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Donaire’s unbeaten streak, Pacman’s winless campaign hog the headlines in 2012

MANNY “PACMAN” PACQUIAO tasted a shocking defeat and the entire country wept. But Pacquiao’s stunning third-round knockout loss to Mexican nemesis Juan Manual Marquez in their fourth meeting in early December appeared to be the mere stain in a year marked by victories in several fronts—including atop the ring where Nonito Donaire Jr. showed that a Pacquiao loss is not the end of Philippine boxing.

Donaire saved Philippine boxing from total disappointment by knocking out his Mexican opponent, Jorge Arce, exactly a week after Pacquiao was knocked out cold by Marquez.

That knockout of a win was not the sole glitter in Donaire’s amazing performance in 2012. The 31-year-old swept his four bouts this year, beginning with a split-decision victory over Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. for the vacant World Boxing Organization (WBO) super-bantamweight belt.

He added the International Boxing Federation belt to his collection after pulling off a unanimous decision over South Africa’s Jeffrey Mathebula in July for his 28th straight win.

Donaire’s streak continued with a knockout win against Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka in the ninth round in October, triumphs that were enough to cushion the impact of Pacquiao’s controversial defeat to American Timothy Bradley in May.

At year’s end, Donaire was named Boxer of the Year by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Amateur boxing also produced a heroine in Josie Gabuco, a 25-year-old single mother who became the first Filipina to win a gold medal in the International Amateur Boxing Association Women’s World Championships in Qinhuangdao, China, in May.

Gabuco defied the odds by beating hometown bet Xu Shiqi in their light-flyweight championship duel.

Another Filipina, a 15-year-old lass from Cebu, made her mark in the World Taekwondo Poomsae Championships.

Mikaela Calamba, a high-school junior at the University of San Carlos, won the gold medal in the open category’s freestyle event, beating older rivals in the tournament held in Tunja, Colombia, also in December.

Like poomsae of taekwondo, rugby is one sport still finding a prominent niche in the country but 2012 showed the rise of the Philippine men’s rugby team popularly known as the Volcanoes.

The Volcanoes made history by securing a spot in the prestigious 2013 Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow after placing third in the HSBC Asia Rugby Singapore Sevens, beating Korea, 22-19.

The Volcanoes’ feat, however, went virtually unnoticed in the face of the more popular Azkals, who have yet to make a significant dent in the Southeast Asian football arena.

Eleven Filipino athletes did battle in the London 2012 Olympics in August, but none went home with a medal, a poor performance expected of a team coming from a country which, despite having struck medals—never a gold though—sparingly in past Games, have yet to truly define its Olympics objective.

Filipino athletes, however, struck gold in various team competitions in 2012, most notable of them were the dragon-boat rowers from the Philippine Canoe-Kayak Federation that won golds in the world dragon-boat championships—the legit tournament for the sport—in Milan, Italy, and the Big League Girls softball team from Manila that finally won the crown in the World Series in the US.

A team composed mostly of pros from the Philippine Basketball Association beat a field that included a rag-tag American squad to win the Jones Cup in Taiwan in June—a victory that momentarily made Filipinos proud because the more onerous tournament, the 2013 Fiba Asia Men’s Championship, has yet to be conquered.

Philippine cycling also earned a niche in the continental stage with Baler Ravina, the grizzled and certified climber from Pangasinan, won last summer’s third Le Tour de Filipinas, the only International Cycling Union (UCI) race in the country that featured Asia’s best road riders and promising pro cyclists from Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

Filipina golfers also made significant contributions, thanks to a late-year surge that produced five overseas victories in a six-week stretch.

Jayvie Agojo kicked off the blast with a win in the Santi Cup, the ladies championship of the Putra Cup, in Indonesia last September before Cyna Rodriguez (Hong Kong Ladies Amateur Open), Dottie Ardina (Cangolf Amateur and Taiwan Amateur Open) and Princess Superal (Malaysian Juniors Open) followed suit.

After a fourth-place finish in Indonesia Open that broke the run, Ardina took the Penang Amateur Open title, then led a stirring sweep along with Superal and Sarah Ababa of the three titles in the Singapore Juniors Championships in early December.

The ladies golf team racked up 23 victories, including nine by Superal and seven by Ardina, while making an impact in a series of US tournaments and in Australia, where it impressed even the national team from Down Under after Ardina set a new course record 65 at the Dunes.

The year 2012 remained remarkable despite that forgettable loss by Pacquiao, who, like the true champion that he is, gave Filipinos a brighter hope in the world of sports in 2013.

To borrow the Pacman’s words, Filipino athletes and Philippine sports “will rise [again]” in the new year.


In Photo: Nonito Donaire Jr. (above) rises on top of the boxing scene in 2012 as Manny Pacquiao (left) falls down to Juan Manuel Marquez last December in what could be the forgettable year of his career.


 

 

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