Against the drama of geopolitics, the Philippines honored its commitment to international goodwill and sportsmanship, by sending a 33-man contingent, 26 of them athletes, to the 15th Games of the Olympiad in 1952 in Helsinki, Finland.
In that Olympics, Russian athletes under the flag of Soviet Union took part for the first time after an absence of 40 years. They, however, along with the other Eastern Bloc countries, kept to themselves inside a separate Olympic Village, surrounded by barbed wire and draped with mammoth images of Stalin.
As Allied fighter bombers pounded communist forces in Korea in a hot war, Cold War politics continued as Taiwan boycotted the Games in protest of the presence of athletes from mainland China.
Like the rest of their counterparts that participated in the biggest and greatest sports competitions, the Filipinos, as the curtains lowered down, had their own share of excitement, drama, heartbreaks and tears as well as joyous exaltation of a modest success.
The country was participating for the eighth consecutive time since 1924, counting the World War 2-canceled 12th and 13th editions, of the Summer Olympics.
And for the second time in a row, it went home without any medal. The highest achievements were provided by a pair of sinewy Filipino weightlifters — Rodrigo del Rosario and Pedro Landero.
Del Rosario, fifth place finisher at the Games’ resumption in 1948 in London, improved a notch higher, emerging as the fourth best featherweight lifter in the world but not after equaling the world record in the press with a lift of 231 kilograms.
His total 701 kg, spiked by 205 kg in snatch and 265 kg in jerk, put him 25 pounds less than the Russian gold medal winner. Silver medal honors went to another Russian.
And Landero, del Rosario’s protégé, came in fifth in the bantamweight category.
Being the fourth and fifth best in the world, was, indeed, not that bad!
The notable performances of the two Filipino strongmen handed the Philippines 4 points.
Additional excitement for the national delegation came in basketball where our team opened its bid in the qualifying round with a 57-47 spanking of the taller and bigger Israel side. Youthful Carlos Loyzaga, playing in his first Olympics, drove in and jumped his way for 20 big points.
The win advanced the “Islanders” into the second round. Another convincing triumph, this time over Hungary, 48-35, lifted coach Fely Fajardo’s charges to the championship round. Loyzaga again shone with 13 points.
That came two years before the country’s basketeers claimed the bronze medal in the 1954 World Championship held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
Bad luck in the draw for the championship phase greeted the Nationals who were bracketed in the strongest group of Argentina-Brazil-Canada.
Coupled with the banishment of Loyzaga, right in the first 10 minutes of play, followed by sentinel Paeng Hechanova and slotman Mariano Tolentino, the Filipinos were no match for the Argentines, 59-85, who two years ago won the First World Championship.
Another setback to the Brazilians, 52-71, eliminated the Filipinos from further contention to the crown. An 81-65 win over the Canadians in their ultimate game, gifted the Filipinos a 5-3 win-loss slate and ninth place in the team standing.
Luck didn’t smile on the national shooting team, too, as Maj. Martin Sison, who ended up fourth in Berlin, was 44th in silhouette event, 32nd in free pistol and 12th in other rifle discipline. Lt. Cersar Jayme was 15th.
Dr. Felis Cortea, who paid his own way to Helsinki, wound up 22nd and 44th in free pistol and silhouette competitions. Respectively.
Of the five Filipino boxers, only a future national flyweight champion as a pro, Alfredo “Al” Asuncion, had made a credible showing. He drew a bye in the opening round then TKOed Burmese Basil Thompson in the next round.
He lost, though via a split decision to South African Bill Towel in the third round, where many believed he won. All the rest of the fighters failed to reach the second round — bantamweight Alejandro Ortouste, lightweight Benjamin Enriquez, light-welterweight Ernesto Porto and welterweight Vicente Tunacao.
Swimmer Sambiano Basanung placed seventh in the trials of the 1,500 meters freestyle and didn’t make it to the next round.
Wrestler Gonzalo Monte Manibog Jr., lost his initial featherweight encounter. Another grappler Florentino Re failed to meet the required weight as a bantamweight and was disqualified.
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