Col. Antonio Suplido (Ret) stands with his brother during the Tokyo Asian Games in 1958. (Photo from Michelle Suplido)

An 86-year-old Asian Games medalist proved that the spirit of sports is not just finishing the race but also extending hands and knowledge for younger runners to also reach the finish line of their tracks.

After retiring from his professional career as an athlete, retired Col. Antonio Suplido, a bronze medalist at the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games, coached various generations of runners, believing in their potential. During his active years in sports, he primarily provided free coaching to athletes.

“They all have the potential, kailangan lang talaga ng determination,” Suplido said, believing in the ability of local athletes.

Suplido with his teammates in track and field at the University of Santo Tomas (top) and with members of the Davao team (bottom). [Photos from Michelle Suplido]

“Malaki ang future ng athletes natin sa Pilipinas kasi kagaya ng athletics, walang palakihan o maliit, kung matibay ka tumakbo—ang atin lang diperensya, ang coaches natin. ‘Yong maliliit ay tini-train for high jump. How can you jump if you are short? Dapat doon ka sa distance running, kung may endurance ka, panalo ka kahit maliit,” he added.

Suplido provided training in several locations across the country and even assisted in the creation of a manual to improve track and field for younger competitors. Athletes and coaches, he stated, must both devote themselves to practicing and training in order to succeed in sports.

His athletic career taught him that persistence and tenacity can bring people a long way in life, even if it isn’t in sports.

“Kulang sila sa practice lang kasi more of them makatakbo lang, tama na. Minsan sa isang week, hindi sila tumatakbo, dapat daily ‘yan. Kailangan daily ang practice, conditioning. Kasi sa athletics, you need nine months to practice, ang six months ay conditioning. Takbo-takbo ka to improve your endurance,” he said.

He said that one issue that athletes suffer is a lack of nutrition, which must be addressed.

Career in sports
During his elementary school years, football was the first sport that piqued his interest. Then, throughout his high school years, his coach suggested to him to attempt athletics. His love of sports helped him earn a college scholarship and complete a degree in civil engineering.

“Ang running ko ay scholarship, alam mo naman noong araw, walang bayad kundi bigyan ka nila ng scholarship–para makatapos ka ng kurso mo na kukunin. Ang ginagawa ko naman sa pagka-athlete ko dahil may experience sa engineering, ako ang gumagawa ng track oval na takbuhan, sa measurement,” he said.

Suplido competed in the Philippine National Open Athletics Championships at the age of 23, and his performance demonstrated his ability to compete in the Asian Games. He participated in the Asian Games tryouts and was chosen to be a member of the country’s delegation.

In the 4×400 relay, he won bronze with Aparicio Mequi, Erasma Arellano, and Pablo Somblingo at the 1958 Asian Games. Suplido competed in the 1962 Asian Games and finished fourth in the same athletics event.

He was supposed to compete in the Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand in 1966, but he decided to join the Philippine Air Force instead.

“Nagkasabay, ngayon araw na sana papuntang Bangkok, itong araw din na tinawag ako ng air force na ma-assign sa Zamboanga. Hindi naman ako nanghinayang–hindi naman ako athlete forever,” he said.

He was also supposed to compete in the Olympics, but he was disqualified after participating in the GANEFO (Games of the Emerging Forces) tournament in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1963. Athletes who competed in GANEFO were ineligible to join in the Olympics, according to the International Olympic Committee’s standards.

Suplido after making an outstanding record as a qualified athlete for the 1958 Asian Games in Tokyo, Japan.

Dedication to sports
With his skills from his degree, he checked and made track ovals in Davao, Misamis Oriental, Isabela, Sta. Cruz, Laguna, Bicol Region, Zamboanga City, Jolo, Sulu, and Cotabato. He also made a track oval in Roxas town for free.

“Kasi noong araw, ang mga athlete ay luging-lugi. Staggering man ang distances, hindi pareho, may mahaba, may maiksi,” he said.

When Suplido finished his degree, he was offered a position as an official by the air force. He was assigned to Zamboanga and his job included establishing barracks, construction of roads, parking spaces for planes, and courts for sports activities of soldiers.

He also served as a coach to train athletes for free in different places like Zamboanga and those who would join the Southern Tagalog Regional Athletics Association (STRAA) in Palawan. He only trained athletes before his designation as a referee for STRAA.

Transfer to Palawan
Suplido was born in Sta. Barbara, Iloilo and grew up in Davao City. He first met his wife, Emma, after he came back from the 1958 Asian Games. Their next encounter was at a sports event in 1963, when Emma became a teacher in Western Visayas, and served as a chaperone for track and field athletes, while Suplido was still an athlete.

He stated that before 1980, Palawan’s late governor, Salvador Socrates, invited him to transfer from Zamboanga to help with the province’s sports program. When Socrates requested Suplido, whom he had met in college, he was working for the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Along with his wife, and three children, they transferred to Palawan in 1983. His youngest was born in Puerto Princesa after their transfer.

Suplido with other delegates during the third Asian Games in 1958. [Photos from Michelle Suplido]

Changes in sports
Suplido said it is a good thing that athletes are now rewarded with cash incentives as part of recognitions of their achievements outside the country.

“Wala kami noong araw, walang bayad. (Babatiin ng) ‘Thank you’ (tapos) pinakain lang kami sa Malacañang. Mabuti nga ang mga athlete ngayon, may bayad, kami wala. Sa amin noong araw ay schooling lang, makalibre lang sa eskwelahan, okay na kami–iyan ang difference sa noon at sa ngayon,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought about changes, as it has limited the interaction between coaches and players, with the latter having to complete most of their training on their own time.

“Keep up your physical fitness, hindi ka tataba–you should not stop training kasi masama ‘yon. If you are an athlete dati at hinintuan mo ‘yan, maraming sakit ang makukuha mo. (Ngayon) aral, practice kasi ‘yan ang kailangan nila,” he stressed.

Suplido is a COVID-19 survivor, which is important because he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2016. He noted that his athletic strength aided him in recovering faster.