in the women's events, including weightlifter Elreen Ando, swimmer Remedy Rule, sprinter Kristina Knott and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, the country's flag bearer in the opening ceremony.
"I am happy that the women athletes in the Philippines are no longer neglected. They are now getting the support that they needed," said Kiram. "These athletes - Hidilyn, Yuka and others - they serve as inspiration to young female athletes who want to represent the country in the Olympics in the future."
Kiram, meanwhile, said the Philippines is sending five technical officials for the Tokyo Olympics.
"Four of them are women," Kiram said. "Marilee Estampador in fencing, Karla Cabrera in archery, Jercyl Lerin in rowing and Len Escollante in the canoe event."
The fifth delegate is Ferdinand Pascual in basketball.
The Olympic Games opens without its usual fanfare on July 23 and the quest to end the country's 97-year gold medal drought begins.
Next: The cost of winning an Olympic medal