The Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games in 2023 will be the next big venue for Filipino athletes after the Olympics and beyond their respective world championships.
Among the 396 athletes from 40 sports who will perform at the 19th Asian Games in China from September 23 to October. 8, a few bright spots could emerge atop the medal platform.
JUNNA TSUKII (Karate)
Junna Tsukii reached the pinnacle of success when the Filipino-Japanese karateka clinched a gold medal at the 2022 World Games.
Since that big win in Birmingham, Alabama, all the disappointments Tsukii endured in previous tournaments have been wiped away, including her failure to qualify for the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Now at the height of her powers, the 31-year-old is aiming to improve on her bronze medal finish in the women’s 50kg kumite at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, with an eye on the ultimate prize.
She has the data to back it up. Tsukii ruled her weight class in the Karate 1-Premier League in Lisbon, Portugal in 2021 and was a silver performer at the Asian Karate Championships held in Almaty, Kazakhstan the same year.
She is a multiple medalist at the Southeast Asian Games with six podium finishes, including taking the gold in the 2019 Philippine edition.
MEGGIE OCHOA (Jiu-jitsu)
Jiu-jitsu pride Meggie Ochoa, one of the most decorated fighters in her sport, expanded her medal collection by capturing a gold medal at the 2023 Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
That triumph in Bangkok, Thailand early this year was a great start for Ochoa and set the tone in her bid to get over the hump of a bronze performance at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Ochoa turned the mat into her own playground where she won four world titles, two gold medals at the Asian Championships, a pair of victories at the Southeast Asian Games and an Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games tiara in 2017.
There is no sign of slowing down for Ochoa, who started in the women’s -48kg division. She is even more determined at the Hangzhou Games, where her biggest enemy, Cambodian star Jessa Khan, is the defending champion.
KIYOMI WATANABE (Judo)
After a brief stint at the Tokyo Olympics, Kiyomi Watanabe was shunned from the spotlight following an anterior cruciate ligament injury ahead of the 2021 Hanoi Southeast Asian Games and the removal of her weight category at the 2023 Cambodian edition.
Back to her old, lively form, the 27-year-old Filipino-Japanese will like her chances at the Asian Games after almost winning the gold medal in Indonesia in 2018.
The four-time SEA Games women’s -63kg champion lost in the final to Japan’s Nami Nabekura five years ago and will take to the Hangzhou mat as a more tenacious wrestler.
What made her even more eager for a comeback was the elimination round of 32 via ippon by Spain’s Cristina Cabana at the Olympics.
KIRSTIE ELAINE ALORA (Taekwondo)
Kirstie Elaine Alora’s back-to-back victories in a pair of high-profile international meets seemed to augur well for the Philippine taekwondo team.
While girls her age are already in the twilight of their careers, the 33-year-old Olympian from Rio De Janeiro has a well-conditioned body that is competitive enough for a medal.
Alora recently topped the women’s +73kg kyurogi event of the Chuncheon Korea Open International 2023, which featured some of her biggest rivals in the Asian Games.
Alora’s stunt in Korea was just three months away from the Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she won a gold medal in the same weight class.
It was her fourth gold at the SEA Games since 2005, with an additional five silver medals.
Although retirement beckons, Alora has been hyper-focused on a mission to finally break out of the bronze medal rut she eventually claimed at the 2010 Guangzhou and 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
ANNIE RAMIREZ (Jiu-jitsu)
Annie Ramirez gained instant fame after capturing one of Team Philippines’ two gold medals with Meggie Ochoa at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Six years later, the 32-year-old jiu-jitsu fanatic still yearns for a repeat of that triumphant performance that puts her at the center of the conversation when her sport becomes a hot topic.
Well, the Asian Games in Hangzhou will not only repeat the experience of the three-time Southeast Asian Games champion, it also promises to be the crowning achievement of her long and stable career.
Ramirez, a former national judoka before switching to jiu-jitsu, will be motivated to stand atop the Asian Games podium after a frustrating early exit in the Newaza women’s -62kg division at the 2018 Jakarta Asiad.
ROBYN BROWN (athletics)
Robyn Lauren Brown surprised everyone, even herself, after winning the women’s 400 meters hurdles at the 2023 Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Filipino heritage hurdler was neither a favorite nor an expected medalist as she catapulted to victory in the continent’s biggest athletics show.
After defeating two high-profile Japanese hurdlers on the Asian stage, Brown ultimately punched a ticket to the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary with pole vaulter EJ Obiena and fellow hurdler Eric Cray, but failed to advance past the qualifying heats.
The 29-year-old from Los Angeles, California is the proud holder of the country’s national record in her event (56.44 seconds) and has won two silver medals at the Southeast Asian Games, apart from six bronze medals, including four relays .
Who knows, Brown might surprise himself and the entire country again at the Asian Games.