Renato Unso

Last Updated on December 30, 2022 by Andrew Pirie

Renato Unso, the heartbreak kid who shattered the National Record

The Philippines enjoyed a fabulous streak in the early 80s  at SEA Games with three 400 Hurdlers in 1981 Grafilo, 1983 Unso, and 1985 Arnillo claiming the 400 Hurdle crown.

At these games, Renato Unso would set the undisputed Philippine Record of 51.26, which stood 30 years before being broken by Fil-Heritage athlete Eric Cray.

Unso was born 25th of April 1957, At the age of 9. He was Orphaned and overcame poverty. 

In fact, it was poverty and its many challenges that molded him to become a Sea Games gold medalist, teacher, motivational speaker, and formerly Dean of Human Kinetics of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Renato Unso First Try at Athletics

His first try in athletics came in 1976 when he was a final year student at the Victorino Mapa High School.

He cleared 3 meters for the long jump during a physical fitness test and 5.40m in the long jump.

Summoned to join the preparation for the school’s annual meet.

The school was asking due to his height; he competes in the Long Jump, Triple Jump, and High Jump.

“I had never been formally introduced to athletics and so, never knew what it was all about.

I was nothing more than a spectator during my school meets.

But my coach told me not to worry just go out to the field and learn.


The class needed 21 points to win the Inter-Class shield.

So I went to the field and followed what the rest did.

Then the school coach said ‘Hey Unso’ how about trying the hurdles?

The Schools short of hurdles so I did.

And I used to practice in the alley behind my house. 

I got an old broomstick, and called a friend to hold on to one end while I jumped over it.

I was clumsy at first and suffered muscle pains as the ground was hard.- Renato Unso, 1982

Renato Unso National Training Pool

He was recommended to the national training squad preparing for the 1977 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. He then came under the coaching of Lt. Marcelo Langurayan, the National coach at the time. 

And finished fourth in the national open in the 110 Hurdles (15.4) and 400 Hurdles (54.7).

Renato was also playing basketball at that time, so Athletics never climbed up high in his priorities.

He won the 1978 Palarong Pambansa Tertiary 110 Hurdles in 15.5.

But finished second in the 400 Hurdles to Angelito Aguilar, who set a meet record later (54.6 to 55.2). The late Rosito Andaya coached unso.

At the 1979 Asian Games, he finished 6th in the 400 Hurdles final in 53.31. He didn’t run in the 110 Hurdles that he was entered in.

Renato Unso
Renato Unso

Gintong Alay

Then in 1980, came the Gintong Alay Program in preparation for the next SEA Games. A centralized scheme backed heavily by the Marcos Government in Baguio and Manila.

Gintong Alay Coach Tony Benson said Unso had the makings of a world-class hurdler.

However, in Manila, it seemed Unso cracked under the pressure of a home crowd.

Unso crowned himself National Champion by winning the national open for the first time in May of 1980.

And then won the Taipei-Philippines friendly meeting, clocking 52.1 secs and breaking the national record of Abdulkadir Guipar (52.2).

Which put him at #6 in Asia for that year.

Many believed Unso was going to run 51.5 someday as he had run 47.6 for 400.

In the ASEAN Championships in September, he clocked a new national record of 52.19, beating SEA Games Champion Melly Mofu of Indonesia.


SEA Games 1981

Renato Unso
Grafilo’s stunning victory in the 400-meter hurdles in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games and his hand was raised by Nonoy Unso, who was expected to win. He ran on the outer lane at a robust pace in the last 200 meters.


At his first SEA Games in 1981, Unso finished last in the 110 Hurdles final.

Crediting Unso with a very fast 14.5 hand-timed in the heats.

This might have seen him close to a medal in the final if he had the same type of run.

He won the second heat of the 400 Hurdles in 53.32, beating Nyan Chong-Jong of Malaysia.

In the final, he finished fourth and just 6/100th outside a medal in fourth in the 400 Hurdles with a time of 53.46.

Teammate Grafilo won the race, setting an electronic Filipino National Record at 52.19, with Chong-Jong taking Silver. (*The best mark at that time was Abdul Guiapaur hand-time from 1974 of 51.8).

The newspapers giving Unso the nickname ‘The Heartbreak Kid.’


“Oh yes I remember I went under instead of over. Was a certainty that lost” he later told a reporter.


“I cannot forget that season, but my mind was never set on it then,” he said of 1981 SEA Games.


In the 1981 Asian Games, he again made the final 400 Hurdles finishing last in 53.85.



At the Palaro open division in 1982 in 15.4 as well as the 400 Hurdles in 54.4.  Later that year, Unso would break through to his first international win at the ASEAN Cup, winning the 400 Hurdle title.

He returned a different athlete at the next SEA Games.

Leading up to the SEA Games, Unso clocked 52.01 at the National Championships, erasing the National Record set by Jaime Grafilo. Unso decided not to run in the 110 Hurdles at the Asian Games despite being in the entries.


1983 SEA Games Champion

He won heat 1 of the 110 Hurdles beating Heru Prayogo of Indonesia with the fastest qualifying time of 14.80.

However, in the final in a hairline finish, Prayogo took the gold 14.75 to 14.76.

Unso time of 14.76 broke the nine-year-old National Record of Marcelo Benauro and stood until 1997.

His career’s most fantastic race would come in a superb 400 Hurdles final where he led from start to finish.

Unso recorded a time of 51.26 to win the 1983 SEA Games in Singapore, which is the National Record 30 years on; this would be the last time Unso would compete at the SEA Games.

After the 1983 Asian Championships, Unso decided to retire early, at the age of 26, after tearing his hamstring in Kuwait.


“I’m not even going to go back to running.” “Last Weeks Asian champs was my swan song”.

He took up a role with the Gintong Alay as a coach “Now I’ll just worry about passing on my knowledge to youngsters coming into the Gintong Alay scheme”


Unso did make a return at the 1986 ASEAN Track and Field Champs in Singapore with bronze in the 110 Hurdles in a time of 15.21.



  1. various old newspapers
  2. sea games results
  3. GBR athletics


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. And Currently is Consultant Coach with VMUF 2021- Current editor and chief of, and has recently done consultancy work for Ayala Corp evaluating the Track and Field Program. Coaches Sprints, Middle and Jump events he is  Level 3 Athletics Australia Coaching Certification in Sprints and Hurdles. Currently working towards a Masters Degree in Education. He can be contacted on [email protected] You can find more information on Coaching here

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