The Philippines at the Opening Ceremony of the 19th Asian Games

A Quick Look at the Philippines’ History at the Asian Games

The Philippines is one of the few nations that has competed in every edition of the Asian Games, and with this comes a rich sporting history.

As far as multi-sport competitions in Asia go, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Asian Games.

The Asian Games is the oldest and is widely considered to be the most prestigious sporting event hosted by the Olympic Council of Asia. After the Olympics, the Asian Games is one of the most highly competitive tournaments, as this is the stage wherein athletes can test their mettle against the best of the best in the continent. This is why for many Filipino athletes, getting to represent the country at the Asian Games is already a huge honor, let alone winning a medal.

This year, 395 athletes will be representing the Philippines in the 2023 Asian Games. Each one will be striving to bring home a medal for the country, not just for themselves, but for the pride of their entire nation. After all, the Philippines has a long history in the Asian Games, and now that the Filipino sports scene is more vibrant than ever, national athletes will be striving to raise the flag higher than before.

Let’s take a quick look at the Philippines’ history at the Asian Games.

The Philippines as hosts
A stamp from the Philippines' hosting of the 2nd Asian Games in 1954
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The second Asian Games in history took place in Manila, with the Philippines as the host of the event in 1954. The magnitude of the event could not be understated, as up to 20,000 sports fans flocked to Rizal Memorial Stadium, an iconic landmark for Philippine sports, to watch the opening ceremony.

Given that the 1954 Asian Games was only the second edition of the event, only 10 sports were included in the competition: athletics, basketball, boxing, diving, football, shooting, swimming, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. Nearly seven decades later, this number represents just a fraction of the 37 sports included in the upcoming 19th Asian Games.

Competing with the comfort of being at home, the Filipino athletes in the 1954 Asian Games collectively finished with 14 gold, 14 silver, and 17 bronze medals. With 45 in total, the Philippines finished second overall, behind Japan, whose athletes brought home a total of 98 medals. Since the Philippines’ hosting of the Asian Games, this has been the nation’s best-ever finish in the history of the tournament (so far).

The Philippines’ best-performing sports
The Philippines' men's basketball team competing in the 1998 Asian Games
(Photo credit: Basketball News on YouTube)

Over the years, the number of sports and events in the Asian Games has continued to grow. The upcoming edition will feature 37 sports, and one of the major additions in 2023 is the historic debut of esports as a medal event. This shows that sports have truly come a long way since the 50s, and as they continue to evolve, so do Filipino athletes. Historically, however, there are certain events in which Filipinos have won more medals than others.

In terms of the total number of medals won for a sport, swimming ranks the highest in the Philippines’ history at the Asian Games. As of writing, Filipino swimmers have won a total of 95 medals for this particular sport, including 10 golds, 31 silvers, and 54 bronzes. With this medal tally for swimming, the country ranks fifth overall out of 19 countries at the Asian Games. But, given the multitude of events for swimming, the medal count alone doesn’t give the full picture of sports that Filipinos have excelled at in the Games.

Basketball, the Philippines’ favorite sport, is the sport many consider to be the one in which Filipinos have been most successful. With seven medals in total, including four golds, one silver, and two bronze medals, the Philippines ranks third out of 11 nations — the highest rank the country has achieved for a single sport at the Asian Games.

The Philippines’ best finishes
Filipino sports fans cheering on Team Philippines in Southeast Asian Games
(Photo credit: Mar Jay Delas Alas via Wikimedia Commons)

The Philippines is one of the few nations that has participated in every single edition of the Asian Games, from the first-ever event held in 1951, up until the 19th edition this 2023. Only seven nations in total have done the same.

Ever since the first-ever Asian Games, the Philippines’ best finishes have been in the 50s. In the second edition in 1954 (when the Philippines was the host country) and the third in 1958, the Southeast Asian country finished with the second-most medals. However, as the years went by, more countries started sending their athletes to the Games, creating a more competitive atmosphere.

Since the early years of the event, the last time the Philippines reached the top 10 overall was in the 1986 edition held in Seoul, South Korea, wherein 93 athletes won a total of 18 medals and finished sixth in the medal rankings. From then on, the Philippines’ rankings have dabbled in the mid-to-high-teen range, and sometimes even the 20s. But, with the landscape of Philippine sports continuing to grow at a rapid pace, the future looks promising.

With 395 Filipino athletes competing in the 19th edition of the Asian Games, will the Philippines be able to reach for a higher finish this year?

Banner image from AFP.

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