Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fair Play: Villanueva, a legend the country forgot

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's May 15 issue)
FIFTY years ago, Anthony Villanueva came home to a hero's welcome after winning the Philippines' first silver medal in the Olympics.

Last Tuesday, the death of Villanueva, 69, and a son of another Olympic bronze medalist, would have gone unnoticed if not for the diligence of a sportswriter who is trying to chronicle the achievements of past Pinoy greats.


I wonder, what the great Villanueva must have thought, when he came home to that hero's welcome after the Tokyo Olympics, with that medal on his neck.

"I will die a hero, remembered by a grateful nation." Was that one of the thoughts that came to his mind?

I wonder, too, what he must have thought, when this generation got wind of him only when he was trying to sell that same medal in the waning years when he was reduced to but a shell of his former self.

I first heard of the boxer in the early 90s, while researching for a sports quiz bee.

We have a silver medalist? Where is he now? I thought.

The answer came years later, in one of those TV programs where they grant wishes.

There he was. A destitute. Unable to care for himself and forgotten.

Aren't Olympic medalists supposed to receive a pension for life? There are so few of them, keeping track shouldn't be hard, right?

But if you have a guy named Onyok Velasco, the other Pinoy silver medalst, and the last Olympic medalist for that matter, complaining about pension that sometimes doesn't arrive, what does leave a guy who won his silver medal 32 years before Onyok?

Villanueva, the sports hero, forgotten in this generation.

"We should spend money for sports and we should take care of our sports legends."

Isn't that what we tell each other, when we gather and talk of Pinoy legends of the past?

Villanueva, the sports hero, who, even in death, was overhadowed by the news of a list of folks who pocketed public funds.

Why can't we win an Olympic gold medal? Check today's pages. That's the answer.

Politics trumps all and we don't have the money for sports but we can afford P10 billion in PDAF funds to be siphoned away by those who are supposed to take care of our country's future.

Fifty years ago, Villanueva came home and got treated to a gold medalist' welcome despite winning the silver. I wonder, if those memories ever came to him in his final day.


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