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Fortunato Catalon

During the early dawn of Filipino Sports emerged are first great sprint champion Fortunato Catalon.

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Early Beginnings

Fortunato Catalon was born on October 14, 1897, in the town of Tolosa, Leyte. He hailed from a farming family from the interior of the island of Leyte.

He took up baseball.

Catalon was getting around bases quickly and noticed.

And he began to train as a sprinter.

A short man, his advantage over his rivals was that he was a quick starter.

At a time when the sprinting technique was less defined.

Fortunato Catalon—like most of his national peers—used to raise his arms in the air and push his chest forwards when crossing the finish line.

As opposed to the lean-in technique which later became common.

He failed in his first attempt to make his Tacloban school track team at Leyte high school during the Eastern Visayas athletic meet held in Cebu Province.

To cover his expenses Fortunato worked as a cook’s helper in the kitchen.

Catalon was a high school student from the age of 20-24 according to news sources. He obtained his college Diploma at UST.

Where his two only daughters Jovita Remandaban Catalon mother of Myan Acala, & Gloria Remandaban Catalon got also their degree.

The little Filipino continued his training.

And the next year made the district team in the inter-district meet.

He was performing well here.

So earned a second chance to make the provincial team.

 This time he did not disappoint his coach winning the 100 and 220 yard events.

Fortunato Catalon (Keystone) : [photographie de presse] / [Agence Rol]
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The Far East Asian Champion

The Little man who was known as ‘The King of Filipino Sprinters’ representing what was then known as ‘The Philippine Islands‘. Catalon would win the 100 Yard Title at the Far Eastern Games.

His first age the age of 19. four times from 1917 until 1923.

In 1925 the 100 yards (91m) became the 100 meters and even with the longer distance, he won that as well in 1925.  

In 1923 Catalon was the sixth fastest man in the world over 100 yards (91m) in 9.8s.

Catalon was described by the great American sprinter and 1920 Olympic Champion Charlie Paddock while he was visiting the Philippines, as “The Champion of Champions”.

Catalon did not get permanent recognition as a sprinter until 1917.

At the Far East Asian Games in the 100 yards, Fortunato Catalon won his heat in 10.2.

Defending champion Nicolas Llaneta also of the Philippines was the fastest qualifier in 10.0.

In the final no wind assistance was present.

And on May 9 Catalon took the first of the twelve gold medals (9 individual and 3 relays). Catalon also took the 220 yards in 23.8.

In 1919 (13 May) Fortunato Catalon won his heat in 10.2.

However, Madono of Japan was the fastest qualifier in 10.0.

Between the heats and the final of this event, Madono beat Catalon in the preliminaries of the 220-yard dash.

It was clear that the Filipino would be hard-pressed to retain his title. However, he overcame these nerves to equal the games record in 10.0.

Catalon retained his title in the 220 yards, despite Madono of Japan being the fastest in the heats in a Games Record of 22.8. Catalon won in 23.0.

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1921

In 1921 (31 May) Catalon retained his 100-yard title easily to equal the games record in 10.0.

Kaga of  Japan who had competed at the Antwerp Olympics was the favorite and faded to third. 

Catalon defended his 220-yard title with 23.2.

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1923

In 1923 (22 May) Catalon and Tani of Japan won there heats both in 10.4.

In the final, Catalon and Tani were the slowest.

But by the half-way mark, the stocky Filipino had drawn a yard clear of the field.

Catalon increased his lead to a clear yard at the tape.

With Takagi finishing ahead of Omura and Tani his fellow Japanese. Tajima finished a distant fifth.

A number of unofficial timekeepers claimed that Catalon should have been credited with at least 10.0.

And two spectators stopped their watches at 9.6.

While his winning time this year was 10.4.

The track was also apparently according to reports heavy and muddy and slow.

Catalon and Omura of Japan were the fastest qualifiers in the 220-yard heats both with 22.6.

The event was much faster than in 1921 with silver medalist Castillon (PHI) eliminated.

Omura was thought by the Japanese to be the one to beat Catalon.

But it was his countryman Takagi, who closed rapidly on the defending champion in the closing stages, who provided the most serious threat.

Catalon succeeded in holding off the challenge of winning in 22.2 and reached the tape with a yard to spare.

The soft track is said to have nullified the advantage of the following wind.

Catalon
Fortunato Catalon congratulated by Prince Chichibu at the 1923 Far East Asian Games (Photo Supplied by Ron Casey President of the International Society for Japanese Philately (ISJP).

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1925

In 1925 the metric 100m replaced the 100 yards (91m). This was also the last appearance of 4-time champion Catalon who was now 28 years old.

Catalon won his heat in 11.0, but new Filipino athlete David Nepomuceno had emerged to take the fastest qualifier in 10.8.

Times in the semi-final were slower with Rivera (PHI) 11.5 and Nepomuceno (PHI) 11.1 respectively.

In a closely fought final Catalon who had finished third in the second semi-final, triumphed for the fifth consecutive time.

However, photographic evidence suggests that he was fortunate to be given the verdict over Nepomuceno.

In the 200m it was Nepomuceno who ended the streak of Catalon winning in 22.5, with Catalon taking silver.

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Life after the Far East Asian Games

A run of 9.8 seconds in March 1923 ranked him sixth in the world rankings for the 100-yd dash that year. 

Upon meeting him while touring the Philippines. World record holder Charley Paddock of the United States called Catalon a “champion of champions”. 

News of his near-world record runs spread to Western media through Fred England and Elwood Brown – the Americans who led the Philippine Amateur Athletic Association.

His feats encouraged interest in the country of sending a Philippines team.

For the first time for the 1924 Paris Olympics, In the end, it was another sprinter, his rival David Nepomuceno, that became the first Filipino to compete at the Olympics.

Nepomuceno composed the entire one-man 1924 Filipino squad. Catalon was entered for the men’s Olympic 100 meters and 200 meters.

Being drawn alongside America’s Paddock in the former but did not attend the games or start in those events.

It was his teammate Nepomuceno that finally broke his unbeaten regional status at the 1925 Far Eastern Championship Games held in Manila.

While Catalon won a fifth straight title in the 100 meters.  Nepomuceno won over Catalon in the 200 meters.

This brought Catalon’s tally of individual medals at the competition to nine – a record in the athletics section by a margin of two (over Mikio Oda’s seven eventual titles).

Sports Official

Catalon served as a coach in the 1930s of UP in both Men’s Track and Field and Men’s Basketball.

He was also a national coach.

And following his retirement he became an official in the sport, acting as a race starter.

His first major event in this role was at the 1934 Far Eastern Championship Games in Manila.

Where his compatriot Rafael de Leon became the last ever Far Eastern 100 meters champion.

He was the starter for the 100 m final for the 1954 Asian Games, also held in Manila. 

And his lenient starting approach favored Genaro Cabrera – the Filipino silver medalist. 

Catalon studied into his twenties and eventually received a college diploma from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila.

He had a family, including two daughters – Gloria and Jovita.

Catalon Died in 1959 at the age of 62. He was inducted into the PSC Hall of Fame.

Fortunato Catalon, the pre-war sprint king not only locally but also in Asia. He was the sprint champion during the 1917 to 1925 FEAA (Far Eastern Athletic Association ) games, the precursor of the present-day Asian Games. (photo from the Sunday Times magazine – Feb. 29, 1959 issue)
Photo Credit: http://www.outoftownblog.com

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Glico Running Man

If you already visited Dotonbori in Osaka, you probably have photos of the Glico Running Man. However

Did you know? The iconic running man character is modeled after a Pinoy sprinter named Fortunato Catalon.

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Sources:

  1. The Border Cities Star, July 23, 1923
  2. A Handbook of Far Eastern & Asian Games Track & Field Athletics, Ian Buchanan ATFS 1973 (kindly provided by Mr. Jad Adrian Washif ATFS Malaysia & SEA Athletics)
  3. Ms. Myan Catalon Acala (granddaughter of Mr. Fortunato Catalon)

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By Andrew Pirie

Andrew was elected Vice President of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians in 2020 after being a member for 7 years. He has worked as a PSC Consultant and Research Assistant from 2013-2015, Consultant, and Sprint Coach at Zamboanga Sports Academy from 2015-2017. Current editor and chief of Pinoyathletics.info, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program. Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is working towards his Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles. He can be contacted on [email protected] You can find more information on Coaching here https://www.pinoyathletics.info/coaching-2/

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