By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – With the 11-member Philippine team coming home from the Olympics empty-handed, Filipino-Americans are cheering the medal-winning feats of Filipino-Americans on the U.S. team to provide them some measure of pride.
At least two athletes with Filipino heritage have won medals in London, and many in the large Filipino-American community across the U.S., including Las Vegas, have claimed them as their own.
Swimmer Natalie Coughlin, born in Vallejo, Calif., and loves the lumpia her grandmother from the Philippines often cook, won a bronze in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay, even though she was not part of the team in the final swim.
According to Yahoo Sports, she swam a leg in the preliminaries, helping the U.S. qualify. But for the final, the Americans went with teenager Missy Franklin and Jessica Hardy, and brought back Olympic rookie Lia Neal and Allison Schmitt.
They finished in 3 minutes, 34.24 seconds, an American record.
Coughlin, whose six medals in Beijing were the most by an American woman at one Olympics, didn’t qualify for an individual event in London. She finished sixth in the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. trials to be considered for the relay.
But easily, the most popular U.S. athlete among Filipino-Americans was gymnast Kyla Ross, who is also part Japanese, Puerto Rican and African-American.
Ross , the youngest in the team at 15, was a member of the the team that won the gold for the U.S. in Artistic gymnastics.
In much the same way that Filipinos and Filipino-Americans rooted for Jessica Sanchez in the American Idol competition, Ross was the object of affection, and the subject of an intense online debate about “adopting” an athlete who obviously is an American.
“The fact is, she’s still Filipino and we’re proud of her,” said Amie Belmonte, a leader in the Filipino-American community is Las Vegas, which numbers around 30,000, the largest Asian group in the city.
Ross, who competed in the balance beam, said the U.S. team pulled for each other.