Women representing the Philippines at the 19th Asian Games: Sara Eggesvik (football), Elreen Ando (weightlifting), Alex Eala (tennis)

Girls With Game: The Filipinas Writing History At The 19th Asian Games

From stunning debuts to historic chapters for their respective sports, these women from the Philippines are proving themselves in the Asian Games.

2023 has been a banner year for women in sports, especially in the Philippines. Filipinas have not only been competing at some of the highest levels of sports, but more than this, they have been excelling — the Filipinas’ upset over New Zealand in the Women’s World Cup, Alex Eala’s fourth professional title, Bianca Bustamante’s victories in the F1 Academy, among others. The same trend is ringing true in the Asian Games.

Whether they have won medals or not, these women have been proving the Philippines’ place in the Asian Games, writing history, claiming victories, and bringing pride to their home country.

A debut to remember: Alex Eala
Women in the 19th Asian Games: Alex Eala wins the bronze medal in the women's singles tournament representing the Philippines
(Photo credit: Alex Eala on Instagram)

The 19th Asian Games marked Filipino tennis star Alex Eala’s first time competing in the continental tournament, and though she is only 18 years old, she barged into her events ready to put up a fight.

In the women’s singles tournament, Eala worked her way all the way to the semifinals where she faced WTA No. 23 Zheng Qinwen — a highly formidable opponent for the Filipina, currently ranked 189th. Dropping the first set to the Chinese ace, 6-1, Eala would not go down without a fight. In the second frame, Alex fought hard to save three match points in order to reach a tie-break to force a third set.

Despite losing the third set, 6-3, Eala exited the women’s singles tournament with her head held high, not just for a valiant effort against a higher-ranked opponent, but also proudly carrying the fact that she became the first Filipino woman to win a singles medal in tennis in 61 years. And she was not done just yet.

Eala later partnered up with Filipino tennis veteran Francis Alcantara in the mixed doubles tournament, where the pair again reached the semifinals, but fell short to the duo representing Chinese Taipei, Liang En-shuo and Tsung-hao Huang. They still walked off the court as bronze medalists.

Winning two bronze medals in her first-ever Asian Games is not a bad showing at all for the young Filipina ace.

Lifting for bronze: Elreen Ando
Women in the Asian Games: Elreen Ando wins the bronze medal for the 59-kilogram women's category representing the Philippines
(Photo credit: Ishara S. KODIKARA / AFP)

In the previous edition of the Asian Games in 2018, Hidilyn Diaz won the Philippines’ first gold medal, and thus, expectations for her were high coming into this year’s competition. However, the Olympic gold medalist fell short of the podium and finished fourth in the 59-kilogram women’s category.

Despite this, the future of weightlifting in the Philippines still looks bright, uplifted by 24-year-old Elreen Ando. In the women’s 64-kilogram category, she was able to finish on the podium, notching the bronze medal for the event. Thanks to Ando, the Philippines continues its ongoing streak of medals in the Games after going through a medal-less drought for the sport in the years before 2018.

A handful of firsts: Filipinas and Gilas Women
The Filipinas reach the quarterfinals of the women's football tournament in the 19th Asian Games
(Photo credit: Zhang Tao / XINHUA / Xinhua via AFP)

The Philippine Women’s National Football Team, AKA the Filipinas, entered the Asian Games for the first time ever in the 19th edition of the continental games, continuing their streak of historic appearances a few months after their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign.

Although the Filipinas eventually fell to the powerhouse Asian team, Japan, with a tough 8-1 defeat in the quarterfinal knockouts, the Philippine squad still exited the competition just missing out on a chance to reach the podium, and while doing so, recorded many firsts for the squad.

In their first time competing in the Asian Games, they captured their first two wins with defeats over Hong Kong and Myanmar, recorded their first goals and clean sheets in the tournament, and reached their first knockout round in the tournament, laying the groundwork and opening doors for generations to come.

The Gilas Women reach the quarterfinals of the women's basketball tournament in the 19th Asian Games
(Photo credit: Philippine Sports Commission on Facebook)

The Filipinas were not the only team to enter the Asian Games for the first time; the Gilas Women were also historically making their debut.

In their first game of the group stage, the Philippine side breezed past Kazakhstan with an 83-59 win. Carrying confidence from this victory, they went on to defeat Hong Kong, 99-63. Despite losing 96-59 to Japan in their last game of the preliminary rounds, their two early wins guaranteed them a spot in the quarterfinals — another first for the Philippines.

However, much like the Filipinas, the Gilas Women suffered a quarterfinal exit after being handed a 93-71 loss to South Korea. Yet, the Philippines still has much to take pride in from the Gilas Women’s performances, as they managed to show their skills, prove their mettle on the international stage, and take on neighboring countries in spite of the fact that the country still does not yet have a professional league for women.

With these performances, the growth of women’s sports has perhaps never been more apparent, especially on a stage as tough as the Asian Games.

Banner images from Sara Eggesvik and Alex Eala on Instagram, and AFP.

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