Champions of The GAME: 10 Greatest Filipino Athletes of All Time

We attempt to rank the top 10 all-time great Filipino national athletes, based on international success and overall sporting legacies.

Without question, the Philippines has no shortage of all-time great athletes, with countless heroes proving that Filipinos can excel on the international sporting stage. 

To close out the month of June, we’re listing and ranking the 10 all-time great Filipino national athletes, based on their achievements on the international stage, and the lasting impact that their sporting success has created.

10. Flash Elorde 
(Photo Credit: BoxRec)

Before Pacquiao, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde was considered the Philippines’ greatest boxer, ending his career with 89 wins in 118 matches. Elorde’s biggest accolade though, was his seven-year reign as super featherweight title from 1960 to 1967 that cemented his all-time great status in both the division and the country. 

Flash also became the first Asian inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993, as well as the World Boxing Hall of Fame’s class of 1988. 

And while Manny Pacquiao went on to be the country’s greatest boxer, the Elorde name still resonates across sporting circles today. After all, nothing can take away Flash’s status as one of the first Filipino boxers to excel on the international stage, on top of lording over his division for seven long years.

9. Robert Jaworski
(Photo Credit: Robert Jaworski Sr. on Facebook)

Undoubtedly, Robert Jaworski Sr. is another Philippine basketball great. In the PBA, he was a 13-time champion, the all-time assist leader, and an MVP among others.

As a Filipino national athlete, Jawo was part of the RP Team in the 1970s, winning two golds in the ABC (now FIBA Asia Cup) in 1967 and 1973, and settling for silver in 1971.

All of these ABC triumphs also resulted in either an Olympic or a FIBA World Championship berth, which gave Jawo appearances in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and the 1974 World Championships in Puerto Rico. 

8. Eugene Torre
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Chess legend Eugene Torre is Asia’s first Grandmaster, earning the status in 1974. As a 22-year-old, Torre earned the title after copping silver in the 1974 Chess Olympiad’s Board 1. A lifetime title, Grandmaster is one of the highest honors a chess player can get aside from winning the World Championship.

Since becoming Grandmaster, Torre went on to have more career highs, which included upsetting Soviet World Champion and fellow Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov. Between 1970 to 2016, Torre also had a record-setting 23 appearances in the Chess Olympiad.

Simply put, Torre was a trailblazer for chess in Asia, with his success pretty much bringing the sport to the whole continent. Just two years ago, he was inducted into the International Chess Federation’s (FIDE) World Hall of Fame, being the first Asian male to make it to the list.

In earning that honor, Torre finds himself with legends like American great Bobby Fischer, and Russians Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, and Gary Kasparov.

7. Lydia de Vega
(Photo Credit: Runnr on Instagram)

Lydia de Vega was Asia’s Sprint Queen, whose potential was first showcased when she snagged golds in the 200 and 400m dash in the 1981 Manila SEA Games as a 16-year-old. 

Ultimately, Lydia proceeded to cop a total of 15 gold medals, including nine in the SEA Games, and four in the Asian Athletics Championships. Most of these came through her mastery of the 100 and 200m dash. 

Part of her golden haul is a pair of Asian Games golds, which came by beating fellow Asian track legend and great rival P.T. Usha of India in the century dash in 1982 and 1986. 

Lydia also represented the Philippines twice in the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics, making the quarter-final rounds in the former. For over three decades, she held national records for the 100m dash (11.28 seconds), and 200m dash (23.35 seconds) until they were first reset by Kristina Knott in 2020 and Zion Corrales-Nelson in 2019 respectively. 

And with this success, Lydia was also a trailblazer. On top of inspiring countless others to be like her, Lydia did her part in breaking down sporting barriers and ensured that equally successful Filipinas would get the flowers they fully deserve. 

6. EJ Obiena
Filipino national athletes: EJ Obiena
(Photo Credit: EJ Obiena on Facebook)

EJ Obiena’s ranking here is partly in consideration of an active career. But even so, he’s already made his case of being one of, if not the Philippines’ greatest track and field athlete. After all, EJ has catapulted himself into being the World No. 2 pole vaulter, only trailing generational talent Mondo Duplantis. Within the track and field disciplines, no Filipino national athlete has come this close to being their sport’s undisputed best.

EJ has also set, and reset pole vaulting records on top of his chokehold on Asian tilts. In June last year, he became the first and lone Asian pole vaulter to clear the 6-meter range, doing so in the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway. Equally impressive is him repeating this feat in the World Championships in August, where he copped a historic silver.

Currently, the pole vaulter is set to make his second-straight Olympic appearance in Paris. And if he adds an Olympic medal to his tally, trust that we’ll revisit this ranking in a few months’ time.

5. Rafael Nepomuceno
Filipino national athletes: Paeng Nepomuceno
(Photo Credit: Paeng Nepomuceno on Facebook)

Paeng Nepomuceno has achieved just about everything as a Filipino bowler, from being the youngest tenpin bowling champ in 1976 to being a six-time bowling world champion. These and his 133 bowling titles have all been recognized by the Guinness World Records for a total of four times.

On top of these, Paeng is also a recipient of the International Olympic Committee’s President’s Trophy or the IOC’s “highest sports award given to an athlete,” further cementing Paeng’s lasting legacy as an all-time great bowler from the Philippines.

Like his peers, Paeng was equally successful in Asian tilts, winning several golds across varied disciplines in the SEA Games, Asian Games, and Asian Championships in his prime.

4. Efren Reyes
Filipino national athletes: Efren Reyes
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Efren Reyes is widely regarded as the greatest pool player of all time due to his versatility across disciplines, and his legendary prowess with the cue stick. This is a clear indication of that is the numerous titles he’s won over decades of elite pool play.

Particularly, Efren was a two-time pool world champion and was the first to win across two different disciplines: the World Pool Association (WPA) World Nine-ball championship in 1999, and the WPA World Eight-ball championship in 2004. 

“Bata” is just as successful on the regional circuit, winning golds in about three pool disciplines during the SEA Games in the late 1980s, to the early 1990s. 

Efren also helped give prominence to his sport in the Philippines. His 1999 world championship sparked renewed interest in pool, and every Filipino player wanted to be like one Efren “Bata” Reyes. 

3. Caloy Loyzaga
Filipino national athletes: Carlos Loyzaga
(Photo Credit: FIBA)

Caloy Loyzaga is the Philippine basketball GOAT, with a case solidified by international excellence. The biggest would be the 1954 FIBA World Championship (now known as the World Cup), where Loyzaga led the Philippines to a historic bronze medal finish — an unmatched feat up to today. 

Loyzaga’s stellar play didn’t go unnoticed in the World Championship either. One of the leading scorers in the tilt (16.7 points), he was named part of the All-Tournament Five, something that’s also yet to be replicated up to today. 

Loyzaga was also a two-time Olympian in Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956. According to FIBA, he was also a top scorer in Melbourne with 17.3 points per game in the Philippines’ seventh-place finish (second-best since 1936). 

He was just as successful in the Asian circuit, being a four-time Asian Games champion, and three-time FIBA Asia Cup champion, with his third coming as coach in 1967. On home soil, he was a multiple-time champ with San Beda in the NCAA, and the YCO Painters in PBA precursor MICAA. 

All in all, “King” Caloy was a proven winner wherever he went, and was just as responsible for turning the Philippines into a basketball-loving country. With the Philippines’ international success, Loyzaga’s time saw the country be viewed as a powerhouse on the world stage as well. 

2. Hidilyn Diaz
Filipino national athletes: Hidilyn Diaz
(Photo Credit: Hidilyn Diaz on Facebook)

One of the finest Filipino national athletes, Hidilyn Diaz became the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist in the Tokyo Olympics. In executing a perfect clean and jerk, the 97-year gold medal drought was over thanks to the gritty weightlifter from Zamboanga. 

It was the brightest chapter in Hidilyn’s resume which also includes being a four-time Olympian, silver medalist in Rio 2016 (which notably snapped a 20-year Olympic silver medal drought), and a gold medalist across regional circuits like the SEA Games and Asian Games. 

Hidilyn is living proof that the Philippines can indeed win on the Olympic level and that while the road is as tough as it gets, a Filipino can and will be on top of the international podium one day. 

On top of bringing glory to the country, Hidilyn is also paying it forward to Philippine weightlifting by being an inspiration and mentor to her sport’s future stars. There are also the facilities she’s created, which ensures that Filipino weightlifters will now have proper training grounds moving forward, setting the stage for future athletes.

1. Manny Pacquiao
Filipino national athletes: Pacquiao
(Photo Credit: Manny Pacquiao on Facebook)

From a raw athletic talent from Sarangani, Manny Pacquiao proceeded to establish himself as one of boxing’s greatest of all time. And in doing so, he’s also become one of the greatest Filipino national athletes.

Pac-Man is boxing’s only eight-division champ, and the first to win in four of the sport’s original eight divisions, namely flyweight, featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight. We can’t forget his huge victories over legends too like Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Shane Mosley. 

Pac-Man’s success turned him into a global icon and a well-respected figure in the sporting world.

Pac-Man’s fights were like a national holiday, with the AFP and communist rebels even declaring ceasefires. More likely than not, we all have memories of watching him with family on a Sunday morning, with roads empty and crime dropping to zero. 

Banner Images from Manny Pacquiao and Hidilyn Diaz on Facebook, Wikimedia Commons, and FIBA.

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