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Have to hand it to Filipino female athletes in 2020

By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter

THE year 2020 rendered sports activities limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Filipino athletes still managed to squeeze in some action internationally and actually did well — particularly the women.

Golfers Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan, tennis ace Alex Eala, boxer Irish Magno, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, skateboarder Margielyn Didal, basketball player Jack Animam, and mixed martial arts fighter Denice Zamboanga were some of the Pinay athletes who made waves in their respective fields this year to give Philippine sports something to celebrate about despite the rough and tough ride.

Ms. Saso, 19, made her professional debut this year and did not waste much time in introducing herself to the field.

She spent much of the time in the LPGA of Japan Tour and was solid with two victories — NEC Karuizawa 72 and Nitori Ladies Golf Tournament both in August — and six top 10 finishes.

Ms. Saso leads the JLPGA money race with ¥93,891,170 (P43.5 million) in earnings, ahead of Ayaka Furue of Japan (¥90,502,992), who is a three-leg winner.

She competed at the US Women’s Open early this month and finished in joint 13th place to improve to 45th place in the world rankings.

The Bulacan-born player is now eyeing a spot in the rescheduled Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, something many are bullish about.

Ms. Pagdanganan, 23, meanwhile, also made her pro debut this year and held her own in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), making the cut nine in the 10 tournaments she competed in, with two top 10 finishes.

To date, she has a total earnings of $203,775 (P9.8 million) and is ranked 150th in the world.

Ms. Pagdanganan is also looking to book a spot in the Olympics.

Fifteen-year-old Eala, for her part, painted a rosy picture for Philippine tennis after having a breakthrough year in 2020.

The Rafa Nadal Academy opened the year by winning the 2020 Australian Open juniors doubles title with partner Priska Nugroho of Indonesia, becoming in the process the first Filipina to win a grand slam title, be it in juniors or seniors play.

She then had it eventful at the French Open in October, reaching the Final Four.

“I’m super happy, and super proud to be representing the Philippines. It’s an honor…,” said Ms. Eala following her good run in France.

Ms. Eala went as high as number two in the world for her achievements, but is to finish the year at number three as per the latest rankings of the International Tennis Federation.

Boxer Magno assured the country would be represented in the Tokyo Olympics after earning a spot in the Games at the Asia and Oceania Olympic Boxing Qualification Tournament in Amman, Jordan in March.

Flyweight Magno, a silver medallist in the last Southeast Asian Games (SEA), defeated Tajikistan’s Sumaiya Qosimova by unanimous decision in their box-off to earn her ticket.

She became the second boxer to qualify after middleweight Eumir Felix Marcial. The two joined pole-vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Caloy Yulo as the Filipino athletes who are Olympics-bound so far.

Veteran Olympic campaigner and silver medal-winning weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz had a muted campaign for the most part this year, but still managed to grab top hardware at the 2020 Roma World Cup in January and then online at the 2020 Oceania Weightlifting Federation’s (OWF) Eleiko Email International Lifters Tournament in the middle of the year.

She has yet to qualify for the Tokyo Games, but is determined to make it once qualifiers resume next year.

Online was also the way for Asian Games and SEA Games gold medallist Ms. Didal as she won silver at the Madrid Urban Sports Tournament in November.

She, too, has her sights trained on the 2021 Olympics.

Baller Animam, meanwhile, got the opportunity to play in Taiwan and is representing the Philippines well.

Much like she was doing here during her time with the National University women’s basketball team and Team Philippines, Ms. Animam has been a force for the Shih Hsin University at the University Basketball Association.

In combat sports, MMA fighter Zamboanga racked up two consecutive victories (February and August) at ONE Championship, making her one of the top contenders for the atomweight title currently held by Angela Lee of Singapore.

Given the headway that Filipino women made in 2020 amid the challenges presented by the pandemic, the Philippine Sports Commission is one with the country in celebrating them just as it expressed hope that more women will be inspired to engage in sports.

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