The Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 in 2023 is the next big field of play for Filipino athletes after the Olympics and outside of their respective world championships.
From among the 396 athletes from 40 sports who will bring their act to the 19th Asian Games in China on Sept. 23-Oct. 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 plucked a gold medal in the 2022 World Games.
Since that blockbuster win in Birmingham, Alabama, all the disappointments that Tsukii endured in previous tournaments got wiped out, including her non-qualification in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Now on top of her game, the 31-year-old is out to better her bronze medal in the women’s 50kg kumite during the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia with an eye on the ultimate prize.
She has the credentials to back it up. Tsukii ruled her weight class at the Karate 1-Premier League in Lisbon, Portugal in 2021 and was a silver performer in the Asian Karate Championships held in Almaty, Kazakhstan in the same year.
She’s a multiple medal grabber in the Southeast Asian Games with six podium finishes, including snaring the gold in the 2019 Philippine edition.
MEGGIE OCHOA (Jiu-jitsu)
One of the most decorated fighters in her sport, jiu-jitsu pride Meggie Ochoa increased her medal collection by nailing a gold medal in the 2023 Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championships.
That triumph in Bangkok, Thailand early this year was a superb start for Ochoa that set the tone in her bid to get over the hump of a bronze output during the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
Ochoa made the mat her own playground where she won four world titles, two Asian championships gold medals, a pair of Southeast Asian Games victories and an Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games diadem in 2017.
There’s no trace of slowing down for Ochoa, who got lined up in the women’s -48kg. She’s even more determined in the Hangzhou Games where her chief nemesis, Cambodian star Jessa Khan, is the defending champion.
KIYOMI WATANABE (Judo)
After an abbreviated stint in the Tokyo Olympics, Kiyomi Watanabe got shunned from the limelight following an anterior cruciate ligament injury in the runup to the 2021 Hanoi Southeast Asian Games and the scrapping of her weight category at the 2023 Cambodia edition.
Back to her old brisk form, the 27-year-old Filipino-Japanese must like her chances in the Asian Games, having nearly clinched the gold medal in 2018 Indonesia.
The four-time SEA Games champion in the women’s -63kg lost to Japan’s Nami Nabekura in the final five years ago and will enter the Hangzhou mat a more tenacious grappler.
Making her more eager for a comeback was the round of 32 elimination via an ippon by Cristina Cabana of Spain in the Olympics.
KIRSTIE ELAINE ALORA (Taekwondo)
Kirstie Elaine Alora’s consecutive victories in a pair of high profile international meets seemed to augur well for the Philippine taekwondo team.
While jins her age are already in the twilight of their careers, the 33-year-old Rio De Janeiro Olympian maintains a well-conditioned physique competitive enough for a medal outcome.
Alora recently topped the women’s +73kg kyurogi event of the 2023 Chuncheon Korea Open International that paraded some of her fiercest rivals in the Asian Games.
Alora’s stunt in Korea was just three months removed from the Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where she bagged a gold medal in the same weight class.
It was her fourth gold in the SEA Games since 2005 with five silver medals in addition.
Though retirement beckons, Alora has hyperfocused on a mission to finally break out of a bronze-medal rut that she ended up claiming in the 2010 Guangzhou and 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
ANNIE RAMIREZ (Jiu-jitsu)
Annie Ramirez gained instant fame for seizing one of the two gold medals of Team Philippines with Meggie Ochoa during the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.
Six years later, the 32-year-old jiu-jitsu stalwart still craves for a repeat act of that triumphant exploit that puts her in the middle of the conversation whenever her sport becomes a hot topic.
Well, the Asian Games in Hangzhou will not only replicate the experience for the three-time Southeast Asian Games champion, it also promises to become the crowning glory of her long and steady career.
Ramirez, a former national judoka before shifting to jiu-jitsu, will be motivated to stand atop the Asian Games podium following a frustrating early exit in the Newaza women’s -62kg class during the 2018 Jakarta Asiad.
ROBYN BROWN (Athletics)
Robyn Lauren Brown surprised everybody, even herself after winning the women’s 400m hurdles at the 2023 Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok, Thailand.
The Filipino heritage hurdler was neither a favorite nor a projected medal finisher when she catapulted to victory in the biggest track and field showcase in the continent.
After beating two high-profile Japanese hurdlers on the Asian scene, Brown eventually punched a ticket to the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary with pole vaulter EJ Obiena and fellow hurdler Eric Cray, but failed to get past the qualifying heats.
The 29-year-old from Los Angeles, California is a proud owner of the country’s national record in her event (56.44 seconds) and had two silver medals in the Southeast Asian Games apart from six bronzes that included four relays.
Who knows, Brown might surprise herself again and the entire country in the Asian Games.