by Ronnie Nathanielsz
The first Filipino to win an Olympic silver medal Anthony Villanueva passed away on Tuesday morning at his home in Cabuyao, Laguna. He was 69.
He was bedridden for some two years after a third heart attack.
Many believe that Villanueva was robbed of the gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when he lost to Russia’s Stanislav Stepahshkin in a fight which the late incomparable commentator Joe Cantada broadcast “live” over radio station dzHP, Manila station of the Radio Mindanao Network with this reporter anchoring the coverage in the studio along with Villanueva’s father, Cely Villanueva who had himself won a bronze medal in boxing at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Cantada bellowed after the decision was announced, “We wuz robbed! We wuz robbed!” while Cely Villanueva embraced us and broke down in tears.
When IBC 13 telecast the fight some weeks later in a program hosted by Bobby Ng and this reporter, with the late world junior lightweight champion Gabriel “Flash” Elorde as guest, Elorde conceded it was a close fight but said Anthony deserved the gold medal.
The sad plight of a one time national sports hero being neglected by government and our sports organizations such as the Games and Amusements Board, the Philippine Sports Commission and the Philippine Olympic Committee was first brought to public attention by reporter Dyan Castillejo who produced a special feature which was telecast by ABS-CBN.
More recently broadcaster Chino Trinidad visited Villanueva and launched a project to pay tribute to Filipino sports heroes scheduled for June 12 and indicated that Villanueva would be among the 19 to be feted at the Resorts World Hotel on June 12, Philippine Independence Day.
Trinidad later told boxing commentator Quinito Henson that unless Villanueva received the treatment he needed but couldn’t afford “it might be too late to save him.” Trinidad was painfully right.
There was a time that Villanueva even tried to sell his Olympic silver medal to raise funds for his treatment but in the end it wound up in the museum of the Philippine Sports Commission.