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Wesley So, Maxine Esteban Make Waves Away From Home

Wesley So, Maxine Esteban
James Francisco

Through the years, several Filipino athletes have opted to take their talents and shift allegiances to other countries. The decision to wave another country’s flag may not be in the cards initially, but considering the pressing issues surrounding the Philippine sporting body or the utter lack of opportunity, migrating may provide their key to prosperity and individual success.

Making a significant dent in recent international tourneys are Fil-Am Chess Grandmaster Wesley So and Fil-Ivorian fencer Maxine Esteban—Filipinos excelling in their respective sports while representing a different nation.

Wesley So’s command of the chessboard

Instagram: @championschesstour

2023’s Champions Chess Tour (CCT) hosted the world’s greatest grandmasters, with Cavite-native Wesly So among its competitors. Following medal finishes in the events leading to the finale, the 7th-ranked Filipino managed to topple Uzbekistani Nodirbek Abdusattorov in the semis before bowing to back-to-back CCT victor Magnus Carlsen in Toronto, Canada, last Saturday, December 16.

Regardless of his silver feat, So’s two-decade reign continuously pushes the ceiling for Philippine grandmasters, becoming the 11th individual (the first Filipino-born) to surpass the 2800 elo (FIDE) rating. The 30-year-old bagged the “$100,000 (over ₱5.5 million) runner-up prize for his biggest tournament earning this year,” pocketing an additional $1,000 (∼₱55,500)  for each match won.

So transitioned to the United States in 2013, following his frustrations surrounding the local sporting governing body. Following his gold medal at the 2013 World Universiade Games, the government denied him any bonuses, given the tournament was not sanctioned under the old RA No. 9644, otherwise known as the Athletes’ Incentives Act, guaranteeing monetary incentives to gold medalists.

“To be poor and unconnected in the Philippines is to be trash for rich people to step on…Because of a quarrel between the kings of the sports bodies, not only did the country refuse to acknowledge my efforts, they refused to give me the P1 million promised to athletes who bring home a gold medal,” he mentioned in an interview with Spin.ph. 

He was granted citizenship in 2021 and continues representing America through international tourneys.

Maxine Esteban’s unparalleled blade mastery

wesley so maxine esteban make waves away from home maxine esteban

Instagram: @themaxfactor

Maxine Esteban’s name has grown synonymous with household fencing greatness, evidenced by her command of the blade in the collegiate and international space in recent years. Now representing Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the former Southeast Asian Games medallist bested the International Handel Cup European U23 Circuit Championship last December 17, 2023, with hometown favorite Luca Sarah Holland-Cunz across the final piste.

The back-to-back University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) gold medalist rummaged through the competition, defeating Italian Larissa Evers, before trouncing the 19-year-old German in the finals, 15-13, after an attempted 13-9 comeback from Holland-Cunz.

Esteban’s narrative marks another athlete who pledged allegiance to a neighboring flag due to unannounced expulsion from the national roster “under the pretext of not participating in qualifiers, while others who skipped the qualifiers remained on the team.” The 23-year-old was heartbroken regarding the decision of her removal, subsequently siding with the West African nation as a stepping stone to her Olympic dreams.

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