Category Archives: 1932 Los Angeles Olympics

“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.

Glory Days

The ageless Emerson Obiena uploaded an old photo to his Facebook account a while back. Judging from the designs of the Philippine team uniform, I figured that the picture was taken sometime during the early to mid-1990’s.

Photo from Emerson Obiena

Coach Emer’s subtitles confirmed my hypothesis. The bespectacled Filipino-Chinese athlete on the left is non-other than Coach Emer himself, the founder of the Philippine Pole Vault Club and a many-time international campaigner for the Philippines. On the rightmost side of the photo is Bruce Ventura, the Philippine national record holder for the shot put at 15.83m. Then Senator Joey Lina is at the center, beside the spunky-looking Edward Lasquette, the pole vault national record holder at 5.00m.

Obiena is the only holdover from that by-gone era. In his late 30’s, the father of two is still the best Filipino pole vaulter. Coach Emer is a two-time SEA Games Pole Vault silver medalist (1993 and 1999). He has a personal best of 4.95m, set during the 1999 National Open.

Obiena’s 4.93m clearance (Taipei, 2008)

The Herculean Bruce Ventura won silver in the shot during the 1993 SEA Games in Singapore. The Filipino-American Lasquette, who set the now 18-year old Philippine record in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is a three-time SEA Games champion (1991, 1993 and 1995).

Filipino SEA Games Medalists since 1991

During the early years of my track days, I could barely find write-ups about the Gintong Alay days. I was fortunate to stumble upon an old book, Philippine Sports Greats, which featured a lengthy piece on the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics High Jump bronze medalist, Simeon Toribio. Articles about the resurgence of Philippine athletics during the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s are also hard to come by. Looking for actual clips of those storied races online is an impossibility! And don’t expect our sensationalist TV networks to air replays of past Philippine track & field campaigns.

Hence, I had to make do with meager competition results available in the world wide web, taking pride in the fact that a handful of my compatriots had distinguished themselves in international competition. Yell Carreon’s insightful interviews with Hector Begeo and John Lozada and Zytrexx’s nostalgic historical piece on Toribio and Miguel White are rare informative examples.

It’s quite unfortunate how Filipinos today hardly even remember the sporting heroes of our past. Aside from big names like Lydia de Vega-Mercado and Elma Muros-Posadas, most of our local athletics greats have been almost forgotten by the very people – the very country – they fought so hard for.

If archived footage or even detailed write-ups somehow find its way into the mainstream, perhaps a new generation of Filipino athletes – not just track & field athletes – will be inspired by those feats of greatness to do better than their forebears. Indeed, Filipino sports has so much more to offer.

Video credit:

mjuo1969

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