Category Archives: Simeon Toribio

“Simeon Toribio (1905-1969): A World-Class High Jumper” by Joboy Quintos

It has been eighty-years since Simeon Toribio won the high jump bronze medal from the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Ask any Filipino about Toribio and chances are, you’ll be met with a blank stare. I know for a fact that athletics in the Philippines is nothing more than a fringe sport. The days of Lydia de Vega are long gone. And despite the best efforts of our national athletes, the sport is hard pressed to break into mainstream consciousness.

Perhaps a look back into our storied athletics history could bring back a sense of pride, and lift our collective desensitation from decades of being sporting minnows.

I first read about the exploits of Toribio and Miguel White back in college, through the fine book entitled “Philippine Sporting Greats.” White, winner of the 400m hurdles bronze in Berlin, died during the Japanese invasion at the early stages of the Second World War. The Bohol-born Toribio, fortunately, survived that terrible episode and lived well into his sixties.

Toribio was a renaissance man in every sense of the word. In my readings of Jorge Afable’s “Philippine Sports Greats”, I was amazed at how he balanced a full-time job with a no non-sense athletics training regimen.[1] In his heyday, the tall Toribio reigned supreme in Asian high jumping circles. In a thirteen year period spanning from 1921 to 1934,[2] the Filipino champion won a staggering five gold medals in Far Eastern Games, the precursor to today’s Asian Games.

The Filipino made his Olympic debut in Antwerp back in 1928.[3] Bob King won gold with a superior mark of 1.94m.[4] The next four jumpers, Toribio included, had identical jumps of 1.91m.[5] However, Toribio missed out on the bronze in the ensuing jump-off.[6]

He reached the pinnacle of his career in Los Angeles, where he sailed over 1.97m to win bronze. The 1932 Summer Olympics was the Philippines’ most successful foray into the World’s Greatest Show, with three bronze medals. Teofilo Yldefonso snared his second Olympic third place finish in as many attempts, while boxer Jose Villanueva grabbed the bronze medal in the bantamweight division.

The high jump competition in Los Angeles was a long drawn battle, taking four hours according to Afable. With the top four jumpers all tied with clearances of 1.97m, another jump-off was held to determine the placings.[7] The competitors all failed to clear 2.007m and 1.99m.[8] The gold was awarded to Canada’s Daniel McNaughton, who had a first-time clearance over 1.97m, [9] while Bob Van Osdel of the United States took the silver.

Toribio at the 1936 Los Angeles Olympics. (Photo from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Afable wrote about a peculiar competition rule from that era that required athletes to stay at the competition grounds during the entire event, and opined that had Toribio not been burdened by the “call of nature,” he could have cleared 2.007m.[10] Coming into the Games, the Filipino had a personal best of 2.00m set in 1930. Perhaps because of discomfort, the then 26-year old Toribio took three attempts[11] to negotiate 1.94m and 1.97m – heights well within his capabilities.

A helpful Japanese coach lent a blanket for Toribio to cover himself in as he relieved his bladder!

The world record at that time was at 2.03m, with the Olympic record at 1.98m.

McNaughton, Toribio, and Van Osdel. (Photo from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics Program/LA84 Foundation)

Toribio competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his third Olympiad, but finished outside the medals. During the War, he narrowly escaped arrest by the Kempeitai when a Japanese officer saw one of Toribio’s mementoes from an athletics competition in Japan (If my memory serves me right, it was a memento from the 1923 Far Eastern Games in Osaka. I’d have to verify this by reading “Philippine Sports Greats” again).[12] Since it was the Japanese emperor’s birthday, the Kempeitai officer spared Toribio.[13]

The Filipino high jumper went on to become a congressman in his native Bohol, serving his constituents for 12 years.

Eighty-two years since Simeon Toribio set his 2.00m personal best, the Philippine high jump record has improved by a mere 17cm. Nowadays, it is a rarity to see a Filipino athlete qualify for an outright Olympics slot, much less make it to the top eight. It is sad to note that in local collegiate- and national-level track & field meetings today, a 2.00m clearance is still deemed competitive.

Curing the ills of Philippine athletics will be a hard fought struggle. Let us remember – and honor – our past heroes, and draw inspiration from their world-beating feats.
Results:
Article by Joboy Quintos
References:

  1. Afable, Jorge (1972). “Philippine Sports Greats.”
  2. “Simeon Toribio.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Toribio. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  3. Afable 1972.
  4. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.” http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1932/ATH/mens-high-jump.html. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  5. “Simeon Toribio.”
  6. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  7. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  8. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  9. “Athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Games: Men’s High Jump.”
  10. Afable 1972.
  11. “Simeon Toribio.” http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/athletes/to/simeon-toribio-1.html. Retrieved 8-19-2012.
  12. Afable 1972.
  13. Afable 1972.
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“Jump-Starting Philippine Athletics” by Joboy Quintos

Hardly anyone ever remembers Simeon Toribio and Miguel White. Toribio was the dominant force in Asian high jumping back in the 1930’s, lording it over the old Far Eastern Games, the pre-cursor of today’s Asian Games. The Boholano won the Philippines’ first medal in athletics at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, a bronze in the high jump. Four years later in Berlin, White emulated Toribio’s feat in the 400m low hurdles.

The Philippines is in the midst a running boom. Hardly a weekend goes by without a running event in the offing. A multitude of companies (from pharmaceuticals to bakeshops) utilize running events to better market their respective products. The past few years have seen the arrival of professional East African distance runners who regularly take part – and dominate – the cash-rich road races all over the country.

One can consider the running boom as just a fad. However, running has perhaps been embedded deeper than billiards, boxing and badminton. With the multitude of running events, surely, the running bug has afflicted quite a large number of citizens. Besides, running is a relatively cheap physical activity – if you don’t join those expensive races, that is. To get that addictive runner’s high, one only needs a good pair of shoes and comfy clothes. Running, apparently, is here to stay.

As an athletics junkie and a track athlete, I’ve often wondered how this exponential interest in running could trickle down to the other disciplines of the sport. After all, the far less popular track events are, in principle, similar to these road races. The object of a sprint race and a road race is simple: to reach the finish line in the shortest possible time. Despite vast differences in tactics, training, strategy and event rules, the ultimate objective remain fundamentally the same.

The sport has almost been completely neglected by the media, corporate sponsors and the general viewing public. An infusion of interest, trickling down from the running boom, could be the driving force for an athletics renaissance.

To illustrate the current state of Philippine athletics, the medal-winning performances of Toribio and White are still competitive against the current generation of track & field athletes. For instance, Toribio’s 1.97m leap, accomplished using the old-school straddle method, at the 1932 Olympic Games high jump final is still good enough for the top three at the 2011 Philippine National Games. Similarly, White’s 52.8s time in the low hurdles would wallop most of the country’s top-level intermediate hurdlers.

Aside from a resurgence in the Gintong Alay days and a brief revival in the early oughts, Philippine athletics has been on a sharp downtrend. Since those double bronze medals in the thirties, the best finish of a Filipino in the Olympic Games was Hector Begeo’s semi-finals appearance at the 3,000m steeplechase. Even the great Lydia de Vega and Isidro del Prado could only reach up to the second round.

Although our lean and mean athletics squad is fairly formidable in the Southeast Asian Games, they wither in higher-level competitions such as the Asian Games. Our last medal in the said quadrennial event came way back at the 1994 Hiroshima Games. The Olympic “A” and “B” standards for athletics are much too high for the majority of our track & field elite; hence, the country only sends a handful of wild card representatives.

With these forgettable performances, it is unsurprising that athletics, despite its status as the centerpiece of the Olympics, languishes in terms of popularity and funding.

It is unfortunate considering the huge amounts of talent our country has to offer. Despite our lack of an honest-to-goodness grassroots development program, hordes of young athletes crowd the Palarong Pambansa and the Batang Pinoy Games. The cream of the crop progresses to the country’s top universities. As these talents grow older, however, their ranks thin. Except for a talented few that joins the ranks of the national team or the Armed Forces, graduation almost always means retirement from the sport. Case in point is the Philippine National Games. Some senior events were held as a straight-off final, with the athletes barely going beyond eight in a heat. In the youth and junior competitions, qualifying heats could number up to four.

To make a living out of the sport is grossly inadequate, especially when the prospective elite athlete has to provide for one’s family. In light of the gap in terms of elite-level performance and our local talent, a sustainable career in the international professional athletics circuit is next to impossible.

Nevertheless, a schools-based sports system, albeit crude; exists for local track & field. A clubs-based system is imperative to lift the dismal standing of the sport. One can start from the existing Armed Forces teams. The multitude of companies that sponsor weekly road runs could perhaps invest in their respective corporate teams, similar to the commercial athletics squads in Japan, an Asian track & field powerhouse. Moreover, university teams could field their crack varsity teams bolstered by select alumni.

What the sport needs is a winning figure: a marketable, articulate athlete that can act as the lightning rod of attention for this neglected discipline. It doesn’t have to be at the same level as a Manny Pacquiao, Efren Reyes or Paeng Nepomuceno. Someone who excels at the Asian level (the Southeast Asian level is much too small) would be a viable candidate. Having a world-beater as a national icon would jump-start the lethargic sport.

A promising niche market, national interest and larger-than-life track & field star could perhaps provide the catalyst for an athletics boom in the Philippines. If countries like Jamaica (sprints), Cuba (jumps and hurdles), Kenya (distance running) and Ethiopia (distance running)– whose level of economic development is more or less comparable to our own – I see no reason for the Philippines to find its own niche in this medal-rich Olympic event.

The resurgence of athletics will not happen overnight. It will take generations to overhaul our highly politicized system to equip the Filipino athlete as a world-beater.

Each time I read about a promising provincial lad making waves in the Palarong Pambansa or see a bunch of kids exuberantly running laps around Ultra with their running-bug afflicted parents, the future of the sport looks bright. Perhaps some time in the not-too-distant future, a Filipino could once again stand on the coveted Olympic podium, this time with the “Lupang Hinirang” proudly playing in the background.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Alonzo Jardin: The Hurdling Artist

I had my first taste of national level competition back in May 2003. I was 17 years old, barely out of high school. I shaved off 1.44s off my personal best over the high hurdles, qualifying for the semis with a time of 17.55s. The 2003 Nationals was also the first time I encountered the Philippine national record holder for the sprint hurdles, Alonzo “Dudoy” Jardin.

More than 7 years since that day, my recollections are just vague flashbacks. But one instance stood out. At the dugout of the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I wished him the best of luck as he went head-to-head against Thailand’s Suphan Wongsriphuck, then Southeast Asia’s best sprint hurdler.

The Philippines is not known for its athletics tradition, much less the high hurdles. Aside from notable exceptions like Lydia de Vega-Mercado, Elma Muros-Posadas, Isidro del Prado and Marestella Torres, most of our athletes wilt under Asian-level competition. The Philippines’ last Olympic medals in athletics were won way back in the 1930’s (Miguel White in the 400m low hurdles and Simeon Toribio in the High Jump). Hence, it is not surprising that Dudoy’s 14.75s national record is light-years away from the Olympic “B” standard of 13.72s.

If I can choose one compatriot whom I look up to in the sprint hurdles, I can only name one – Alonzo Jardin. Don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate Coach Nonoy Unso’s hurdling prowess, but since I haven’t seen any footage of his best years, I cannot make an honest assessment of the athletics legend. The same reasoning applies to my mentor, national decathlon record holder Fidel Gallenero. Although he taught me the fundamentals of hurdling form, I haven’t seen him race.

In order for me to look up to someone – as a hurdler to another hurdler, I have to base my standards on more than just times and reputation.

Dudoy was different. Even if he shifted to the decathlon in the twilight of his competitive years, I had much respect for his hurdling technique. As a sprint hurdler myself, I put more importance in one’s efficiency of clearance than to brute sprinting power. Yes, the 110m high hurdles is a sprint race. But in order to fully appreciate this wonderful event, one must look at it beyond sprinting alone.

Hence, for me, hurdling is an art form. Everytime I watch Liu Xiang, Allen Johnson and Colin Jackson race clips, my jaws drop in awe at the symphony of speed. As a student of the event, I take much aesthetic pleasure from watching these great technicians demonstrate their craft.

In the past 10 years I spent as a sprint hurdler, Dudoy is – without a doubt – the best exemplar of the Filipino hurdling artist.

I had the privilege of racing the Filipino champion twice in my career. The first time was during the 2006 National Open. It was the finals of the sprint hurdles, Dudoy was at the lane beside mine.

I wound up a far fourth place (15.65s – a new PB) behind Romel of TMS Ship (15.1), Joemary Padilla (15.1) and Orlando Soriano (15.5s). It turned out that Dudoy didn’t even finish clearing the 1st hurdle, to save his legs for the grueling decathlon.

Months later, we went at it again. This time, he emphatically stamped his class, edging out Padilla of Mapua. I placed a distant 3rd (15.6). Dudoy ran a 15.1, if I’m not mistaken.

Emer Obiena and Fidel Gallenero once told me about an Australian trainer’s awe at learning that Dudoy is only a a high 14 second sprint hurdler. With his hurdling proficiency, the Australian reasoned, Dudoy should be running in the 13 seconds. Perhaps it was his lack of flat out speed (he ran the 100m in around 11.3 to 11.4). An Olympic-level hurdler should be able to run the 100m in at least 10.5s.

The last time I saw Dudoy was in 2009. I was in the midst of my first, ill-fated comeback. He was training again after tearing the ligaments in his knee after a freak javelin training incident.

Alonzo Jardin’s 14.75s national record is bound to be broken one of these days. The younger Unso has the most potential to reclaim the national mark of his illustrious father. In a country where athletes from the less popular sports tend to get marginalized, Jardin will probably be forgotten by the generations of tomorrow.

Writing this piece is the least I can do for a fellow hurdler. Never mind the results; never mind the accolades.

Alonzo Jardin is one of the best, if not the best, hurdling technicians this country of ours had ever produced.

Rizal renovation leaves track & field athletes homeless

The PSC is converting the historic Rizal Memorial Track & Field Stadium for football use. The news of the tie-up with DLSU came out months ago, so I was not really surprised at the turn of events. From what I heard from people, the field will no longer be used for the throwing and jumping events. The 8-lane track would temporarily be closed to the national team athletes and the general public to make way for the renovation.

There are conflicting views on the issue. Apparently, the long-standing feud between the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee plays a central part.

Note: Another issue in question is the proposed commercial complex beneath the bleachers. Since Rizal is an art deco gem, new additions to the stadium’s original design naturally goes against its general architectural theme.

As a track & field man who traces his roots in this once grand stadium, I’m engulfed by a certain sense of sadness. After all, I ran my first ever sprinting and hurdle races in Rizal. The most memorable moments of my young life took place in that very stadium.

History

Built for the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games (now the Asian Games), Rizal, as its habitues simply call it, has hosted all of the major international events held in the Philippines, the most recent of which is the 2005 Manila SEA Games. Years ago, while reading about the exploits of the 1932 Olympic High Jump Bronze Medallist, Simeon Toribio, the stadium was the constant milieu, the ever-present backdrop of Toribio’s inspiring life story. Philippine track & field greats like Lydia de Vega, Elma Muros-Posadas and Isidro del Prado competed with distinction on the 70-year old track. Blurry photographs of yore evoke feelings of nostalgia for a time long lost.

Jampacked Rizal. Sea Games 2005.

Despite the disrepair, the leaking roof and the relatively cramped confines, Rizal is a stadium us Filipinos can be proud of.

Rizal has nurtured generations of Filipino athletes – Filipino track & field athletes. For those athletes, myself included, Rizal is more than just a training facility or a place of competition – it is something akin to a home away from home.

Jumpers and throwers – permanently displaced

The conversion of Rizal into a football-specific stadium would temporarily displace the multitude of young track & field athletes based in Manila, in light of the capital’s lack of athletics facilities. The jumpers and throwers would suffer in the long run. It’s unfortunate to think that the Philippines’ ace long jumpers, Henry Dagmil and Marestella Torres, would lose their home track. Dagmil, the current national record holder at 7.99m, broke Nino Ramirez’s 75-year old long jump record at the National Open held in Rizal in 2003. Both Dagmil and Torres scored a long jump double for the Philippines in Rizal, during the 2005 Manila SEA Games.

Likewise, many time SEA Games Hammer Throw Gold medallist, Arniel Ferrera, would have to shift training bases to either Baguio or Ultra. However, throwing in the cramped confines of Philsports poses some sort danger to the multitude of joggers who frequent the Pasig oval.

More importantly, the current crop of youngsters would bear the most sacrifice. Public school students who flock to Rizal during the PATAFA weekly relays would have to make do with the substandard jumping pit in Ultra. The elementary and high school students from populous Manila would have to bear the brunt of extra travel time as well.

Win-win situation for both Football and Track

I have no arguments against the PSC’s goal of promoting the beautiful game. But please, don’t accomplish the latter at the expense of track & field. Manila only has three synthetic tracks open to public use* – Marikina Stadium, Philsports, and Rizal. Marikina has an abominable asphalt bike lane at the inner lanes while Philsports has a shorter-than-usual 110m starting line, certain uneven areas on the track and a badly-maintained jumping pit. Of the three, only Rizal barely meets international track & field standards.

I’m not espousing a black and white, all-or-nothing approach. Football is a fine sport where Filipinos once reigned supreme in the Asian ranks. I’d love to see the next Paulino Alcantara strut his football wares on the world stage. But then again, one cannot disregard the fact that our track & field squad has contributed its fair share to national glory. In light of our country’s shoestring sports budget, a win-win situation between should be reached.

Consider the example of Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Stadium. It underwent renovation a few years back. The centerpiece of Hitler’s Olympics hosted the 2006 World Cup for football and the 2009 World Championships for track & field. It currently serves as the home stadium of a Bundesliga squad and as a venue for various track & field meets.

The following line of Quinito Henson’s column seems promising enough: “The school will also be responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the football field and track oval, amenities and equipment during its use of the facility for varsity practices, tournaments, physical education classes and fitness activities.”

But the wording from a Manila Times article evokes fear in this track & field fanatic: “PSC Chairman Harry Angping and the De La Salle University (DLSU) community assured on Friday they would push through the transformation of Rizal track oval to a world-class football field.

The Philippine Olympic Committee has opposed the PSC’s renovation plans, according to this Inquirer article. I’ll be eagerly anticipating updates on this issue. Let’s just hope our bickering officials resolve their differences and work towards the betterment of Philippine sports.

For now, unless the Philsports/Ultra Oval’s sub-standard facilities undergo a face lift or an entirely new track stadium is constructed, Filipino track athletes – especially those competing in the field events – will be left marginalized and homeless.

* – The newly-constructed University of Makati Oval is for the exclusive use of UMak students only, except for a short two-hour window each morning.

Additional Links:

Quinito’s article

Inquirer article

Manila Times article

Ian Velasco’s blog post (about the renovation going against Rizal’s art deco design)

Photo credits:

Carlo Ricohermoso

World Beaters

In a country of almost 80 Million, with more than half below the poverty line, sports is far from the Philippines’ top concerns. With the Philippine Sports Commission’s shoestring budget, it’s not surprising that that the Philippines is a laggard in sports other than professional boxing (Manny Pacquiao!), bowling (Paeng Nepomuceno!) and billards (Efren “Bata” Reyes!).

When I went to Rizal for the yearly Track & Field National Championships, I was greeted by a sad sight. Gone were the droves of athletes from the provinces. The foreign entries were down to a bare minimum, in light of budget constraints on the part of the race organizers. Aside from the national athletes, the quality of the competition were nowhere near Southeast Asian-, much less Olympic- level (well, Henry Dagmil and Joebert Delicano are certainly capable of high 7 meter or even 8 meter jumps). Although promising athletes like the young Patrick Unso (broke the Junior 110m High Hurdle record – 0.99m) and Jeson Cid (smashed Coach Dari De Rosas’ 30-year junior Decathlon record) distinguished themselves on the track, no Senior National Records were broken.

Nevertheless, the running boom provides some faint glimmer of hope for the sport. If public interest could just trickle down from recreational running to the grander arena of full Track & Field competition, perhaps well-meaning corporate entities could infuse some much needed cash into the sport.

It’s a pity, really, considering the multitude of talent. I long for the day when Filipinos can be world beaters at the track again. Most Filipinos forget that we were once among the track & field elite! Back in 1932, the lanky Simeon Toribio won the High Jump bronze by clearing 1.97m (he could’ve won gold if not for the call of nature!). In 1936, it was Miguel White’s turn to finish 3rd in the grueling 400m Low Hurdles (52.8s).

We should honor this men for those Herculean feats. Let every young Filipino track athlete learn of their exploits.

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