The 2020 Tokyo Olympics may have ended today, but the bright future for many of our athletes has just begun.

With the Philippines being the top-performing country among Southeast Asian nations this year and with its biggest medal haul yet (one gold, two silvers, and one bronze), this has proven that the Filipino athletes and talents have limitless potential and are thus always worth funding for.

A message of hope has sparked for many Filipinos who are into sports to dream big and work harder regardless of the circumstances in life and also regardless of identities. This is especially true as both Hidilyn Diaz (first Olympic gold) and Nesthy Petecio (first medal for women’s boxing) made their own “herstory” in their respective events, weightlifting and boxing, which are sports often stereotyped as masculine.

The society we live in, from one generation to another, has passed on a list of roles and beliefs that a specific gender must fulfill. For example, males are expected to be strong, rational, and athletic while females are expected to be meek, emotional, and attractive. These socially-established norms form the existing gender stereotypes we have for the attitude and identities that people should show be it in the way they dress, the way they perform at school, and also the way they do in sports, among other things. Traditionally, we were conditioned to think that females can only do sports that seem to be “less physical”.

But in reality, no sport is “less physical” because everything requires rigorous training on one’s holistic aspect. So why does gender in sports matter, anyway? The question is for you to answer as I recall a similar circumstance in my life where I was doubted because of my gender.

When I was younger, my father enrolled me in a martial arts class where I learned basic Karate and Arnis. Papa only wanted me to learn self-defense but I loved it so much that I joined the city’s Arnis team to compete for the Regional Athletic Meet when I was in elementary.

While some people supported my athletic journey, some asked me and my family questions like “’Di ba kayo natatakot, babae anak niyo tapos papayagan niyo lumaban sa hampasan?” or “Paano yan, kung ganyan ang training baka magbato-bato na katawan niyan? Sayang.”

It didn’t matter to me then, but recalling those remarks now made me realize how other people try to mold us into their expectations of us. To compete in combat sports and to train rigorously, even if it would mean bearing bigger muscles and bigger built, was my choice.

The same goes for Hidilyn and Nesthy who chose to break gender norms with the sports they gave almost half their lives to. There are also the likes of Margielyn Didal, a skateboarder, and Carlos Yulo, a gymnast who defied the stereotypes by pursuing their passion.

Look at where their choices have led them to.

Gender was never a hindrance for these athletes to succeed in their fields. Being a female in a “masculine” sport or being a male in a seemingly “feminine” event, or being part of the LGBTQIA+ community should never stop one from achieving greater heights or feel less of a person.

The triumph of our athletes serves as a reminder for us Filipinos to unlearn the norms that limit our view of the world and accept the things that will make us better people. It’s time to highlight the fight for gender equality and inclusivity and to build respect towards everyone’s choices especially in terms of identity and expression.

Well, perhaps SOGIE is a good discussion for the next column but for now, let us celebrate the success of all the 19 Filipino athletes who despite issues of insufficient support, the irresponsible red-tagging saga, and personal challenges, have braved the Land of the Rising Sun to fight with all their might and give us a reason to still be proud as Filipinos.