A long and challenging look at the quest for Olympic gold

CHEERS to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for a two-part story on the country’s Olympians and their winning the gold at the Tokyo Olympics. The series saw print on October 31 and on November 7. It was written by Atom Araullo, who recalled the triumphal performance of Filipino athletes. 

Araullo focused on Hidilyn Diaz and her gold medal finish as he traced her background, her finding mentors and her successful weight-lifting program in Zamboanga that set her on the path to the championship. He discussed the barriers that make it difficult for athletes to fulfill their potential and test their mettle in the international arena.  

Araullo writes with a clear perspective. Hidilyn’s was not a steady climb. There was never a certainty about a win. But she had grit and she knew what she needed and gathered a team to develop her capacity. This was despite the systemic constraints, the lack of funds causing more lows than highs.

The report published as a blog by PCIJ three months after the Oympics renders more sharply the critique of the country’s sports program. Araullo shows up the lack of focus on what needs to be done, calling for a review and the necessary resolve to address the issues systematically and consistently. 

Araullo looked back at the early successes of Filipino Olympians from 1924, when countries sent  athletes to participate, not necessarily to win medals, but to gain the experience and exposure  in the international sports arena. And yet, there were wins, which dwindled quickly enough as the country Philippines typically trailed behind neighboring countries in the region. 

As the Olympics evolved into a major global event, participation alone has called for huge investments. And countries set up programs to enhance their advantages. 

Araullo lets the graphs and illustrations speak of the weaknesses in the country’s approach to sports development. Erratic lines betray the Philippines’ random approach, a dependence on political support which comes and goes, as well as corporate funding, which has also failed to set consistent levels of assistance. 

Indeed, the diagram of agencies involved in sports development involves not only the Philippine Olympic Committee but also the associations that focus on different sports. They  all depend on elected officers,  which often causes changes in management styles and even policies. One line however goes straight to the Office of the President. Others have pointed out how politics can get in the way of developing effective policies. 

This may not be the first time for these issues to be raised. But maybe this year, we can take some of these reminders to heart. We cheered our hearts out for our winners in July. But three months later, we need to make sure that these champions and others like them will not be just fend for  themselves. 

Araullo presented a dramatic narrative in which he wrote almost seamlessly the brief history of the Philippine participation, how these contrasted with the global programs and the huge investments required to compete. But the personal struggle is the thread that weaves through the report. The journeys begin with dreams, with hopes to escape poverty, as athletes gain strength and capacity and are emboldened to enter bigger tournaments and competitions. The story of Wesley So from Cavite is emblematic. He decided to be an American citizen so he could be free of the constraints that held him back in his native country. 

Araullo touches on these personal themes as he delves more deeply into an analysis of the problems hounding the policy and program for sports development and the need to invest separately in the country’s competing in the Olympics. 

This is compelling reading for all who cheered our champions in Tokyo. Well organized and elegantly written, it is journalism at its best.