THROWBACK: When bowler Arianne Cerdeña won the country’s first Olympic Gold Medal

When Arianne Cerdeña won the country’s first Olympic Gold
Arianne Cerdeña won the first Olympic Gold for the Philippines in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.

For Filipinos, winning an Olympic Gold Medal was considered a far-fetched dream.

But in a demonstration sport introduced in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, there was this flicker of hope that we can stand a chance of fulfilling this so-called impossible dream, even though it won’t be credited in the official medal tally.

And so a beaming and affable Arianne Cerdeña walked into the Royal Bowling Center in Seoul, South Korea to compete for the Philippines to hopefully fulfill this historic feat in this first-ever Olympic bowling event. While she may appear and act so congenial and accommodating to everyone at the lanes with her infectious smile, she was still a marked woman, given that the country is considered a world giant having such names as Paeng Nepomuceno, Bong Coo, and Lita dela Rosa all capturing World Cups at one time or the other prior to these Games.

Cerdeña is likewise bemedalled despite being a relative newcomer at the time. Koreans surely recognized her from their hosting the Asian Games two years earlier when she bagged the women’s bowling gold medal in the Team of Five competition with Coo, Catalina Solis, Cecila Gaffud, and Rebecca Watanabe. She also won silver medals with Coo and Dela Rosa in the FIQ World Championships in Caracas, Venezuela in 1983.

Thus, as she scored successive strikes from the opening frames in the preliminaries, Cerdena’s drive for Olympic greatness was real, and emerged on top of the 12-woman round robin series with 2,345 pinfalls, earning a twice-to-beat advantage in the final round.

She would then face either Annikki Mattola of Finland or Atsuko Asai of Japan, who finished second and third place, respectively, in the eliminations for the stepladder finals.

Asai immediately waylaid Mattola in their face-off, 209-187, that earned the Japanese kegler the right to face Cerdeña in the final match, although as rules stated, she needed to beat Cerdeña twice to win the Gold.

In their initial showdown, Cerdeña sputtered in decisive stretches in the crucial frames to bow to Asai, 197-180, arranging a winner-take-all final confrontation.

Avenging that disappointing loss, Cerdeña went merciless in this decider, striking away those pins without letup, all to the resounding cheers of spellbound spectators watching. She surged with prolific throws at the outside lane and ended up with successive strikes that made her unreachable. And, after one last bonus strike as Asai could not hold back her disappointment, Cerdeña was simply exultant and enraptured, coasting to a near-perfect 249-201 victory. And as she stepped back and embraced those in the Philippine delegation, including her coach Ernesto Lopa, she was in tears realizing the fact that she had accomplished something no other Filipino representing the country has ever done—winning an Olympic Gold Medal!

Cerdeña had then deeply sobbed in joy in an interview with the broadcast pool covering the event emphasizing that it was a triumph of all Filipinos, to whom she dedicated her colossal win.

Even if it didn’t show in the Philippines medal tally, as only the bronze medal finish of boxer Leopoldo Serantes was credited to the country, an Olympic Gold was still an Olympic Gold and Cerdeña’s historic triumph can be considered as indeed a nation’s wish for Olympic greatness fulfilled.

After copping the Olympic Gold, Cerdeña was adjudged the 1988 World Bowler of the Year.

 

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