Forgotten Champions: Arianne Cerdeña

Meet the Philippines’ only Olympic Gold Medal Winner

Despite her being the first Philippine Athlete to win a Gold medal at the Olympics, Arianne Cerdeña’s accomplishment is often forgotten due to bowling being a demonstration, or exhibition, sport at Seoul 1988.

In one unforgettable moment, in front of the world’s greatest competitors, she’d made history; as the first Filipina athlete ever to accomplish the feat, her victory would bring glory and inspiration to every Pinoy who ever aspired to compete.

You’d be entirely justified if you thought that the previous sentence referred to Hidilyn Diaz, but in this case, you’d be off the mark, somewhat, as the athlete in question is none other than Pinay bowler Arianne Cerdeña. In 1988, at the Seoul Olympics in South Korea, Cerdeña became the first Philippine athlete in history to win a Gold medal.

While her feat is often overlooked due to bowling being a demonstration sport introduced by South Korea that year, it hasn’t diminished the fact that Cerdeña was able to take on the world’s greatest bowlers in active composition and managed to come out on top.

A national team veteran since 1981, Cerdeña regularly travelled and won medals at international bowling events such as the World Championships, World Games, and Asian Games long before the 1988 Olympics, competing alongside the likes of pro-bowlers Bong Coo, Cecil Gaffud, Lita de la Rosa, Cat Solis, and Bec Watanabe.

Despite professionals finally getting the greenlight in 1986 to participate in the formerly-amateur-only Olympics, the ruling had no bearing on the then-demonstration sport of bowling that had been included by host country South Korea. Thus, having not yet attained professional status, Cerdeña found herself the lone Philippine bowler in attendance, with no one to rely on but herself.

A shot of Cerdeña in action in her heyday
A shot of Cerdeña in action in her heyday

Nevertheless, Cerdeña let her training and experience take over, powering to an early advantage by dominating the preliminary stage with 2,345 pinfalls, earning for herself a twice-to-beat advantage. That advantage would prove to be her ace in the hole when she was beaten 197-180 by Japanese bowler Atsuko Asai in the finals. With one more chance to redeem herself, an exhausted Cerdeña set out to win the crucial tie-breaker. Visibly nervous, Cerdeña would end the game ahead 249-211, claiming the coveted Gold for herself and the Philippines.

It didn’t matter if the entire experience was a “demonstration” – Cerdeña had gone up against the world’s best and come out on top, weeping visibly as her medal was awarded.

“A gold is still a gold,” says Cerdeña, looking back on the experience. “The practices that I did were the same to just get into the Olympics. Just to be representing the Philippines in the Olympics, I had to go so many eliminations. I went it Hong Kong I went to Florida then went to Korea,” she said, detailing her journey to Seoul 1988.”

For her victory, Cerdeña would be named 1988’s “Female Bowler of the Year” by the World Bowling Writers organization. In the years that followed, she would enter (and win) many more international competitions, including the World Cup, Asian Games, and SEA Games. It was following a final Gold medal win at the latter in 2001 that she made the fateful decision to call it a career in order to concentrate on her family.

While Cerdeña says she may consider returning to bowling as a coach someday (she’s currently a nurse in Los Angeles), right now, she’s happy to remain out of the limelight.

As far as we’re concerned, she’s earned it. For someone who gave so much of herself for the glory of her sport, and the pride of her nation, Arianne Cerdeña is someone whose accomplishments should never be forgotten.


Image source:

Arianne Cerdeña’s Facebook

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