Having tasted an Olympic medal in 1928 in Amsterdam, the Philippines sent a 12-man delegation to the Xth Games of the Olympiad held in Los Angeles in 1932.
The national contingent, made up of eight athletes — back-to-back bronze medal-seeking swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, fellow tankers Jikirum Adjaluddin and Abdurahman Ali, long jumper Simeon Toribio and boxers Jose Villanueva, Carlos Padilla, Jose Padilla Jr. and J. Gray — returned home with a trifecta of bronze medals.
Spearheading that medal-rich campaign, that up to now remained the finest for the country in the quadrennial conclave, was Yldefonso, who matched his third place finish fashioned out in 1928 in the 200-meter breaststroke to become the first and only Filipino to win twice in-a row an Olympic medal.
Villanueva, “Cely” to boxing fans back home, duplicated Yldefonso’s third place windup in the bantamweight division of boxing, while Toribio, fourth place four years prior in Amsterdam, improved on that feat a notch higher, this time completing that three-bronze harvest.
Yldefonso claimed his bronze medal haul with a third place finish in his heat in the trials, second in the semifinals to advance into the medal race. Adjaluddin was second in his heat in the elims and third in the round of four to also make it to the final.
Japan’s Yoshiyuki Tsuruta defended his crown won in Amsterdam beating countryman Koike for the gold, while Yldefonso took third for his second bronze, upending Siestas of Germany. Adjaluddin landed in fifth.
Villanueva, father of would-be Olympic silver medalist and later in his career became a trainer, opened his campaign by eliminating another Japanese Nakao in the prelims, but was unlucky to draw eventual gold medalist Horace Gwyne of Canada and lost.
The elder Villanueva, who at one time charted the great Flash Elorde’s career, showed his and the Filipinos’ capacity to bounce back, by overwhelming American Lang in their showdown for the bronze that more than made up for the misadventure suffered by acting brothers Carlos and Jose Padilla Jr., and Gray.
All three Cely’s teammates bowed to superior opponents in the initial round and were never in contention after that.
Of the three bronze medals brought home by the Filipinos from LA, what came as the most dramatic and classical was that of Toribio in high jump.
For unlike those romped off by Yldefonso and Villanueva, the 5-foot-11 native of Loboc, Bohol claimed his only after a four-hour ordeal, sapped the energy of all the 20 competitors who advanced into the finals and tested their resiliency and patience.
With two apples wrapped in a towel, the beanpole Filipino in blue jogging suite was all smile as he joined 19 other outstanding peers from all over the world in the 2:30 p.m. medal jump on July 31, 1932 at the LA Olympic Stadium.
Toribio, being the reigning Asian champion, was in the distinguished company of Rober Van Osdel, Cornelius Johnson and Spitz, of the US, Duncan McNaughton of Canada, Reinika of Finland, Ono and Kimura of Japan, who were all favorites to win the gold.
An overflow crowd were on hand, cheering as Toribio sampled them with his favorite standing scissors kick, Osdel with his standing Western-Eastern roll style.
The Olympic rule then provided that competitors could not leave the field even for the purpose of relieving themselves, so Toribio, the lone Filipino in the cast, had to use a lot of will power to hold back the call of nature in the entire proceeding that lasted until 6:30 late afternoon.
With the bar raised at 6’6’’, Toribio, pressured by his failure to answer the call of nature, failed to clear it. McNaughton, Johnson and Van Osdel made it, though.
While the duel continued, the Filipino covered himself with a blanket lent him by a Japanese coach and somehow was able to relieve himself.
The Filipino entry proved equal with the best in the world by leaping to 6-feet, 5 inches, the same height scaled by eventual gold winner McNaughton and silver medalist Van Osdel.
Toribio cleared the same height in the jump off with American Johnson to assure himself and country of the third bronze.
“It was past 6 p.m. when Simeon made the bronze medal jump,” recalled Prof. Candido Bartolome, Toribio’s coach and delegation head as told to writer Ernie Bitong in an interview after the drama-filled event.
Like the 1924 and 1928 exploits of their predecessors, the 1932 LA Olympics contingent had to suffer a 35-day ocean trip from Manila to its final destination on board Tatsuta Maru.
The ordeal started on June 11, 1932 with stopovers in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe and Yokohama in Japan, Honolulu, San Francisco before reaching LA on July 18.
Except in Honolulu and San Francisco, the athletes never had no serious training due to the absence of standard facilities in their stopovers.
In Shanghai, where they stayed for two days, they trained on board the ship due to cholera epidemic that raged in the city.
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