PHL golfers Yuka Saso, Pagdanganan qualify for Tokyo Olympics

FILIPINA TEENAGER Yuka Saso proudly displays her champion's trophy as followers display the Philippine flag. She has officially qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. (Isa Lorenzo)

By Abraham Asuncion

MANILA – Two more Filipino athletes have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics which will open late next month.

The two are Filipina sensational golfers Yuka Saso who just recently won the US Women’s Open in San Francisco, California and Bianca Pagdanganan, according to the Philippine Sports Commission.

The 19-year-old Saso was recently hailed the US Women’s Open champion, boosting her rankings in the Olympic standing to No.9, while her fellow Asian Games and Southeast Asian Games gold medalist Pagdanganan sits at the 42nd spot.

Saso and Pagdanganan are the 16th and 17th Filipino athletes to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Another Filipino golf star, 43-year-old Juvic Pagunsan, is also off to his first Olympic appearance.Last week,  rifle shooter Jayson Valdez, Filipino American sprinter Kristina Knott and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe won their berths in the Philippine delegation to the Tokyo Olympics.

Valdez, Watanabe and Knott  joined the Philippines’ other Olympians composed of pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo, rower Cris Nievarez, taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa, skateboarder Margielyn Didal,  golf star Juvic Pagunsan, weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando, and boxers Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio, Irish Magno, and Carlo Paalam.

Knott, who won gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games hosted by the Philippines and other competitions in Asia and the United States, tested positive for COVID-19 and is undergoing quarantine in Sweden.
Philip Juico, chief of  the Philippine Track and Field Association (PATAFA), said that the Filipino-American athlete contracted the coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated.

According to Juico, Knott is asymptomatic and is slated to compete at the 2021 Karlstad Grand Prix in Sweden. Once cleared, Knott will fly back to Austin, Texas to continue her preparations for the Summer Games.A record holder in the country’s athletics scene, Knott became the 15th Filipino to qualify for next month’s Tokyo Olympics after clinching a universality place in the women’s 200-meter event. Universality spots allow smaller nations and those with developing sports programs to send athletes to the Olympics.Watanabe — the 14th Filipino to qualify for the Olympics — earned her slot through the continental quota in the women’s -63 kg division.

She landed at the 41st spot with 1,506 points en route to making history.

“She is the first Filipina Olympian for Judo,” said Dave Carter, president of the Philippine Judo Federation.

Valdez, son of Philippine shooting legend Julius Valdez, earned a spot through the quota system put up by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF).

Valdez will be competing in the men’s 10-meter air rifle event, and he joins Dutch shooter Peter Hellenbrand as wildcard entries to the said competition.

“I received an urgent message last night from the ISSF in Germany, the mother of all the shooting federations. They asked me if we’re ready, so I replied, ‘Yes, we’re ready!’ and they gave me the quota,” he said in a statement about how he got the Olympic qualification.

Valdez also became the first Filipino shooter to qualify since Paul Rosario joined the 2012 London Olympics in the men’s skeet category.

“It’s been a long while since we had an entry in the event. It’s very exciting,” said Philippine National Shooting Association secretary general Irene Garcia in a statement.

Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) president Abraham Bambol Tolentino said he is also elated with the news.

“That’s an additional chance for us (to get an Olympic medal). Good thing there’s a quota qualifying in shooting, and the better thing, we have a world ranking athlete, also a scholar of the POC,” Tolentino said.

Julius Valdez, who won three gold medals in the 1987 Southeast Asian Games, is also serving as Jayson’s coach.