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Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Meet the Philippine athletes competing in golf, judo and shooting

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will run from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Nineteen Filipino athletes in competing in 11 sports will see action as the Philippines seeks to win its first official Olympic gold medal. In the lead-up to the opening of the Games, ESPN5 is producing a four-part series on all 19 athletes. This is the first part, featuring athletes competing in golf, judo, and shooting.

Golf

Yuka Saso

Golf - Women's

8th in the world as per WWGR, 8th ranked in Olympics

Bianca Pagdanganan

Golf - Women's

165th in the world as per WWGR, 44th ranked in Olympics

Juvic Pagunsan

Golf - Men's

216th in the world as per OWGR, 48th ranked in Olympics

Form heading into Olympics

Yuka Saso headlines the Philippine golf delegation after her U.S. Women's Open triumph that shot her into stratosphere. Since Saso's maiden major win, she has competed in two more events which saw her climb one additional spot to number eight in the world rankings.

In the event immediately preceding the Olympics, Saso finished fifth in the Marathon LPGA Classic.

Fellow Filipina golfer Bianca Pagdanganan has been making steady progress this year, peaking at 144th in the world before going into the Olympics at 167th.

Pagdanganan climbed two spots in the world ranking after a 50th place finish at the Marathon LPGA Classic.

Veteran Juvic Pagunsan goes into the Olympics with plenty of experience in Japanese courses.

Pagunsan's victory at the Mizuno Open in Japan last May catapulted him from 398th to 211st in the world, which helped book his spot at the Olympics.

Since the Mizuno Open Pagunsan failed to make a mark in three competitions, but will look to recapture some of that magic he found last May.

How they stack up against the competition and medal chances

Saso stands as the brightest medal hope for the Philippines in the sport, though she faces stiff competition from familiar rivals such as USA's Nelly Korda, South Korea's Jin Young Ko, and the USA's Lexi Thompson.

Saso has already bested most of them in a world-class competition, but now the question is if she can replicate that once more in the Olympics.

Despite Pagdanganan's strong drive game, it would be difficult for her to barge into the medal conversation.

For Pagunsan, the presence of top ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, Justin Thomas of the USA, and even legend Rory McIlroy of Ireland would rule him out of the hunt for a medal on paper.

All three Filipino golfers though do have medal winning experience in international competition. Saso and Pagdanganan were part of the gold medal netting team in 2018, while Pagunsan has multiple SEA Games gold medals to his name.

While winning an Olympic medal is a much more difficult task, there is no doubt that these competitors do have a winning pedigree.

Judo

Kiyomi Watanabe

Judo - women's -63kg

41st in the world, as per International Judo Federation

Form heading into Olympics

Watanabe has already made history for the Philippines, becoming the first Filipina judoka in the quadrennial world meet. While she has fallen two spots since her 39th-rank booked her a ticket to Tokyo, she remains the latest proud product of the Philippine Judo Federation (PJF), following Tomohiko Hoshina in London 2012 and then Kodo Nakano in Rio 2016. She has been in Japan for almost a month now, training and sparring with women and men alike under the guidance of Asian Games gold medalist Yazaki Yuta.

How she stacks up against opposition and medal chances

In the PJF's view, three wins for Watanabe puts her in the quarterfinals. Once there, she has to hope for two to three more triumphs to advance to the gold medal round. Even if she loses in the top eight, however, she will still have a chance through the repechage.

Simply put, a medal is well within reach for Watanabe - even with Brazil, Slovenia, and Germany being favored. The Filipina already knows a thing or two about stringing upsets, as she did just that in the 2018 Asian Games when she toppled the likes of fancied Korea en route to the finals before just falling short against Japan's Nami Nabekura.

"Just like how she fought in the past Asian Games, it happened. She defeated Korea and the others which were in her bracket. That's why anything is possible," expressed PJF President David Carter in Filipino in late June.

And to paint a picture of the Filipina's determination heading into her first Olympiad? She apparently dislocated her elbow in January 2020 only to be lifting weights with her once-injured arm just three weeks later.

Shooting

Jayson Valdez

Shooting - men's 10m air rifle

110th-ranked in the world, as per International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF)

Form heading into Olympics

Valdez qualified for the Olympiad by virtue of the continental quota. Not long after, he ramped up his preparation both physically and mentally. The improvement of his physical condition has been most evident as he has lost about 10 to 15lbs to now walk around at his more ideal weight of 180lbs.

Gaining more confidence from his fitter body, Valdez revealed that he had been hitting at around 630-631 during training, five points better than his personal best of 626. Those practice scores would put him alongside Olympic record-holder Niccolò Campriani of Italy who set it at 630.2 in 2016.

How he stacks up against opposition and medal chances

After a nine-year absence, a Filipino shooter is in the Olympics once more. While Valdez will compete in a different event from Paul Brian Rosario in men's skeet in London 2012, the pressure is pretty much the same.

Like Rosario - and really, much like the entire delegation - he represents another shot at an elusive gold medal for the Philippines. To begin with, however, Valdez has his sights set on one thing and one thing only: breaking through to the top eight. Once there, he believes anything is possible and his confidence then may very well keep him on target.

"In the top eight, everyone starts from zero. That's where the pressure sinks in. Kapag nakapasok na ako sa top eight, maghanda na ang buong Pilipinas (Once I make the top eight, the entire country should brace itself)," he had expressed, good-humoredly, in late June.