5 of the Most Decorated Filipina Athletes of All-Time

The successes of Filipina athletes are at an all-time high, and these are the ladies who have set the standard.

All around the world, female athletes have been on the rise, taking the spotlight, and gaining the recognition they have long deserves. The same trend rings true in the Philippines. In recent years, Filipinas have stood front and center in Philippine sports, and there is no slowing them down, as they are continuously fighting for their place not just among the best in the country, but the best in the world.

As we celebrate International Women’s Month, we’re recognizing the most decorated Filipina athletes of all time — the athletes who broke barriers to prove that even more young Filipinas can do the same if not more.

Lydia de Vega-Mercado
5 of the Most Decorated Filipina Athletes of All-Time: Lydia de Vega
(Photo credit: Runnr on Instagram)

Lydia de Vega is one of the greatest athletes in the history of Philippine sports, and she wasn’t just recognized locally — she was known as “Asia’s fastest woman” in the 1980s.

From the age of 15, de Vega was already beginning to make a name for herself as a track and field athlete on the international level. In 1979, for instance, she won a bronze medal for the 4×400-meter relay in the Asian Track & Field Championships, as well as four more medals in the ASEAN School Championship, and she represented the Philippines in five different athletics events in the Southeast Asian Games.

From then on, she would only get even faster. The following year, she won two gold medals in the ASEAN Cup and recorded the best time in a one-lap race by an Asian woman, completing 400 meters in just 54.6 seconds. And it was a long time before anyone else could catch up.

In 1987, the sprint queen broke the Philippine record for the 100-meter event with a time of 11.28 seconds and held that record for a long 33 years, and she also held the national record for the 200-meter and 400-meter events for 32 years.

Throughout her career, she continued picking up medals left and right. By the time she retired, she accumulated nine gold SEA Games medals, two Asian Games gold medals, and four golds from the Asia Athletics Championships. On top of this, she also received the honor of representing the Philippines in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games.

Haydee Coloso-Espino
5 of the Most Decorated Filipina Athletes of All-Time: Haydee Coloso-Espino
(Photo credit: Philippine Swimmers Inc. on Facebook)

Haydee Coloso-Espino was considered “Asia’s Swim Queen” as she was one of the most successful Filipinas in the continental swim scene.

Coloso-Espino was very young when she started competing in the Asian Games, but she quickly proved that age was just a number. At 16 years old, she competed in her first Asian Games and made a splash, winning two gold medals for the 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly, as well as a silver medal for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Thanks to this stellar debut, she secured herself a slot in the 1956 Olympics. However, after becoming pregnant just before the Summer Games, she had to sit out the competition.

But this was just a brief pause in her promising career, because it wasn’t long before she was back in the water. Coloso-Espino came back in the 1958 Asian Games and won four more medals that year. In addition, she also finally got to achieve her dream of competing in the Olympics, as she once again secured her slot in the 1960 edition.

In total, the Filipina swimmer won a total of 10 Asian Games medals in her career, making her one of the most successful athletes representing the Philippines at the continental event.

Rubilen Amit
5 of the Most Decorated Filipina Athletes of All-Time: Rubilen Amit
(Photo credit: Rubilen Amit on Instagram)

Historically, billiards is one of the sports that has brought Philippine athletes some of the most international success in the sports world, and although it is a male-dominated sport, one of the most successful players from the country of all time is a Filipina: Rubilen Amit.

Although she started playing the sport as a teenager, simply joining her father when he would play, her talents would take her to become one of the most successful Filipino players. In 2005, she entered the Southeast Asian Games for the first time and immediately won a gold medal for her event., women’s 8 ball. From there, she would go on to rule the region, winning 10 gold medals, five silvers, and one bronze in the SEA Games.

But her success would go beyond the region. Amit proved her place among the best in the world when she was crowned the champion in the WPA Women’s World Ten-ball Championship in 2009 and 2013, making her the first Filipina to win the world title.

Bong Coo
Filipina professional bowing legend Olivia "Bong" Coo
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

To go through Olivia “Bong” Coo’s accolades one by one would take a long time. After all, she is widely regarded as the Philippines’ most decorated athlete — and for good reason.

As a professional bowler, Coo has won an unmatched number of medals: 37 golds, 23 silvers, and 18 bronzes (a total of 78) across several major competitions including the World Bowling Championships, the World Games, the Asian Games, and Southeast Asian Games. On top of this, she is also a four-time World Champion and was the first Filipino athlete to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records, when she was included for her two-peat in the World Tenpin Bowling Championships in 1979 and 1983.

With all of her successes, she has been recognized not just in the Philippines, but internationally as well. The Bowlers Journal International named her as one of the “Greatest International Bowlers of All-Time” in its 2013 anniversary issue; she was one of the first inductees of the International Bowling Hall of Fame; she was awarded the Philippine Sports Association (PSA) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019; and was named the Athlete of the Millennium in 2000.

Her list of individual awards goes on and on and on, proving that she is indeed one of the greatest Filipina athletes of all time, who broke barriers as she was breaking records.

Hidilyn Diaz
The Philippines' first-ever Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz
(Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto / AFP)

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know who Hidilyn Diaz is. She has become a household name in the Philippines after she won the country its first-ever Olympic gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

The Filipina weightlifer’s story is almost like Filipino folklore at this point. She first discovered the sport when she was only 10 years old and started out from makeshift concrete barbells. From there, she fell in love with the sport and dedicated her life to it.

In 2008, she entered the Olympics for the first time, becoming the first female weightlifter to compete at the event and though she didn’t win a medal, she cemented her place within the national team. She went on to represent the Philippines again in 2012, and come Rio 2016, she was poised for a podium finish, and she delivered, winning a silver medal. This marked the country’s first Olympic medal after a 20-year drought. And she wasn’t done yet.

Hidilyn Diaz was a huge reason why 2021 was a historic year for Philippine sports. At 30 years old, she managed to uplift an entire nation with one performance — now, she will forever be known as the Filipina who brought the Philippines its first taste of golden Olympic glory.

Banner images from Rubilen Amit on Instagram, FEU, and Wikimedia Commons.

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