Tag Archives: bronze

“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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Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze

East Asians aren’t known for their prowess in athletics. Hence, the handful of medals that our Japanese neighbors had won in the years past hold much value. I admire Japanese track & field athletes the most because of the raw emotion that they exude. This exemplifies the very essence of sport.

Dai Tamesue 為末大 is one such athlete. As a talented 22-year old, Tamesue crashed out of the heats in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He clipped the penultimate hurdle in the grueling 400m low hurdles. Nevertheless, he managed to finish the race in 1:01.81, much slower than his then personal best of 48.47s.

Tamesue bounced back in sterling fashion the next year at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships. He ran a gutsy race, storming to the lead early on. As the hurdlers came into the final bend, the diminutive Japanese man was the surprise leader. However the American-born Dominican Felix Sanchez and the Italian Fabrizio Mori overtook Tamesue in the final 80m.

After the disappointment in Sydney, Tamesue shed tears of joy at his bronze medal. The Japanese shaved off more than half-a-second from his erstwhile personal best, stopping the clock at 47.89s.

In the next couple of years, Tamesue failed to replicate his winning form. He didn’t go beyond the semi-finals of the 2003 Paris World Championships and the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, the then 28-year old Tamesue (48.10s) again struck bronze with much drama. As he shook off the effects of lactic acid after his characteristically gutsy all-out racing style, he overtook the rapidly decelerating Kerron Clement (48.18s).

Four long years after his Edmonton triumph, Tamesue once again reached the podium of a major championship.

By the time the Japan hosted its own edition of the World Championships in 2007, Tamesue was but a shadow of his old self. Approaching 30-years old, the veteran could only manage to place 6th (49.67s) in his heat.

A bronze medal in the World Championships might not count for much in terms of relative athletics greatness. But can greatness be holistically defined by medals alone? Derek Redmond became immortalized as he dramatically limped to the finish line assisted by his dad. Tamesue, albeit in a far lesser dramatic scale, is worthy of his own Celebrate Humanity moment.

Some athletes grumble at winning less than gold. If some people say that you don’t win silver, you lose the gold, what more can you say for a bronze medal? But for Tamesue, his two bronze medals exemplify the hopes of an entire nation. Tamesue, by the way he sunk to the ground in disbelief and raised his arms in triumph afterwards, is every inch the winner.

Asian Sprinting: Japan’s Olympic Bronze

In the elite world stage, the sprinting events are dominated by Americans, Jamaicans and the occasional European and African athlete. Historically, Asians have lagged behind in these explosive, fast-paced disciplines. The most recent individual Men’s sprinting medal came at the 2003 Paris World Championships, when the fleet-footed Shingo Suetsugo (末續 慎吾) finished 3rd in the 200m dash. 3 years earlier at the Sydney Olympics, Susantika Jayasinghe சுசந்திக ஜெயசிங்க்ஹி got 3rd place in the same event (elevated to silver after Marion Jones was stripped of her gold). Jayasinghe also finished within the top 3 in the 200m Dash in the 2007 Osaka World Championships.

No Asian man has gone below the magical 10-second barrier in the century dash. The Japanese troika of Koji Ito 伊東 浩司 (10.00s), Nobuharo Asahara (朝原 宣治) (10.02s) and Suetsugo (10.03s ) were the closest. The current Asian record holder, the Jamaican-born Qatari, Samuel Francis (9.99s) is an exception because, well, he’s a naturalized Qatari!

In the low hurdles, Dai Tamesue (為末大) won bronze medals in the 2001 and 2005 World Championships. Then, of course, there’s Liu Xiang (刘翔). Liu had won everything in the 110m High Hurdles – Olympics, World Championships and World Indoor Championships.

Suetsugo at the 2003 World Championships:

For an Asian, qualifying to the finals of an Olympic or World Championship sprinting event is an achievement in itself, in light of the puny number of medals won by sprinters from the world’s most populous continent.

With these facts in mind, it’s remarkable how the Japanese Men’s 4x100m relay team (Naoki Tsukahara (塚原 直貴), Suetsugo, Shinji Takahira 高平 慎士 and Asahara) finished 3rd (38.15s) at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Japan has always been a consistent qualifier to the 400m relay finals (4th – 2004, 6th – 2000, 6th – 1992, 5th – 1932); it was about time the Japanese won something big on the Olympic athletics stage. Despite the absence of the American and British quartets, a podium finish at the Olympics is a stellar feat in itself.

I just love how the Japanese celebrated (reminds me of my team’s 3rd place finish back in UAAP 69! We were ecstatic!) It’s reminiscent of the raw emotion found in those sports-oriented Japanese anime (like Hajime no Ippo and Slam Dunk. I love sports anime!). Men were openly crying, unafraid to show their true emotions. This would have to be my favorite moment in the Beijing Olympics, topping even Usain Bolt’s devastating three-event romp.

Japan’s Bronze Medal

In a sense, small victories like these give us Asians hope. If the Japanese can do it, surely (with enough reforms and political will), Filipinos can distinguish themselves at the elite level.

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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