Jose Luis “Cely” Villanueva was the country’s third bronze medal winner at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932 after swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso and high jumper Simeon Toribio. The father of Anthony Villanueva, who missed the gold medal in a controversial loss to Russia’s Stanislav Stephaskin in the finals of the featherweight division at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the 19-year-old Cely beat Japan’s Akira Nakao in the quarterfinals before losing to Horace “Lefty” Gwynne of Canada in the semifinals.
Gwynne, who dominated the bantamweight division to win the gold medal, earlier defeated Villanueva decisively although a ringside report credited the Filipino with at least staying on his feet throughout, against the devastating puncher from Canada whose vicious left hook was responsible for his nickname “Lefty.”
The legendary writer Damon Runyan, who was at ringside at the Grand Olympic Auditorium was quoted as saying “Of all the Olympic champions I like this kid Gwynne the best.”
Villanueva overcame his loss to the popular and power-punching Gwynne and came back to beat Joseph Lang of the US to win the bronze medal, the Philippines first in boxing which provided an impetus to the country’s winning a total of five medals in Olympic boxing and sparking a determined quest for that elusive first Olympic gold.
Villanueva later became the trainer of one of the greatest Filipino fighters of all time, Hall of Famer Gabriel “Flash” Elorde.
Lanky 5’11” hurdler Miguel White, whose father was an American, represented the Philippines in the 1936 Berlin Olympiad. He competed in the exacting 400 meter hurdles and won a bronze medal with a time of 52.8 seconds.
White turned in the fastest time in winning Heat No. 3 in 53.4 secs before he finished second to eventual gold medalist Glen Hardin of the US who won in the finals with a time of 52.4 seconds, edging Canada’s John Loaring and White. White also competed in the shorter distance 110 meter hurdles but failed to enter the finals after finishing 5th in Heat No. 6.
White served as a lieutenant in the 52nd Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Army. He was listed as “Missing in Action” in 1942 when White was 32 years of age and was possibly another victim of the infamous Death March.
Southpaw Anthony Villanueva followed in his father Cely Villanueva’s footsteps and won a place in the Philippine team to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he did one better than his father, winning a silver medal in the featherweight division. He was 19.
Popular radio station dzHP, the “Sound of the City” which was a pioneer in broadcasting various sports since it was launched in November 1962, covered the Games with the premier sports commentator “Smokin’” Joe Cantada who was a collegiate heavyweight champion from San Beda College doing the commentary at ringside. Anthony’s father Cely was a special guest in the Manila studio in the Philippines Herald building in Intramuros along with this reporter.
Cantada was so confident that Villanueva had won the country’s first Olympic gold medal and was stunned and angered when the decision was announced, hollering at the top of his booming voice “We wuz robbed! We wuz robbed!!” He had to be restrained from confronting the judges. In the studio Cely was utterly distraught. He embraced us as we both cried over what was regarded by many as a “robbery” which deprived the Philippines of a coveted first gold medal.
Villanueva faced fancied American Charles Brown who fought out of the US Marine Corps in the semi finals. The southpaw dominated the fight with precision punching to win comfortably 4-1 before the gold medal showdown against the Russian, Stepashkin.
The closeness of the judges 3-2 decision had all the markings of a bad decision and when we telecast a film of the fight on IBC 13 a few days later alongside Bobby Ng with Gabriel “Flash” Elorde as guest, it confirmed our collective assessment that Villanueva deserved to win although Elorde conceded it was a close fight that could have gone either way.
(Editor’s note: As a build-up to the London Olympic Games Yahoo! Sports Philippines is featuring stories and interviews of past Filipino Olympians. Check back here regularly for updates.)