In 2023, Filipino athletes left an indelible mark on the world stage, defining a year of exceptional achievements and resounding victories. Across gymnastics, pole vault, tennis, boxing, and chess, these sports luminaries not only showcased remarkable skills but also epitomized true sportsmanship.
The Great Filipino Story presents the 2023 Year in Review, a compilation that highlights the pinnacle of Filipino athletic prowess. Within this narrative, we unveil the Top 10 Inspiring Sports Stories, each embodying the resilience, dedication, and triumph of these extraordinary athletes. Beyond national pride, these stories transcend borders, illustrating the unyielding spirit that binds the world through the universal language of sports. Join us on this journey as we explore a remarkable chapter in Filipino sports history, where each narrative contributes to the vibrant canvas of a phenomenal year.
1. Carlos Yulo
Filipino gymnast Carlos Edriel Yulo showcased outstanding performance, securing gold in the men’s vault and parallel bars at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, with scores of 14.933 and 15.400 points, respectively. This marks his continued success in the World Cup series, having previously won medals in Doha, Qatar, and Cottbus, Germany.
2. EJ Obiena
Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena secured a historic qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics in France by clearing 5.82 meters at the Diamond League’s Bauhaus Galan leg, becoming the first Filipino athlete to do so. Obiena claimed a silver medal in the process, trailing behind champion Mondo Duplantis. Despite his success, Obiena remains humble, acknowledging areas for improvement. Prior to this achievement, he won bronze at the Ostrava Golden Spike 2023 men’s pole vault competition in the Czech Republic with a 5.90-meter jump.
3. Alex Eala
In a remarkable turnaround, Alex Eala secured a historic comeback win in tennis at the Asian Games, defeating Japanese Kyoka Okamura 0-6, 7-5, 6-0 and ensuring Team Philippines another bronze medal. Despite a challenging first set, Eala found her rhythm, clinching the second set and dominating the third. The victory sets up an exciting semifinal against top-seed Zheng Qinwen of China. Eala, ranked 192nd, faces a formidable opponent in Zheng, ranked 23rd in the latest ITF rankings. The last time the Philippines won a medal in the Asian Games was 17 years ago. Eala continued her day, pairing with Francis Casey Alcantara in the mixed doubles event later.
Hergie Tao-Wag Bacyadan makes history as the first Filipino LGQBT+ athlete to secure a gold medal in Vovinam sports at the 7th WVVF World Vovinam Championship in 2023. Competing in the -66kg category, Bacyadan triumphed over Russian athlete Mariana Avdeenko, scoring 10 points and delivering a significant punch after 38 seconds in the second round. Bacyadan’s victory, a result of intense training under Coach Glenn Mondol, reflects dedication and sacrifice.
6-year-old jiu-jitsu prodigy Aleia Aguilar secures her second world champion title at the Abu Dhabi Pro World Championships, defeating a competitor from the United Arab Emirates. Aleia, the youngest champion athlete, had previously claimed gold in the Kids 1 Girls White Belt 16 kg-B category in 2022. Her father, Filipino martial artist Alvin Aguilar, congratulates her for her determination and hard work, expressing pride in her achievements. Aleia’s recognition as the youngest jiu-jitsu athlete to win a world championship was acknowledged by the Philippine government after her remarkable victory last year.
Filipina pool player Chezka Centeno fulfilled her dream by clinching the WPA World 10-Ball Women’s Championship in Austria on October 23. Undefeated from the qualifying stage to the final, Centeno secured a 9-5 victory over China’s Han Yu. Reflecting on her childhood dream and years of hard work, Centeno expressed gratitude to supporters, family, and friends. She dedicated the win to her family, supporters, and partner, acknowledging their unwavering support. Having started competing at 11, Centeno has garnered various accolades, including being the 2016 Amway Cup Champion and the youngest winner of the Amway Cup.
Filipino boxer Eumir Marcial secures a victory in the 19th Asian Games Finals, marking the start of his professional journey toward the Paris Olympics. As the lone Filipino middleweight representative, Marcial’s knockout win against Syrian boxer Ahmad Ghousoon in the 80 kg semi-finals earned him a silver medal for the Philippines. Marcial expressed doubt about his skills before the match, emphasizing the importance of this win for his qualification for the Paris Olympics. Motivated by his wife, Marcial becomes the fourth Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, joining EJ Obiena, Carlos Yulo, and Aleah Finnegan. This achievement follows his bronze medal win at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
The Philippines Women’s National Football Team achieves a historic victory in their debut FIFA Women’s World Cup match, defeating New Zealand 1-0. Forward Sarina Bolden scores the Philippines’ first-ever goal with an assist from midfielder Sara Eggesvik. The win, celebrated as a team effort, follows their earlier match against Switzerland. Coach Alen Stacjic emphasizes the team’s connection through Filipino heritage, making the historic win even more meaningful. The Philippines’ qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup marks their debut in the tournament.
The National Federation of the Philippines (NCFP) names 10-year-old chess player Nika Juris Nicolas as the country’s National Master, breaking gender barriers in chess. Nicolas emerged victorious in a male-dominated competition, securing silver in Standard, silver in Blitz, and bronze in Rapid categories. Her historic accomplishment challenges the notion of male dominance in chess and sets her as the first and only female National Master in the Philippines. Nicolas is set to compete in the upcoming age group chess championships of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Thailand.
10. John Mark Tokong
Professional surfer John Mark Tokong, popularly known as “Marama,” becomes the first Filipino surfer to qualify for the 2023 World Surf League Challenger Series (WSL CS). Representing Siargao Island, Tokong will compete against top surfers globally in the 2023 WSL CS, with events scheduled in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, and Sydney. The top performers in this series will vie for entry into the World Surf League Championship Tour. Tokong, victorious in the 2023 White Buffalo Hyuga Pro tournament in Japan, currently holds the No. 4 spot in the WSL Asia Regional Ranking.