December 01, 2023

Gold rush: The greatest Filipino athletes in Asian Games history

Gold rush: The greatest Filipino athletes in Asian Games history
Art by Royce Nicdao

The 19th Asian Games is underway and all members of the Philippine delegation are on the prowl for a gold medal. They’ve trained hard, they’re locked in, and they’re ready to go. They’ll be doing it for their dreams, for their families, and for the nation.

As an added inspiration, we listed down five of the greatest Filipino athletes who represented the flag in the continent’s biggest sporting event. Write down notes, ladies and gentlemen!

Bong Coo - Bowling

Forget the Asian Games, Coo even has a case to be named as the GOAT Filipino athlete, period. The trophies she’s won in international tournaments can fill up a museum. We’re not exaggerating. But sticking with the Asiad, her collection of nine Asian Games medals is outrageous, isn't it? She’s got five gold ones, three from singles events, one from doubles, and another one from when the Philippines was hailed overall champs in 1986 in Seoul. Her other glittery stint in the continental meet was in Bangkok in 1978.

Haydee Coloso-Espino - Swimming

The Iloilo City treasure holds the record for the most Asian Games medals won by a Filipino at 10, three golds included. Coloso-Espino conquered the 100m freestyle and 100m breaststroke event during Manila’s hosting in 1954. Her third gold came four years later in Tokyo in the 100m medley relay. She also swam her way to five silvers and two bronzes before retiring following the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta. Coo and Coloso-Espino are practically neck and neck, talking about who should be at the very top spot of this list. 

Caloy Loyzaga - Basketball

Loyzaga was inducted to the FIBA Hall of Fame for a reason. In fact, that reason was showcased time and time again in the Asian Games. He was the undisputed leader when the Philippines won the men’s basketball tournament in the quadrennial event four straight times, from 1951 to 1962. There are different levels of greatness and the Big Difference sealed his place in the upper echelons a long time ago.

RELATED STORY: Laban lang: Top players of Gilas Pilipinas in last five stints in Asian Games

Adolfo Feliciano - Shooting

Most sports fans of the current generation probably haven’t come across the name of Adolfo Feliciano. Well, it’s time to put an end to that. The Filipino marksman was quite extraordinary during his heyday. Competing in the Asian Games from the 1950s ‘til the 1960s, Feliciano claimed nine medals. He took the gold twice, particularly in 1954 for the 50m rifle 3 positions and in 1958 for the 300m rifle 3 positions. To paraphrase Kendrick Lamar, everybody’s got to respect this shooter.

Mona Sulaiman and Lydia De Vega - Athletics

The two sprint queens of the Philippines belong in this elite club. In 1962, during her lone Asiad stint, Sulaiman went berserk and bagged four medals in Jakarta. Three of those were gold from the following events: 100m dash, 200m dash, and 4x100m relay. The bronze medal the pride of Cotabato won was from the shot put competition. Superwoman, is that you?

One can say that De Vega was the successor to Sulaiman’s throne, although the former didn’t burst into the scene until the early 80s. At 18 years old, Meycauayan, Bulacan’s greatest athlete secured her first Asian Games gold medal in the 100m dash in New Delhi. She followed it up with another golden run in the same event in 1986. In the same meet, De Vega also competed in the 200m race where she finished second. She looked like a movie star but De Vega was really a speed demon.

Who will follow in these legends’ legendary footsteps?