By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
2016 was another great year in sports. We count down the top 10 Asian American athletes of this year.
Although not making this list, this year, we saw Manny Pacquiao win his retirement fight in April … and then come out of retirement to win a welterweight title. He also became a senator in the Philippines this year. Pacquiao’s popularity has waned since he made comments related to same sex marriages. As a result, he lost his longtime sponsorship with Nike and many of his fans turned on him.
The Seattle Mariners signed Korean star Dae-Ho Lee and he became an instant cult hero for fans, as they chanted his name every time he came up to bat at Safeco Field. Unfortunately, Lee’s time with the team lasted just one season, as the Mariners decided not to re-sign him.
The Mariners drafted high school catcher Lyle Lin in this year’s Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. He was the first Taiwanese-born player to be picked in the MLB draft. The Mariners picked him in the 16th round. However, Lin chose to attend Arizona State University to play baseball and will not be with the Mariners organization.
Inbee Park of South Korea won a gold medal in golf at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. It was the first gold medal awarded since the sport was re-introduced from 1900. New Zealand-born Korean Lydia Ko won the silver medal.
And here’s the top 10 list of Asian American athletes.
- Nathan Adrian.
The 28-year-old Adrian earned four medals at the Rio Olympics in August. He earned two gold medals in relay events and two bronze medals in individual events. The Bremerton native, who is part Chinese, returned home after the Olympics were over to celebrate his victory.
Adrian’s success in the pool has landed him notoriety and fame. He was featured in the annual ESPN “Body Issue.”
- Addison Russell.
The Chicago Cubs finally made it to the World Series with big thanks to its shortstop. Addison Russell, who is part Filipino, became only the third Filipino to win a World Series ring. The 22-year-old Florida native had a grand slam home run in Game 5. The Cubs won the World Series in 7 games. Russell was chosen as an All-Star this year and should help the Cubs be a favorite to repeat as champions.
- Alexander Massialas.
The San Francisco fencer earned a silver medal at the Summer Olympics. Massialas, whose mother is Taiwanese and father is Greek, attends Stanford, where he studies mechanical engineering. He was the first U.S. male to win an individual medal in fencing since 1932. He also is the number 1 ranked fencer in the United States and the world. His father was a former Olympian in fencing for the United States and his younger sister is currently a top-level fencer.
- Lia Neal.
The Stanford University swimmer won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as part of the 4×100 freestyle relay. Neal is African American and Chinese. It was the New York native’s second Olympic Games, as she won a bronze medal as part of another 4×100 freestyle relay at the 2012 games in London.
- Michelle Waterson.
Known as “The Karate Hottie,” Waterson is a mixed martial artist in the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). Waterson was a world champion in the 105-pound women’s division before being signed by the UFC. Despite being 105 pounds, she fought in the UFC at 115 pounds.
Waterson, who is of Thai descent, made her return to the Octagon after a prolonged layoff against Paige VanZant in December. VanZant is known by many for her stint on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” Waterson upset VanZant with a first round submission. She received a $50,000 bonus for her stoppage of VanZant. Waterson took up martial arts at the age of 10 when she began taking karate lessons. She earned a black belt in karate and has begun to practice other martial arts. The 30-year-old trains in New Mexico at one of the best gyms for MMA fighters.
Born and raised in Aurora, Colo., Waterson began modeling after graduating from high school.
However, she continued with her martial arts career, which led her to mixed martial arts. Her life as a female fighter and mom was featured in a recent documentary, about her life and struggle to balance her career and being a parent. She has also appeared on American Ninja Warrior and a reality TV show based on women training to be Muay Thai fighters.
After her win this month against VanZant, Waterson’s MMA career is on the rise.
- Sarah Rhee.
The University of Washington (UW) women’s golf team won its first NCAA title with help from one of its freshmen. The former Ingraham High School golfer made an improbable shot from a bunker, in a match play playoff, to propel the UW to the finals.
Rhee was a standout at Ingraham and when she committed to play for the Huskies.
- Doug Baldwin.
Although the Seattle Seahawks fell short of another Super Bowl appearance, Baldwin had a stellar year which culminated in a contract extension. He signed a four-year contract extension worth $46 million. This season, his touchdowns are down, but he is still a key part of the Seahawks’ offense. He already has more catches than he did last year (with two more games to go at the time of writing this column). In addition to his on-field contributions, Baldwin has been vocal off the field. He was a team leader when controversy over kneeling during the national anthem occurred at the beginning of the season. He coordinated all of the Seahawks to stand and lock arms as a sign of unity. In response to recent police shootings, Baldwin spoke with local officials, including the Seattle Police Department, to discuss ways that law enforcement handle situations. Baldwin’s father is a police officer.
- Ashima Shiraishi.
At just 15 years old, this Japanese American is one of the best young climbers in the world. In 2016, she won the International Federation of Sports Climbing youth championships in two disciplines in climbing. She also won the USA Youth Bouldering Nationals Championship. Born and raised in New York, she was first introduced to climbing at the age of 6 when she was with her parents in Central Park. Her passion for climbing continued inside and outdoors. She has traveled the world climbing boulders. Her ability to climb at a high level at a young age has garnered her a sponsorship with the North Face sportswear company.
At just 5 feet tall and weighing under 100 pounds, she is still able to navigate the challenges of climbing boulders.
With climbing becoming a sport in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Shiraishi will likely make it a point to represent the United States in the country where her parents were born.
- Jordan Clarkson.
Although overshadowed last year by the retiring Kobe Bryant, Clarkson is one of the young talents for the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s averaging almost 15 points a game as a guard for the team. Clarkson, whose mother is Filipino, is in his third year in the NBA. He has embraced the many Filipino fans that follow him and he’s visited the Philippines since joining the NBA. In fact, he had requested to play for the Philippines in an Olympic qualifying tournament this summer. Although that did not work out, he is one of the more popular NBA players in the Philippines.
- Jeremy Lin.
Lin returned to New York this season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets after a bounce back season last year in Charlotte. Unfortunately, Lin has been missing in action most of the season with a hamstring injury. Still, Lin is making his presence known. He is active in eSports and has invested in a team. He’s also spoken out on social issues including perceptions of him as an Asian American basketball player.Jason can be reached at email@example.com.