Fortunato Catalon the King of Filipino Sprinters
Article by Pirie Enzo from various sources
During the early dawn of Filipino Sports emerged are first great sprint champion Fortunato Catalon.
Catalon was born in 1897 in Leyte, he hailed from a farming family from the interior of the island of Leyte. He failed in his first attempt to make his Tacloban school track team during the Eastern Visayas athletic meet held in Cebu Province, and was relegated to the kitchen as a cook’s helper in order to cover his expenses. Catalon was a high school student from the age of 20-24 according to news sources.
The little Filipino continued his training and the next year made the district team in the inter-district meet. His showing here was a good and he was given a second chance to make the provincial team. This time he did not disappoint his coach winning the 100 and 120 events.
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 four times from 1917 until 1923. And when the distance was lengthened to the 100m won that title 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 visting the Philippines, as “The Champion of Champions”.
It was not however until 1917 when he won permanent recognition as a sprinter.At the Far East Asian Games in the 100 yards Catalon awon 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 relay) that he was destined to win at the Far Eastern Games. Catalon also took the 220 yards in 23.8.
In 1919 (13 May) 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 and 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.
In 1921 (31 May) Catalon retained his 100 yard title easily to equal the games record in 10.0. Kaga of Japan who has competed at the Antwerp Olympics who was the favorite faded to third. Catalon defended his 220 yard title with 23.2.
In 1923 (22 May) Catalon and Tani of Japan won there heats in 10.4 and 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 time keepers claimed that Catalon should have been credited with at least 10.0 and two spectators stopped their watches at 9.6. 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 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 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 was introduced to replace 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 perhaps 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..
Life after the Far East Asian Games
1925 was the last appearance for Catalon. Catalon, for all his fame, is remembered by the 1950s generation as a “generous starter”. he was the starter when genaro cabrera jumped to an early lead in the 100 asian games final in 1954. (from Ignacio Dee)
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)