TOKYO – It was quite a revelation when Philippine Ambassador to Japan Jose C. Laurel V said he actually witnessed the featherweight boxing final between Russia’s Stanislav Stepashkin and Filipino Anthony Villanueva in the 1964 Olympics held here. Villanueva lost by a controversial split decision and Laurel recalled it was a bloody affair. Most ringsiders, including Buck Canel of Agence France Presse and Ring Magazine founder Nat Fleischer, saw Villanueva the clear winner.
Laurel, who served as Batangas governor from 1980 to 1988, presented his credentials to the Japanese Emperor in 2017. His father Jose III was ambassador from 1965 to 1971. Laurel was barely two years old when his parents took him to Nara on the family’s exile. “We were in Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped,” he said. “There were several Filipinos incarcerated at the time, including Ninoy Aquino’s father and Don Camilo Osias.” His grandfather Jose P. Laurel was president of the second Philippine republic from 1943 to 1945.
“We Filipinos are enthused by the performance of our athletes in the Tokyo Olympics,” said Laurel. “This is our best finish ever in the Olympics since we started participating in 1924.” Before this year’s Games, the richest medal harvest was reaped in Los Angeles in 1932 with three bronze medals collected by swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, high jumper Simeon Toribio and bantamweight boxer Jose (Cely) Villanueva (Anthony’s father).
Laurel said he’s grateful to Filipinos in Japan for supporting the national athletes in the Olympics. “We will win more medals and more successes in Tokyo this year than ever before in our Olympic history,” he said. Laurel said he’s proud that other La Salle graduates like him are now serving as ambassadors, Babe Romualdez in Washington, D.C. and Chito Sta. Romana in Beijing. His close friend Jose Cuisia is a former ambassador to the US.
The other day, Laurel was at Conrad Hotel to welcome Rep. Faustino (Mike) Dy III of Isabela. Dy is the House committee chairman on youth and sports. He arrived from Manila in time to watch Caloy Yulo in the vault final. An athlete himself, Dy played varsity basketball and has dabbled in equestrian and wakeboarding. He champions the cause of sports development in Congress. In a message, Dy asked for prayers to give the Filipino athletes the strength to add to the medal haul.
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A Filipina working in Japan as a translator, Ayra Ignacio of Las Piñas, is a volunteer in the Olympic basketball event at the Saitama Super Arena, site of the FIBA World Cup in 2006. Ignacio, 36, is a nurse by profession and has lived in Japan the last eight years. She took a 10-day leave from work to help out in the press center at the Arena. It’s an eight-hour-a-day job and Ignacio is relishing the Olympic experience although she only gets to watch a game during a break. When it’s business hours, Ignacio is totally focused on her work.
In Saitama the other day, US faced France in women’s basketball and one of the three referees was PBA supervisor of officials Bong Pascual. The other referees were Rabah Noujaim of Lebanon and Manuel Mazzoni of Italy. France led by six twice in the second quarter but the Americans rallied to take a 50-44 edge at the break. The Americans went on to win, 93-82, to post their 52nd straight Olympic victory since 1992. Pascual, 51, worked the 2014 and 2019 FIBA World Cup and made his Olympic debut in Rio in 2016.