During the early dawn of Filipino Sports, emerged as our first great sprint champion Fortunato Catalon.
Fortunato 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. His father was Juanzo Catalon, and his mother was Petrona Pelino.
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 —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 18-22, according to news sources. He obtained his college Diploma at UST.
The little Filipino continued his training. And the next year made the district team in the inter-district meet; he was performing well here. He 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.
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The Far East Asian Champion
His first age was 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 Fortunato was the sixth-fastest man globally, over 100 yards (91m) in 9.8s.
Catalon was described by the great American sprinter and 1920 Olympic Champion Charlie Paddock while visiting the Philippines as “The Champion of Champions.”
Fortunato 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 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 game’s record at 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 23.0.
In 1921 (31 May), Catalon retained his 100-yard title easily to equal the game’s record in 10.0.
Kaga of Japan, who had competed at the Antwerp Olympics, was the favourite and faded to third.
Catalon defended his 220-yard title with 23.2.
In 1923 (22 May), Catalon and Tani of Japan won their heats, both in 10.4.
In the final, Catalon and Tani were the slowest.
But by the halfway mark, the stocky Filipino had drawn a yard clear of the field.
Catalon increased his lead to a clear yard at the tape.
Takagi finished ahead of Omura and Tani, his fellow Japanese. Tajima finished a distant fifth.
Several 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.
Fortunato 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.
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 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.
Catalon, who had finished third in the second semi-final in a closely fought 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, Nepomuceno ended the streak of Catalon winning in 22.5, with Catalon taking silver.
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-yard 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. In addition, Catalon 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.
His teammate Nepomuceno finally broke his unbeaten regional status at the 1925 Far Eastern Championship Games 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).
Catalon married Elisa Remandaban on 15 September 1924.
His two daughters Jovita Remandaban Catalon Myan Acala, & Gloria Remandaban Catalon (1928-, also got their degrees from UST.
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 favoured Genaro Cabrera – the Filipino silver medalist.
Fortunato studied into his twenties and eventually received a college diploma from Santo Tomas in Manila.
He had a family, including two daughters – Gloria and Jovita.
Fortunato Died July 2, 1977, in Tolosa at age 79. He was inducted into the PSC Hall of Fame.
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 modelled after a Pinoy sprinter named Fortunato Catalon.
- The Border Cities Star, July 23, 1923
- 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)
- Ms Myan Catalon Acala (granddaughter of Mr Fortunato Catalon)
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