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Fond memories for Pinoy Athletes in the Berlin Olympics

August, 1936.

It was a significant year for sports, not only internationally, but more so on the local front.

hurdler Miguel White on
the way to winning a
bronze medal.
While the world  watched in awe as Joe Louis “Brown Bomber” stopped former heavyweight world champion Jack Sharkey before 35,000 boxing fans at the Yankee Stadium in New York,  Filipino athletes were gearing up for their own battle in the 11th edition of the Summer Olympic Games that opened hostilities  August 1 and saw Adolf Hitler and the 3,000-strong  German athletes welcome athletes, sports officials and guests from all over the world in athletics competition that lasted 16 days.

The Philippines was represented by a small group of 29 athletes and five officials, headed by Dr. Regino Ylanan, which, despite its size,  nevertheless, proved its worth.

The national Olympic contingent did not have an athlete capable of matching American Jesse Owen,  who won three gold medals and set  new records in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes as well as the 400-meter run besides propelling the U.S. team in the 4x100 relay.

It did have Miguel White though who showed world-class caliber by ending up third with the bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles for men.

The Filipinos also had shooter Martin Gison who would settle for a respectable fourth place finish in the 50 meters ring targets.  His score of 296 points matched that of the second  placer, losing what could have been a silver or a bronze medal in the count back.

There also was swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso who twice finished third in the 200-meter breaststroke during the past two staging of the World’s Greatest Show On Earth held in Los Angeles in 1932 and Paris in 1928 before age slowed him down as he settled for seventh place that time.

And who can forget the 10-man national basketball skippered by senator-to-be Ambrosio Padilla, which wound up fifth despite losing only once—to the eventual champion United States—failing to bag the silver medal due to a quirk in the format.

The Philippine Berlin OIympic Games basketball
team: Front row—Fortunato Yambao, Amador
Obordo, skipper Ambnrosio Padilla, Jacinto Ciria
Cruz and Bibiano Ouano. Standing—Coach Chito
Calvo, Johnny Woirrel, Franco Marquicias,
Primitovo Martinez Charlie Brock and Jesus
Marzan. 
Fondly called the “Islanders” by admirers and foes alike, the Filipino cagers won four of their five games and were consoled by becoming the shining stars of the contingent because of their fine character on and off the court.

They were relatively small compared to their rivals with only one six-footer in Charlie Borck, but they made up for their lack in height and heft  with their speed, ability and shooting prowess.

The other members of Padilla’s squad, besides Borck, were Jacinto Ciria Cruz, Primitivo Martinez, Jesus Marzan, Franco Marquicias, Fortunato Yambao, Amador Obordo, Bibiano Ouano and Johnny Worrel. Dionisio “Chito” Calvo was coach.

No single expert of the game counted the Filipinos as a title contender but Padilla and company shocked the unsuspecting cage powers who thought they were easy pickings. Earning their slot in the 20-nation basketball competitions, which was contested for the first time that year was a signal honor and almost winning the silver medal came as a bonus.

In its opening game on August 9, the fleet-footed Philippine side came from behind to edge Mexico, 32-30 behind Borck’s 14 points and Padilla’s 10 points. Two days later, the Filipinos made it 2-0 on the strength of a 39-32 trouncing of Estonia, a formidable European entry, to arrange an early showdown with heavy-favorite Americans.

The Americans routed the Filipinos, 56-23 with the  6-foot-8 All0American slotman Joe Fortenberry scoring almost at will from under the basket for 21 big points. None of the eventual champions stood below 6-6 to Borck’s 6-1, the tallest among Calvo’s boys. Borck again led the Philippines with 10 points and Padilla added nine.

The defeat to the Americans served as inspiration to the Filipinos who vented their ire on Italy, 32-14 in Game 3. They followed this up with a 33-23 thrashing of Uruguay, completing their campaign with a 4-1 win-loss slate.

How it happened remained a Chinese puzzle up to this time although the Sunday Times of August 16, 1936 tried to explain the situation.

The Philippines, accrording to the Times’ report, was bracketed with the US, Mexico and Italy. Canada, Uruguay and Poland were in another group. The Filipinos’ loss to the Americans ousted them from the medal play and relegated them to a match against the Italians, whom they beat to earned the right to play Uruguay for fifth place.

Mexico walloped Italy to qualify for the playoff for third, which the Mexicans subsequently won by beating Poland. Mexico which ended up with a 3-2 card took the bronze medal while Canada (3-1)  brought home the silver. Poland, with only one victory,  placed fourth.

Despite its fifth place finish, the crowd-favorite team earned an invitation to play exhibition matches in Geneva, Switzerland.

The proud Padilla kept on telling and re-telling the team’s Berlin Olympic escapade to sportswriters who cared to listen even years after while serving as president of the now-defunct Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation and later head of the Basketball Association of the Philippines.

No one will ever know how the team could have fared had they and other members of the delegation did not spend 30 days of boat travel to reach Berlin from Manila. In the boat, Filipino athlete had to do pushups ad calisthenics to keep themselves in shape,  but proved not enough to put them in razor-sharp edge when competition came.

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