Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Hawaii athletes
made an impact

With the year coming to a close in 10 days, I was thinking of how many athletes from Hawaii made breakthroughs on the national and international level in 1999.

Everybody is happy that former Rainbow Anthony Carter cracked the Miami Heat lineup and that June Jones won national acclaim for engineering an incredible turnaround with the football program.

But I'm referring to the locally raised athletes. The ones who've savored li hing mui and worn rubber slippers.

It occurred to me this has been a very good year for them.

I started thinking on the subject while I watched Waipahu's 106-pound Brian Viloria dominate a Puerto Rican boxer in a Las Vegas amateur bout on ESPN2 last week.

Viloria is going to become the first Olympic boxer from Hawaii since 1956 when the Sydney games get under way next summer.

And he is the odds-on favorite to take gold as a light flyweight or flyweight.

Viloria made his breakthrough in winning at the World Amateur Boxing Championships this year, beating 1996 Olympic flyweight gold medalist Maikro Romero of Cuba in the final.

Cal freshman running back Joe Igber, who grew up in Palolo and played for Iolani, established himself as an exciting college player to be watched over the next three years. He rushed for over 100 yards in three consecutive games (vs. BYU, UCLA, and Washington) before being slowed by a shoulder injury.

There was Punahou senior Victoria Chang, a 3.99 GPA student who stunned everyone by winning the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championship on Dec. 11.

This young woman drew national notice more times than she can count in 1999.

It started with her running three of the nation's fastest 3,000-meter prep times on the track last spring. It continued with her win at the prestigious Golden West Invitational, a silver medal at the USATF Nationals and a bronze at the Pan Am Junior championships.

Now she is the most sought-after female runner Hawaii has ever produced.

Waianae's Fiamalu Penitani, who didn't even know very much about sumo when I met him in 1989, ascended to the sport's highest level this year.

Penitani, known as Musashimaru, became only the second foreign-born yokozuna in Japanese history.

When another Waipahu alumnus, right-handed pitcher Jerome Williams, was selected 39th overall by the San Francisco Giants on June 2 in baseball's amateur draft, he became the highest drafted local baseball player ever.

Then we had Benny Agbayani, proving that a local boy can indeed knock the horsehide into the seats at Shea Stadium, and threaten to become a household name in the Big Apple.

How about former St. Louis School star Olin Kreutz winning the Chicago Bears' starting job at center in only his second season and being compared already to five-time Pro Bowler Mark Stepnoski?

I'm scratching my fat head trying to recall other homegrown products who won respect for Hawaii on a national or international scale this year. There might be others.

But expect the ones I named to continue making an impact in 2000.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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