Akiko Reflects: Respect and Integrity

  • Aug 14, 2020

Respect leads to fair play as integrity leads to excellence. These were the Olympic values that Akiko Thomson-Guevara shared as she looked back at her career and Olympic journey at the First Online Sports Leadership Program (OSLP) conducted through zoom and in partnership with the Philippine Olympians Association (POA).

“What resonates really for me is respect because when I think of respect, it’s respect for the game; for the rules of the game; respect for opponents; basically it’s fair play,” Thomson-Guevara shared. She then added that integrity is reflected in the way we go about our daily lives. “I really feel that the way we play sports is the way we play life. Integrity: it’s who you are when no one sees you,” she stressed.

And up against the expectations and pressure to deliver, excellence was all about giving one’s best. “Ultimately at the end of the day, my best was all I could ask of myself and all that we can ask of any athlete.” Ironically, this excellence resulted into eight gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) including her first one at the tender age of 13 in 1987 in Jakarta. These are the values that she treasures and continues to live as she has moved on to being a wife and mother, and now president of the POA.

Thomson-Guevara narrated her entire life in sports starting at when she was only six years old and was into several activities to simply have fun just like any other ordinary kid. She was into ballet, piano, the girl scouting movement, was an acolyte and proudly declared that she was good at climbing trees. When the fun turned into passion and a nose for competition, turning to swimming was automatic as “water felt like home.” The rest, as they say, is history with three Olympiads under her belt along with appearances at the Southeast Asian Games that produced those eight gold medals.

Among the key stages of her life, she stated that aside from winning her first SEAG gold in 1987, going to her first Olympics in Seoul, Korea in 1988 as a 14-year old was mind-boggling and “just awesome.” She then cited how her coach Pinky Brosas encouraged her to “shift to fourth gear” and head to the United States to train at the University of Southern California as there wasn’t more to accomplish if she stayed in the country. She would end up finishing her high school and college studies in the U.S. while swimming for the country.

Another highlight was winning two golds and two silvers at the 1991 SEAG which the Philippines hosted. She narrated how swimming for a home crowd was “such a high and such a privilege,” noting that swimming was not usually an event that many people watched. This paved the way for her second Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 where she recorded her best performances. She spent the next four years studying at Cal-Berkeley where she said there was a perfect fit for her due to the right balance of academics and athletics. However, she but bared that she experienced getting tired of the sport and wanted to quit. After talking to her parents and coaches who played a huge role in her life, adjustments were made and she also got into cross-training through boxing and tai-chi and but quit swimming. She was appropriately named co-captain of the team in her senior year.

 Her Olympic swan song was at the 1996 Atlanta Games and she officially retired from the sport shortly after. She disclosed that a final highlight of her career was retiring from the sport while still being very passionate about it. “I was able to rediscover the passion and the joy for the sport that somehow I had lost along the way.”

The First Online Sports Leadership Program (OSLP), conducted in partnership with the Philippine Olympians Association (POA) of which Thomson-Guevara is the president, is attended by sports directors of schools from the Mindanao Peace Games and Jesuit schools from around the country. Joining Thomson-Guevara as speakers are three other Olympians in Elma Muros-Posadas (Olympics 84 and 96), Stephen Fernandez (Olympics 88 and 92) and Eric Buhain (Olympics 88 and 92). The talks are part of a 15-hour program that includes a mix of light physical and creative activities, forum/classroom sessions, and small group "reflective rectangles." Project proponent Noli Ayo of the MPG says that “the learning process will anchor on lessons on leadership found in the stories of our Philippine Olympians. It aims to focus on the value of standards, the fruits of hard work and the power of a team.”