Filipino Olympians war heroes

On July 17, 1951, a year before the 33-man national delegation was dispatched to carry the country’s colors to the 15th Games of the Olympiad in Helsinki, the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation unveiled a plaque honoring 52 former national athletes, who died in the then just-ended World War II.

Among the 52 athletes so honored were nine Olympians, including swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, the first Filipino to give the Philippines its first Olympic medal — a bronze in 200-meter breaststroke — during the 1928 Summer Games in Amsterdam.

Measuring 33 x 24 inches and cast in bronze, the commemorative plaque had been in display at the left wall of the Rizal Memorial Basketball Coliseum façade for more than half-a-century until a few years ago the Philippine Sports Commission transferred it outside the building for everybody to see.

Because at first glance, it looked like an ordinary marker attached to a wall identifying the architect and other names responsible for the construction of the edifice that no one looking it wouldn’t know the names inscribed therein.

Yldefonso, also the first and only Filipino to win a bronzed medal twice in-a-row when he repeated his feat four years later in 1932 in Los Angeles where he was joined by high jumper Simeon Toribio and boxer Jose “Cely” Villanueva in, until this day, is the most successful Philippine campaign in the Games with a bronze each of their own.

Yldefonso, a four-time gold medalist in his event in the Asian Games precursor Far Eastern Games, died in the infamous Capas Concentratio Camp in Tarlac along with his comrades at the Philippine Scouts following their epic stand against the conquering Japanese troops in Bataan.

Three of the honorees, including another Olympian Jacinto Jumping Jack” Ciria Cruz in basketball and Virgili Lobregat in football, had been honored, too, as Most Outstanding Filipino Athletes of Half-A-Century.

Besides Yldefonso and Ciria Cruz, a member of the 1936 basketball team that finished fifth in Berlin, were and another third place finisher in track and field, Miguel White, also of the 1936 fame.

Other Olympians in the list were Amador Obordo, Ciria Cruz’ teammate in the Berlin quintet, Lt. Nemesio de Guzman, also in athletics, Lt. Otoniel Gonzaga in shooting, Lt. Simplicio de Castro in boxing and Lt. Enrique Jurado and Abduraman Ali, both in swimming.

Ciria Cruz was executed by the Japanese forces while performing underground works in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.

Nineteen other honorees carried the country’s colors in many international competitions in athletics, 10 in swimming, nine in baseball, five more in basketball, three in boxing, two in football, two in tennis and one each in wrestling and shooting.

Yldefonso and White were two of the 11 Olympic medalists who were recipients of the “Lifetime Achievement Award” each from the Sports Communicators Organization of the Philippines (SCOOP) during the 80th Anniversary of the Philippine participation in the Olympic Games.

Majority of the honorees were either members of Philippine Scouts, the USAFFE or underground guerilla units.

De Guzman of the Philippine Army was a member of the national delegation in the IXth Olympiad in Amsterdam in 1928, while Gonzaga and De Castro saw action in the Berlin Games in 1936. Ali swam in the XIth Olympiad in Los Angeles.

Besides White and De Guzman, other Filipino runners, throwers and jumpers who were victims of war were Miguel Sugeco, Sgt. Doming Espanol, Lt. Jose Antonio, Mayor Emilio Bucoy, Wenceslao Bansale, Eliseo Razo, Civico Granado, Maximino Pasaporte, Albino Bangayan, Delfin Danguilan, Lt. Constantino Alambra, Moises Lucas, Felizardo Casia, Francisco Danao, Bartolome Barabad, Alejo Alvarez and Simon Santos.

Swimmers Rosendo Aguinaldo, Policarpio Tolentino, Donato Cabading, Miguel Bartolaso, Ulka Mangona, Jakara Angkang, Bernardino Tugbo and Mauricio Guidote, perished too, as solders-athletes like Yldefonso and Ali.

Baseball players, who represented the country in many international meets, including the Far Eastern Games, were Sgt. Aquilino Jacob, Cpl. Pabalo Chu, Sgt. Gervacio Estorba, Atilano Rivera, Casimiro Francisco, Ramon Oncinian, Toribio Oncinian, Regino Bertulfo and Cipriano Platon.

Other non-Olympic athletes who died wearing military uniforms were Carlos Canillas, Albert Murrow and Robert Keesy in basketball; Francisco Zarcal and Martin Roxas in boxing, Jose Miranda in football and Concepcion Santos-Cepeda and Juan Ladaw Jr. in tennis.

Mrs. Cepeda, a long-time singles and doubles tennis champions, incidentally, completed a Santos brother-sister siblings died during the war while also competing in their respective sports events.

Leading local sports officials who attended the unveiling ceremony held during PAAF general assembly, was president PAAF Jorge Vargas.

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