10 Sports Stars on the Gen.T List 2022 to Know
Meet the professional athletes who are climbing up the ranks of the sporting world
In 2021, the Tokyo Summer Olympics finally took place after being delayed an entire year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was one of the year's biggest sporting events where athletes showed their incredible abilities. And many did, particularly Southeast Asian athletes like Hidilyn Diaz, Greysia Polii and Panipak Wongpattanakit—all of who made history by winning their respective home country's first Olympic gold in their sport.
In addition to the three of them, here are the other 2022 Gen.T honourees who have risen to the top of their game, set records and pushed boundaries in their respective sports in the last 18 months.
Edgar Cheung Ka-long
Team: Hong Kong
Few Hongkongers have ever rocketed to household name status as quickly as Edgar Cheung Ka-long after his historic gold medal in fencing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The 24-year-old athlete was responsible for scenes of hysteria in Hong Kong malls, as crowds gathered under large screens to watch his nail-biting victory. After trailing 1–4 at the start of the final match, he fought back against Italian Daniele Garozzo to win with a score of 15–11.
Characteristically humble, Cheung described the Olympics as “one of the many tournaments”, and took care to emphasise that he is still the same person, despite bringing home Hong Kong’s second gold since Lee Lai-shan was crowned Olympic champion for windsurfing in 1996. “Perhaps the only difference is more people recognise me when I walk on the streets and they ask to take photos with me. Other than that, everything remains the same,’ he says. For Cheung, it’s simply onwards to Paris 2024.
Team: The Philippines
As a young girl, Hidlyn Diaz faced disapproval for her chosen sport of weightlifting from society and family. Twenty years later, her decision to ignore all those disapproving voices has paid off, with her Olympic gold medal in the 55kg division in Tokyo, her second Olympic medal and the country’s first-ever gold.
An entire nation watched with bated breath as Diaz lifted, in one swift motion, 127 kilogrammes in the clean-and-jerk event of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The Philippines joined her as she cheered and cried. She had earlier lifted 97 kilogrammes in snatch, bringing her to a 254-kilogramme total that qualified for a historic gold. It is the country’s first Olympic gold medal in over a century and the first for a Filipina in the sport. For Diaz, it’s a first in a career that has been obstructed by financial difficulty, defeat and injury.
Even as she won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, she sustained a knee injury that added to the problems taxing her mental health. Despite this, Diaz established the Hidilyn Diaz Weightlifting Gym in her hometown of Zamboanga in 2018.
Midway through training for the pandemic-delayed Tokyo event, she ran out of funding from the government. Diaz knew that this year would be her last shot for an Olympic medal. She trained smarter, dropped her weight category to gain an advantage and drew strength from the muscle that is her heart.
Now with a gold medal around her neck, the weight has been lifted off her shoulders and thrown at a toxic culture of machismo and discrimination.
Team: The Philippines
Alex Eala has ended a long Philippine drought in the sport as she racks up win after win on the international circuit. Eala began this streak in 2020 when she became the first Filipina player in over a quarter of a century to capture a berth at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) World Junior Tennis tournament; later that year, her debut at the US Open Juniors competition made her the first Philippine player in a Grand Slam tournament in 28 years.
In 2020, she climbed to the number two spot at the ITF Girls’ Junior rankings, having reached the semifinals at that year’s French Open girls’ singles competition and winning the Australian girls’ doubles event with partner Priska Madelyn Nugroho; the latter also made her the first Filipino to win a Juniors Grand Slam event since 2009. Later that year, Eala made it to the semifinals of the juniors’ singles event at the French Open, again making history as the first Filipino to reach that stage of a grand slam tournament since 1985.
In 2021, she and her partner Oksana Selekhmateva won the French Open girls’ doubles title, giving Eala her second Grand Slam championship.
Currently residing in Mallorca, the Rafa Nadal Academy scholar has also been studying at the American International School of Mallorca. After entering the 2018 Roland Garros Junior Championships as a wildcard entry, Eala accepted a scholarship at the elite institution, where she is able to train with other hitters from all over Europe.
Most recently, Eala won the grand slam singles championship at the US Open Juniors in New York City this 2022.
Sport: Freestyle skiing
The breakout star of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Eileen Gu won two gold medals and one silver, becoming the youngest Olympic champion in freestyle skiing, and the first to win three medals. A student at Stanford University, she also works extensively as a model, and is one of the world’s most sponsored athletes, with clients including IWC, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and Fendi.
Lee Chih-Kai started training in gymnastics when he was six years old and went on to live his dream of becoming an international athlete, eventually claiming the silver medal for Men’s Pommel Horse at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, becoming the first Taiwanese gymnast to clinch an Olympic medal in the process. He is ranked world number one in the event by the International Gymnastics Federation.
Nur Dhabitah Sabri
Malaysian diver Nur Dhabitah Sabri started competing in swimming before her father switched her to diving at age seven. In 2012, she became the youngest Malaysian diver to win at a senior international competition by winning two events at the Southeast Asian Swimming Championship.
Since her strong international debut, she has bagged medals at most major competitions and games including her first of three SEA Games gold medal in the 10m synchronised platform with her partner Leong Mun Yee in 2013. The following year she won her first Commonwealth Games medal, a bronze, in 10m synchronised platform with Pandelela Rinong. She has also won golds at FINA Diving Grand Prix and Asian Diving Cup.
She qualified for her first Olympics, the 2016 Rio Olympics after winning the women’s 10m platform individual at the 2015 Asian Diving Cup and later also earned a spot with fellow diver Cheong Jun Hoong to compete in 3m synchronised springboard event after placing fifth at the Diving World Cup. She and Cheong finished fifth in the 3m synchronised springboard and Dhabitah finished ninth out of 12 in the 10m platform.
In 2017, she received the honour of being the first female athlete to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur. For her second Olympics outing, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she just missed a podium finish by a narrow margin, ending up fourth in the women’s 3m springboard final.
Loh Kean Yew
In December 2021, badminton player Loh Kean Yew made history when he emerged victorious during the men’s singles match at the 2021 BWF World Championships, including defeating reigning Olympic champion Viktor Axelson. An outsider who had previously been unranked, he became Singapore’s first world champion in the sport in the process. He is currently fifth in the world rankings.
After representing her country three times in the Olympics, Greysia Polii made history in Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where together with her badminton women’s doubles partner Apriyani Rahayu she gave Indonesia its first Olympic gold in the event.
Polii has played for Indonesia in various international badminton tournaments since the early 2000s. At 14, she made the decision to switch from singles to doubles, eventually joining the national team in 2003.
Throughout her career, Polii has been paired with many other distinguished female badminton players, including Meiliana Jauhari, whom she played alongside during her London Olympics debut in 2012, and Nitya Krishinda Maheswari, who joined her at her second Olympic outing in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Rahayu and Polii were first paired together in 2017. Prior to their historic Olympic win against China, the duo had also shared dozens of podium finishes, from the South-East Asian Games in 2017 to the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Grand Prix title match the same year, as well as the World Tour series from 2018-2020.
From 2013 to 2017, Polii was a member of the BWF Athletes’ Commission, which aims to represent the needs and views of badminton players.
Panipak Wongpattanakit might be nicknamed “Tennis”, but it’s taekwondo she excels at. Consistently among the highest-ranked athletes in the sport, she broke through with her victory at the 2015 World Taekwondo Championships, winning the event again in 2019, and also notching up golds in the World Taekwondo Grand Slam, the Asian Games and, in 2021, her crowning glory: the Olympics, where she was Thailand’s only gold medallist.
Read more: Meet The Honourees From Thailand On The Gen.T List 2022
After a promising junior career, Zheng Qinwen leapt into the tennis big time in 2022, while still a teenager. She became just the fourth Chinese woman to reach the last 16 of the French Open, only losing out to world number-one Iga Swiatek, and soon afterwards cracked the world top 50 as a result; she then went on to reach the third round at Wimbledon.
See more honourees from the Gen.T List 2022.