To Filipino long jump titan Simeon Toribio, the road to his 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games bronze medal finish was long and rocky, marked by countless odds, endless sacrifices and many rigors that could have discouraged many a man.
As a boy in Loboc town in Bohol, where the Olympic hero was born on August 6, 1905, Toribio was frail and spare-framed. His playmates call him tukon (stick to local dialect) because he was a beanpole, tall for his age.
He was a newcomer in town, his parents having come from Zamboanga. His father, Luis Toribio, a leader of the Revolutionary Forces, who later became a clerk of court moved the family to Bohol after losing a bitter election protest.
He wasn’t particularly interested in sports as a youngster until one day while assigned to cut the grass in the school yard, the school coach announced that those who would train in athletics will be exempted from trimming the lawn.
And since manicuring the lawn was, in those days, a form of punishment for errant acts of school pupils, Toribio took the challenge and soon, to cut the story short, became a regular member of the school track and field team, taking part in schools meets, then provincial, regional and later national meets.
Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled at Siliman University in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental for a bachelor’s degree in science, while working at the University’s furniture shop to earn his, board, lodging and pocket money. He also found time to improve on his expertise in high jump under expert coaching.
At age 22, he made the national team to the 8th Far Eastern Games (now Asian Games) held in 1927 in Shanghai in what started his long domination of his favorite event that earned for him a berth in the 9th Olympic Games in Amsterdam.
His teammates in his first Olympic appearance were great swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso, who won the country’s first medal in the quadrennial conclave, a bronze, another pool shark Tuburan Tamse and sprinter Anselmo Gonzaga.
Toribio made it to the finals and ended up fourth, having the distinction and satisfaction of beating then world and Olympic champion Harold Osborne.
He again reigned supreme in high jump in the 9th FEG in 1930 and in the 10th and final edition in 1934 when he set an all-time Asian record of 1.931-meter. For annexing his third FEG victory, he was awarded permanent possession of the Games high jump trophy.
In 1932, before carrying anew the country’s flag in the Los Angeles Games of the Xth Olympiad, he married a comely lass named Maximiana Escobar. He improved his fourth place wind up four years back to bring home this time the bronze along with Teofilo Yldefonso’s and fighter Jose Villanueva.
That’s spelled out for the country’s finest showing in the quadrennial aggrupation that has never been matched since.
After the LA Games, Toribio strayed behind and enrolled at the University of Southern California where he earned his degree in Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.
The pride of Loboc made it again to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his third, becoming the only Filipino athlete to serve the country in three Olympics and as many times in the FEG that earned for him the coveted Helms World Trophy for being Asia’s greatest athlete in 1930.
Toribio’s name is engraved on the Olympic Tableau de Honneur. He was, too, included in in the 1928 World Biography, published in New York. Also in 1930, he was accorded with the Zizi Shimpo Medal of Honor and voted unanimously as the Filipino Field Athlete of Half Century by the Philippine Sportswriters Association.
Following his retirement from active competitions, Toribio served actively in several positions at the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, at that time the sports ruling body in the country including its vice president from 1955 to 1959.
During the Japanese occupation, he was active in an underground movement as First Lieutenant in Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Price Ramsey’s guerrillas operating in Bulacan and Central Luzon.
Reason for him and his brother Narciso to be arrested and sent to garrison where they were saved by a Japanese soldier, who saw a framed scroll of him presented by the Japanese Emperor during the 1930 FEG Tokyo.
Toribio was not only an outstanding athlete, he was also a topnotch lawmaker and civil engineer. He served as congressman of Bohol’s Second Congressional district from 1946 to 1953 and was consistently voted one of the 10 outstanding congressmen by men and women covering the Lower House during his term.
Toribio, likewise, received numerous awards from the engineering world. He was elected to the CHI Epsilon (US National Civil engineers) and was a member of the Philippine and American Society of Civil Engineers.
Simeon Toribio passed away on June 5, 1970.