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Mindanao Pride: The Hometowns of the Philippines' Tokyo Olympic Medalists

Something in the water.
IMAGE JEROME ASCAÑO
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There must be something in the water in Mindanao. The island has provided us with not one, not two, but four Olympic medalists in the same year. In the biggest medal haul in Philippine history, the Tokyo Olympics delegation brought home the country’s first-ever gold medal, courtesy of Hidilyn Diaz, Nesthy Petecio’s silver, and Eumir Marcial’s bronze. Carlo Paalam still has the flyweight finals ahead of him, but even if he loses that match, he’s assured a silver medal for making it to the finals.

All four Olympic medalists have one thing in common: they all hail from Mindanao. Their hometowns are all celebrating the historic wins of their athletes and preparing a hero's welcome. Here are the hometowns of the four Mindanao medalists.

1| Hidilyn Diaz - Zamboanga City

The country’s first-ever gold medalist was born and raised in Barangay Mampang, Zamboanga City. Growing up, her father was a tricycle driver, farmer, and fisherman, dabbling in different jobs to support his six children, of which Hidilyn is the fifth. She studied at the Universidad of Zamboanga for a few years before transferring to De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. Hidilyn has been competing in the Olympics since 2008, so she’s been a source of pride for the province for a while.

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After her fourth Olympics where she won the gold, a Zamboanga councilor wanted to build a monument in her honor in the city. The proposal was turned down by fellow councilors, but Hidilyn was flattered and jokingly said, “Vivo pa yo, hace ya comigo rebulto?” Translated from Chavacano, she said, “I’m still alive, why built a monument for me?”

2| Eumir Marcial - Zamboanga City

Zamboanga didn’t just produce one champion, but two. Bronze medalist Eumir Marcial hails from Barangay Lunzuran, Zamboanga City, where he was born and raised. Marcial started boxing at a young age, and entered at the local Beer na Beer Tournament at Plaza Pershing in Zamboanga, which he won. According to Rappler, Marcial worked as a jeepney conductor to help earn money for the family, all while he continued his studies and his training. He eventually moved to Pasay City to finish high school and continue training under a more rigorous program.

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Like Hidilyn, Eumir comes from a humble background and continues to support all of his siblings and his parents through his boxing winnings. His mother was able to set up a family store called Eumir Store in their barangay. A bronze is just as shiny as a gold in the eyes of the people of Zamboanga, as Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar congratulated Eumir and Hidilyn for showing “the world the resiliency, bravery, and determination of the Zamboangueños to win life.”

3| Nesthy Petecio - Davao del Sur

Featherweight fighter Nesthy Petecio was born in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur. Her father, a farmer, picked chicken droppings to sell as fertilizer, according to GMA News. Nesthy and her siblings often assisted him to help the family earn income until she discovered she could support her family by boxing. Nesthy’s father initially taught her boxing so she and her siblings would know self-defense, but her knack for the sport eventually led her to join inter-barangay competitions, where she’d use her winnings to help pull the family out of poverty.

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It was at one of her matches in Rizal Park, Davao City during Araw ng Davao where she caught the attention of scouts in the crowd. Nesthy was only 11 at the time and faced a male opponent that was both bigger and older than her. The organizers were telling her to bow out of the match, but she persevered—and won. That was her breakout moment, and a scout connected her to Roel Velasco, Olympic bronze medalist and head of the Philippine women’s team. He’s still her coach to this day and was instrumental in her bagging a silver medal.

4| Carlo Paalam - Cagayan de Oro

Boxing phenomenon Carlo Paalam was born in Bukidnon, but was raised in Misamis Oriental. He spent a few years in Balingoan before his siblings and his single father settled in Barangay Canitoan, Cagayan de Oro. While in CDO, Paalam worked as a scavenger at the local landfill to support his family even at a young age. Like Eumir, Paalam entered a local boxing tournament called “Boxing at the Park” while he was still young after being encouraged by a neighbor to try it out. He won his first match and used the prize money to buy his family rice. Afterward, he would compete in local matches whenever he wasn’t picking garbage, determined to support his family.

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It wasn’t until he was around 11 in 2009 that local officials saw his potential and adopted him into the local government’s boxing program. The program supported young athletes with monthly allowances and housing while training them in boxing and making sure they continued their education. Paalam thanked mayor Oscar Moreno and the local boxing community for helping him get this far, and continues to dedicate his fights to the city.

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Anri Ichimura
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