Agatha Wong, Alisha Del Campo, Hali Long, Inna Palacios, and Juliana Gomez are just some of the faces behind a new wave of athletes.
Less than ten years ago, the local sports scene lamented at another return from the Olympics with no medals—the last of which had been won in 1996. Thanks to Hidilyn Diaz, who first won silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics, followed by the country’s first-ever gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, that streak has not just been overturned but seems to have kickstarted a bright future for Philippine sports.
In the past few years alone, a surge in Filipino athletes being hired by countries abroad marked a shift for the better in how the world perceived local athletes. International sports commentator Bill Velasco wrote in 2022 that, “First, it means that Filipino athletes (in this case, basketball players) are now recognized for their great skill and high standard of play. Secondly, it means that there is enough talent to go around.”
Across a wide range of sports, local athletes have been upping the ante and making their presence known. At the 2023 SEA Games happening this month in Cambodia, there are over 840 athletes representing the Philippines, a number that has increased over the past years, closely matching the record number of participants at 1094 athletes in 2019.
At the forefront of the latest wave of world-renowned Filipino athletes are a multitude of female forces. From the aforementioned weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz to pioneering skateboarder Margielyn Didal, and the Seven Summit-conquering mountaineer Carina Dayondon.
Lessons From The Next Generation Of Athletes
For the May 2023 issue of Vogue Philippines, the magazine speaks 32 young trailblazers, which include several such athletic powerhouses: Agatha Wong, Alisha Del Campo, Inna Palacios, Hali Long, and Juliana Gomez.
For Wushu athlete Agatha Wong, sports were non-negotiable, yet the main goal was not to win but to figure out how to balance sports with everyday life. “I didn’t feel like I was missing anything in my life, kasi I really really loved my sport,” she says of her training throughout high school.
These days, she’s working towards a career in medicine alongside sports. “Every time I get injured mas nagiging interested ako about how the body works,” Wong explains.
The Bigger Fight
“I really surprised everyone, including myself, by taking up medicine…I’ve never really met anyone who tried to balance sports and med school or law school, so this is something new,” she continues. “I want to prove to some people that kept telling me, ‘You just have to choose one.’ I also want to prove na someone has to do it. Someone can do it.”
That sort of mental strength, despite injury, seems to be another key to maintaining that motivation. Philippine Women’s National Team member Alisha Del Campo reflects on rebounding from two major injuries that took her away from her sport for months. “Throughout the journey, I learned that every setback is a chance for a greater comeback. I keep that mindset whenever I’m in a rough patch outside football, and it has helped me to push myself forward,” she says.
Of Nationalism And Perseverance
“It takes a lot to become an athlete, and I believe each one should possess perseverance regardless of the sport they play. The ability to push ourselves to our limits wherein it actually goes beyond playing sports and helps us further in life,” she reflects. “As a Filipino, I believe being patriotic is already expected, and as a member of the National Team, I know I always express how devoted and loyal I am to my country whenever I play. I also think that being “Masipag/Masikap” has guided me as an athlete, specifically, a female athlete wherein the opportunities in our sport are male-dominated.”
Del Campo’s teammates Hali Long and Inna Palacios share the same grit. Of nationalism or makabansa, Long tells us “Of course, it’s why we’re all here, right? We represent something bigger than ourselves, more than an individual; we represent an entire nation. I love my country, and I would do anything for her.”
She tells us that her biggest career goal has been to develop women’s football in the Philippines. “We have brought the Filipinas onto the global stage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the ultimate goal is to go every time—to see the Philippines become a regular participant of a global tournament,” Long continues. “Of course, to also win gold medals when we can: Sea Games, AFF, Asian Cup. Constant growth.”
A Deeper Discipline
This growth mindset is shared by Palacios, who explains her approach to sports. “I never want to stop learning because once we do, you won’t progress any further,” she explains. “What I learn in football applies to all aspects of life. Whether that’s in business or sports, music or art, they all have similarities in teaching you the discipline you need to have in order to achieve your dreams. It all requires passion and perseverance to be able to do it well and for a long time.”
Rising fencing athlete Juliana Gomez carries a similar perspective within her own practice. “Sport taught me how to set goals, prior, I don’t think I had any passions that could actually lead me to a bigger purpose or a bigger goal. Fencing really took me there,” she reflects. The fencer admits she has the Olympics on her radar. “All my efforts are for that dream,” Gomez says.
“I think it’s a really beautiful dream to have [Philippine] fencing become known worldwide because right now, we’re only strong in Southeast Asia. Only a few Filipino fencers have really made it on an Asian level or on a world-class level,” she expounds. “I hope that the coming generations will work hard and will stay inspired. I really hope to also be a good role model in the fencing community. That’s actually something that I didn’t realize was so important until recently.”