Gilas tragedy; Filipinas, Eala make history: The top five moments of 2022 in Philippine sports

Gilas Pilipinas failed to win the Southeast Asian Games men's 5x5 basketball gold medal for the first time since 1989 after losing to Indonesia this year. Jun Mendoza

In the first full year that sports returned to pre-pandemic settings, 2022 produced its fair share of drama, heartbreak, and everything in between.

There was sustained excellence from Hidilyn Diaz, who finally won gold at the World Weightlifting Championships, and the Letran Knights, who completed a three-peat in the NCAA.

There were also down moments, particularly in boxing where the Philippines will end the year without a world champion for the first time since 2006 as Donnie Nietes, Nonito Donaire, Jerwin Ancajas, and John Riel Casimero all lost their belts.

In pool, Carlo Biado failed to defend his US Open title after dropping a heartbreaking 10-11 semifinal match against eventual champion Francisco Sanchez Ruiz.

And in the PBA, the Alaska Aces bid farewell after 36 seasons and 13 championships, ending the run of one of the league's most beloved franchises.

We also said goodbye to Asia's sprint queen Lydia De Vega, one of the country's most popular athletes of all time who lost her battle with cancer in August.

There were, however, a few sporting moments that stood out in the Philippine setting in 2022. We picked our top five.

Filipinas qualify for the FIFA Women's World Cup

Can you believe it? There will be a Philippine team in a FIFA World Cup.

The Filipinas achieved what the Azkals are still trying to do: qualify to play in football's ultimate stage. And they did so via a dramatic penalty shootout with Chinese Taipei that would put Argentina-France to shame.

The Filipinas overcame a 3-2 deficit with goalkeeper Olivia McDaniel making two crucial saves while converting her own penalty shot to set up striker Sarina Bolden for the winning goal that sent them to New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Five months later, the Filipinas would cement their status as a new Southeast Asian power by winning the country's first-ever AFF Women's Championship on home soil in front of a packed Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Gilas Pilipinas loses the SEA Games gold and the Internet goes crazy

Back in the early 1990s, a Philippine basketball official famously declared that the Philippines can lose all other gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games, just not the one for men's basketball.

"A national tragedy" was how the official described such an event should it happen again.

After 33 years, that duly unfolded before a stunned nation's very eyes as an ill-prepared Philippine team lost to Indonesia in the gold medal game in Hanoi.

It was just the third time in SEA Games history, and first since 1989, that the Philippines failed to win the gold medal in the event.

The loss generated so much online vitriol, you would have thought that Chot Reyes had set a litter of puppies on fire. The hate extended to the FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers, where Reyes was booed mercilessly by a hometown crowd, prompting Jordan Clarkson to call out Filipino fans for their "b---s---."

Alex Eala wins the US Open and gives thanks in Tagalog

The Philippines has never been a hotbed for tennis. But if you could vote for one Filipino tennis player as "most Likely to succeed", you've got to go with 17-year-old Alex Eala.

Before this year, she was already in the Philippine record books for most junior grand slam doubles titles won with two. Last September, she added to her trophy collection by becoming the first Filipino, male or female, to win a grand slam junior singles title by sweeping her way to the US Open title without dropping a set.

She further endeared herself to her countrymen by giving her victory speech in Tagalog. "Buong puso ko itong pinaglaban, hindi lang para sa sarili ko kung hindi para sa kinabukasan ng Pilipinas," she said through tears.

Eala now has her sights set on the seniors circuit, and next month will attempt to qualify for the main draw of the Australian Open.

EJ Obiena soars to greater heights

It's been quite the year for pole vaulter EJ Obiena.

He began 2022 at odds with his national federation the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (PATAFA) over some supposedly delayed liquidation reports. The feud drew the attention of the Philippine Senate, which held a public hearing to get to the bottom of the issue.

Eventually, everything was resolved, and Obiena proceeded to obliterate both personal and international records. In May, he easily won gold at the Hanoi SEA Games. Two months later, he became the first Asian to qualify for the final of the pole vault at the World Athletic Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

Not content with that distinction, he smashed the Asian record by clearing 5.94m to bag the bronze medal, becoming the first Filipino to medal at the worlds. Then in September, at the Diamond League in Brussels, Obiena shocked world no. 1 and Olympic gold medalist Armand Duplantis, beating him to the gold medal by clearing 5.91m to the Brazilian's 5.81. Obiena ends the year ranked third in the world, the only Asian in the top 20.

JD Cagulangan gives UP its first UAAP title in 36 years

If we were giving awards for other top Philippine sports moments, then this one checks a lot of boxes.

Buzzer-beater of the year. Championship game of the year (it went to overtime). Celebration of the year. Upset of the year. Hero of the last 36 years.

When JD Cagulangan's gutsy step-back triple at the buzzer nestled into the net to give the UP Fighting Maroons an improbable UAAP championship, it not only rewarded the school with its first title since 1986, it also gave basketball fans a YouTube highlight that will be played over and over again.

Cagulangan waved everybody off and called his own number, and his self-confidence ultimately paid off with a shot for the ages. That they did it against a seemingly invincible Ateneo Blue Eagles squad that had won its first 13 games and was gunning for a fourth straight title made it all the more sweeter.

The Blue Eagles would eventually regain the title seven months later as the league squeezed two seasons into one calendar year, but the Fighting Maroons' championship was the better story.