Hector Begeo: An Igorot Olympian

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Hector Begeo (born June 19, 1964) is a three-time Olympian representing the Philippines. He is the national record holder in the men's 3000m Steeplechase. He also place second and silver in the 1983 Asian Championships. He is the only Filipino to advance into a semi-final in the 3000m Steeplechase in an Olympic event during the 1988 Seoul Olympics."

From Wikipedia

Now that the Olympics is over, I was wondering if there ever was an Igorot who participated in the Olympics. I had a hunch about a certain athlete and a quick google search pointed me to his Wikipedia profile, which quickly confirmed what I thought. Begeo's name is not pronounced as be-ge-yo as most Filipinos mistakently pronounce it. Instead, it is best pronounced using a German character, ö - umlaut, transcribed as 'oe' like 'i' in "sir". Try using the vowel sound in "sir" to pronounce bö-göw. (Kung ser ang pagkasabi mo, ambot sa imo, hehehe.) Aside from competing in the Olympics, he won four SEAG gold medals between 1983 and 1999 as well as the 1983 Asian Games bronze.

As a high school student during the 1991 Manila Southeast Asian Games, I watched Hector in one of his races. It was a weekend evening - the starting line of the steeplechase was just in front of where I was standing, and fellow Filipinos were egging him on as the athletes were warming up. I shouted "Go Hector!" and I vividly remember that he looked up to where I was seated and raised his hand in acknowledgment. The race started - and one could see that Hector was pacing himself, staying with the lead pack but not in the lead. He maintained his position which led to some impatient bystanders to question why he was not taking the lead. In the last lap however, Hector made his move and grabbed the lead. The stadium went wild and roared their approval with chants of "Philippines, Philippines!". The pace on the last lap was considerably faster than most of the race. Midway through the final lap, Hector has built a sizeable lead. He did glance back at his opponents at least twice before finally crossing the finishing line with the crowd cheering loudly.

I watched his victory lap before slipping out of the stadium and finding a jeepney back to the boys dormitory where I was staying. Watching that race made me feel real proud as a Filipino and an Igorot. My memory of that race is so clear even after 17 years!

There are dozens of Igorot athletes who have shone in international competitions. Recently, Franklin Kawaen (pronounced ka-wa-ön), an Igorot karate instructor based in Dubai was crowned World Cup champion. (See related article.) In due time, an Igorot athlete will soon win an Olympic medal - mabe even gold. Whether or not he is competing for the Philippines is a different story altogether.