Finding David, the First Filipino Olympian

Before there was current Olympic silver medalists Hidilyn Diaz, Mansueto Velasco or Anthony Villanueva, there was the lone Filipino sprinter who braved the distance in playing in Paris, France to represent the Philippines as it's very first Olympian. It was the first time that the Philippine flag was publicly raised in the Olympic games when five years before, any public presentation of the flag was punishable by law under the American imposed Flag Law.

David Nepomuceno with 1920 Olympic gold medalist Loren Murchison of the United States
Photo Credit: Pinoy Drawer

Editor's Notes: Hidilyn Diaz has won silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics after 20 years and became the only female Olympic medalist. But not every one of us knows about the exploit of the first-ever Olympic athlete who competed in our debut at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris - David Nepomuceno.

Before there were current Olympic silver medalists Hidilyn Diaz, Mansueto Velasco, and Anthony Villanueva, there was the lone Filipino sprinter who braved the distance by playing in Paris, France to represent the Philippines as it's very first Olympian. It was the first time that the Philippine flag was publicly raised in the Olympic games when five years before, any public presentation of the flag was punishable by the controversial American-imposed Flag Law.

Historical Background

Although the Philippines was not yet an independent country let alone, a Commonwealth nation (which was still 11 years away!), the International Olympic Committee allowed the Philippines to participate in the quadrennial event together with fellow Asian neighbors Japan, China (who later withdrew) and British India. The Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, the forerunner of today's Philippine Olympic Committee, was founded in 1911 as a governing body that will oversee the development of sports in the Philippines. It was in 1913 that the Philippines organized the Far Eastern Games as a regional counterpart of the Olympic movement.


The reason behind the entry of the Philippines in the Olympics is not clear but it is likely that the IOC or the American colonial officials decided to admit the Philippines in order to expand the Asian presence in the quadrennial event. Perhaps to determine that colonial nations like Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, and the United States are athletically superior to their colonial subjects in British India, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.


Scientific racism is an active school of thought during that time and it has a significant role in public policy particularly in sports. At the end of the day, the Olympic games have become some sort of a "proving ground" to show that white athleticism is far superior to Asians, Africans, and other colored races.

Who was David Nepomuceno?

Born May 9, 1900, Nepomuceno was considered as one of the greatest sprinters of his time even before his Olympic debut 92 years ago! He participated in the Far Eastern Games where he won a couple of gold medals for the country against perennial rivals from China and Japan by following the footsteps of another sprint king Fortunato Catalon.

Both sprinters had a healthy rivalry both in the national trials and the regional circuits as they battled for track supremacy. Although the aging veteran and multi-medalled Catalon is the clear-cut favorite particularly in the 200-meter straight race, the much younger Nepomuceno has a much bigger frame and longer stride that he took advantage of so that he beat Catalon in the 1924 National Championships to become the country's sole representative to our first Olympiad.


Together with his coach Regino Ylanan, the founder of the National Collegiate Athletic Association of the Philippines, Nepomuceno carried our flag proudly during the opening ceremonies in the 45,000-seat Stade Olympique de Colombes - the same venue of the 1938 World Cup final.


The Men's 100 Meters was Nepomuceno's first event where he was slated to run in the fifth heat with the likes of Henricus Broos of the Netherlands, George Dunston of South Africa, Antonin Svoboda of Czechoslovakia, Poul Schiang of Denmark, and Jose-Maria Larrabeti of Spain. Unfortunately, he finished dead last and both Broos and Dunston qualified for the next round. In the end, it was British Harold Abrahams who won gold at an Olympic record time of 10.6 seconds followed by American Jackson Scholz for silver at 10.7 seconds, and Kiwi Arthur Porritt for bronze at 10.8. Interestingly, that race was depicted in the Academy Award-winning 1981 British historical drama "Chariots of Fire."


Nepomuceno was then slated to run against hometown favorite Maurice Degrelle and Dutchman Marinus van den Berge in Heat 15 of the Men's 200 Meters. But he was not able to progress as Degrelle topped the race at 22.6 seconds. In what was expected to be a highly-anticipated rematch between American Scholz and British Abrahams in the final but it became an anticlimactic finish as Scholz ran away with the gold medal at an Olympic record time of 21.6 seconds followed by compatriot Charles Paddock for the silver at 21.7 seconds and British Eric Lidell for the bronze at 21.9 seconds. Abrahams finished dead last at 22.3 seconds.

After the Olympics

Despite an uneventful Olympic debut, Nepomuceno wanted to bounce back and prepare for the 1925 Far Eastern Games as he resumes his rivalry with Catalon. At the Manila games, it was Catalon who took the first shot as he took the gold in the Men's 100 Meters over Nepomuceno and Japanese sprinter Sasagi Tani. But in the Men's 200 Meters Straight, he bested Catalon for the gold.

In the 1927 Games in Shanghai, Nepomuceno managed to win the Men's 100 Meter gold without Catalon but he failed to defend his Men's 200 Meters Straight gold as he slid to bronze as rising sprint star Anselmo Gonzaga took the gold and Japanese Takayoshi Yoshioka settled for the silver.

He served in the Philippine Scouts and eventually, the United States Navy. Nepomuceno died on September 27, 1939.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Finding David, the First Filipino Olympian
Finding David, the First Filipino Olympian
Before there was current Olympic silver medalists Hidilyn Diaz, Mansueto Velasco or Anthony Villanueva, there was the lone Filipino sprinter who braved the distance in playing in Paris, France to represent the Philippines as it's very first Olympian. It was the first time that the Philippine flag was publicly raised in the Olympic games when five years before, any public presentation of the flag was punishable by law under the American imposed Flag Law.
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