Before writing this column my eyes were glued to the TV as I watched J.R. Celski skate the anchor leg on the United States team that won silver in the always exciting speed skating relay at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Celski was the only Filipino American participant at Sochi and held the same distinction at the 2010 Vancouver games.
Celski’s lone presence reminded me of the small number of Filipinos who proudly represented Team USA at the Olympic Games since its inception in 1896.
Perhaps best known was Bridge Generation Filipina American Vicki Manalo Draves, winner of two gold medals for platform and springboard diving at the 1948 London Olympics. Equally accomplished was swimmer Natalie Coughlin who won a record 12 medals over three Summer Olympiads in 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing), and 2012 (London). At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Kyla Ross was a member of the gold medal winning USA Women’s Gymnastics team, a team that electrified the world with their exciting performances.
Other Filipino American Olympic notables: Tai Babilonia, who with ice skating partner Randy Gardner starred in the 1976 (Montreal) and 1980 (Moscow) Summer Olympics; Natasha Kai, of the 1984 US Olympic soccer team in Los Angeles, scored the winning goal in overtime to beat Canada; Liz Masakayan played on Team USA volleyball team at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and went on to coach beach volleyball stars Elaine Youngs and Holly McPeak at the 1992 (Barcelona) and 1996 Summer Olympics; with her husband and ice skating partner, Jerod Swallow, Elizabeth Punsalan competed at both the 1994 (Lillihammer, Norway) and 1998 (Nagano, Japan) Winter Olympic Games; midfielder Tiffany Roberts was a member of the gold medal US women’s soccer team at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics; boxer Brian Viloria, was a 2000 Olympics light flyweight contender in Sydney; Lee Kiefer, member of the 2000 Olympics fencing team; Geno Espineli, a pitcher for the 2008 Olympics baseball team who later pitched for the San Francisco Giants; although failing to medal, Amanda Evoria, along with her partner Mark Ladwig, earned the distinction of being the top US ice skating pairs at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics; Paige McPherson, taekwondo bronze medalist at the 2012 Summer Olympics; and finally David McKienzie, a volley ball All-American as a collegiate, who scored 21 points at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
While he is not a Filipino American as the other above-mentioned athletes, I would be remiss if I didn’t feel equally proud of 19 year old and Philippine national, Michael Christian Martinez, the only representative of my ancestral country. He was very impressive in his debut performance as a figure skater at the current Winter Olympics. Although Martinez failed to medal at Sochi, his performance promises a bright future at the 2018 Peongchang, South Korea Olympics. (By the way, until reading Martinez’ bio I didn’t know that Manila boasts three ice skating rinks.)
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