Sports Champs with Filipino Roots

12-time Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin (Photo courtesy of Filipinas Magazine)

The five-year dominance of Manny Pacquiao in boxing has undoubtedly impressed upon the consciousness of sports fans everywhere the competitiveness and ability of the Filipino athlete. As a result, other star athletes with Filipino roots, though they may compete for another country, are likely to be recognized as representative of their ethnic heritage, such as Fil-American swimmer Natalie Coughlin or Australian-Filipino golfer Jason Day. This is a significant source of pride and great consolation for Filipino sports fans especially because the national sports program of the Philippines has not produced a champion at international competitions and the Olympic Games.

The athletes featured here have all succeeded at the highest level of world competition. We are featuring them to celebrate the fact that there flows in the Filipino the blood of a champion.

Featured are boxing champions Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire and Ana Julaton; swimmer Natalie Coughlin; golfers Jason Day, Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin; basketball coach Erik Spoelstra; baseball pitcher Tim Lincecum and Paralympics champion Raymond Martin. Not included because their photos were not available to us are: Olympic gold medalist gymnast Kyla Ross whose mother is Filipino Hawaiian; Olympic medalist and World Champion ice speed skater JR Celski, whose mother Sue Sabado has roots from Baguio City; and Filipina African taekwondo champion Paige McPherson.

Boxing champion Ana "The Hurricane" Julaton (Photo by Raymond Virata)

Ana Julaton

Ana Julaton is the first Filipina American to win a world title in women’s professional boxing when she wrested the Super Bantamweight World title in Sept 2009 in just her seventh fight. Her aggressive style, hard punching power and winsome smile makes her a very popular sports personality in the San Francisco Bay Area. The granddaughter of an Ilocano who served in the U.S. Army, Ana was an amateur boxing gold medalist and has publicly advocated the inclusion of female boxing in the Olympics.

NBA Champion Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra (Photo courtesy of Filipinas Magazine)

Erik Spoelstra

Filipino American Erik Spoelstra is the basketball coach who masterfully guided the Miami Heat to the NBA World championship. The son of Elisa Celino of San Pablo City, Laguna, Erik is the first Asian American head coach in all the four major U.S. sports leagues (basketball, football, baseball, hockey). He was a high school- and college basketball star at the University of Portland prior to becoming a basketball coach.

Pro golfer Jason Day (Source: US Presswire. Photo by Debbie Wong)

Jason Day

Filipino Australian professional golfer Jason Day finished back-to-back in second place at the U.S. Masters and the U.S. Open--a rare feat—that earned him recognition among the top ten golfers in the world. As a teenage phenom, he won the Australian Junior Championship, the World Junior Championship and became the youngest golfer, at 18, to win a tournament in the U.S. PGA tour. After his Irish father died in 2000, Jason's Filipina mother enrolled him in a golf academy and pushed him to develop the ‘killer-instincts’ to win tournaments.

12-time Olympic swimming medalist Natalie Coughlin (Photo by Raymond Virata)

Natalie Coughlin

No other American female swimmer has won more than 12  medals in three Olympic games, but Natalie Coughlin collected three golds, four silvers and five bronzes at the Athens, Beijing and London Olympics. She was recognized as World Swimmer of the Year and three times as U.S. Swimmer of the Year. Her mother is half-Filipina, and her grandmother hails from Cavite. This swimming star loves lumpia and halo-halo.

Two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum of the world champion San Francisco Giants (Photo by Raymond Virata)

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum, star pitcher for the two-time World Series champions of baseball, the San Francisco Giants, is amusingly nicknamed “the Freak” because of his unconventional and quirky delivery of the ball. That complex but effective pitching style has earned him, not once but twice, the Cy Young award, baseball’s highest honor for the best pitcher of the year. Tim’s mother is Becky Asis, a Filipina from Hawaii. Her father came from Mindanao, her mother, from Batangas.

Pro golfer Jennifer Rosales (Photo courtesy of Filipinas Magazine)

Jennifer Rosales

Jennifer Rosales is a World Cup champion and the first Filipina to ever win in the U.S. Ladies Golf Tour. Representing the Philippines with teammate Fil-Am Dorothy Delasin, she won the annual team golf tournament among nations in the 2008 Women’s World Cup of Golf. Growing up in Manila, Jennifer won the Philippine Ladies Amateur Championship in five successive years.

Pro golfer Dorothy Delasin (Photo courtesy of Filipinas Magazine)

Dorothy Delasin

Dorothy Delasin is a Fil-American champion golfer who won the World Cup (with Jennifer Rosales) and four tournaments in the U.S. LPGA tour including the Samsung World Championship. Taught by her father Arsenio, who was a golf-driving range attendant in Daly City, California, Dorothy became an amateur standout and won the U.S. Junior and the U.S. Women’s Amateur championships.

Boxing champion Nonito Donaire, Jr. (Photo by Raymond Virata)

Nonito Donaire

Known as the Filipino Flash, Nonito Donaire, Jr. has captured world titles in four weight divisions and is currently the reigning World Super Bantamweight Champion. Known for his quickness, hard punching and intelligence in the ring, he is rated among the top five elite boxers of the world. Born in Bohol, Nonito grew up in General Santos City and took up boxing when he moved to California where he became an amateur star, winning gold medals in three U.S. National Championships and in the U.S. and International Junior Olympics. He was recently named Boxer of the Year by ESPN.

2012 London Paralympics gold medal track athlete Raymond Martin (Source:

Raymond Martin

Paralympics world champion Raymond Martin was born with arthrogryposis, no flexibility in all body joints from neck to ankle, and his triumph provides an awe-inspiring tale of grit and willpower. The 18-year-old Filipino American, a freshman at the University of Illinois, took all of 14 years to manage to turn a door knob, yet in one week last summer, he won four gold medals in each of his four wheelchair track races in the T52 category (limited body function) at the London Paralympics. Raymond, who admits to favoring sinigang and tocino in his diet, was named the Paralympic SportsMan of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee for 2012.

Eight-time boxing champion Manny Pacquiao (Photo by Raymond Virata)

Manny Pacquiao

Undoubtedly the most widely acclaimed Filipino athlete internationally, Manny Pacquiao was recognized as the best boxer in the world, pound for pound (or among all the weight divisions), having won world titles in seven different divisions, which is unprecedented in boxing history. With his aggressive do-or-die style, dramatic wins and down-to-earth persona, his celebrity appeal has transcended national boundaries, making him a global Filipino icon. Pacquiao’s star was tarnished recently when he lost to archrival Juan Manuel Marquez by knockout. He has parlayed his fame successfully in Philippine politics, becoming a congressman representing Saranggani province.