The Legend of Gretchen Malalad
By Eddie Alinea
Mon, 15 Oct 2018
For nearly a decade, she was the most recognizable silhouette on the Asian sporting arenas. The most feared karateka in Southeast Asia. One of the most dominant force in Asia. Always the one to beat.
Gretchen Malalad was a Karate blackbelt, who won 20 Gold medals in international competitions this part of the world and even in Europe and the US as a member of the national team for eight years.
Malalad was the Philippine’ lone gold medal winner in the 60-kilogram kumite event in her discipline in the 2001 and 2003 SEA Games and one of the three in 2005 when the biennial Games were held in the country.
She was to her sport where Lydia de Vega was to athletics, Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski to equestrian and Bong Coo to bowling.
She with a beautiful face who stands 5-foot-7, was a former beauty pageant contestant in Binibining Pilipinas 2002 where she emerged Ms. Talent and Ms. Red Bull Supreme.
Ge, as she is fondly called, started fighting at age 16, inspired by elder brother Tyrone and younger sibling Jean who had earlier enrolled in a karate school.
Top photo: Gretchen Malalad working as a journalist.
Gretchen (R) in one of her competitions.
Gretchen as a restaurateur.
"Lagi ko silang nakikitang nage-ensayo sa bahay. Nagustuhan ko kapag sumisipa sila kaya na-enganyo akong maglaro din (I always saw them practicing at home. Kicking each other) so I took the sport, too,” Gretch recalled.
Born on January 10, 1980, Gretchen was a big baby at 9.5 pounds at birth. The second in a brood of three to businessman Peter Malalad and Maricel, Gretchen grew playing with boys although she denied being a tomboy.
“I was very athletic, but a very quiet child,” she swore. “After I took up karate, I started joining local tournaments. I like competitions. I like winning.”
“I was the National Open champion in 1996. In 1999. After only four years in the sport, I earned a slot in the Philippine team. I was very proud of myself. It’s different pala carrying the country’s flag in international competitions. Not every athlete is given the chance to compete for the country.”
She got her first taste of international competitions in that year’s Southeast Asian Games held in Brunei. She was a member of the national team in team kumite event.
“We won over Singapore in our first assignment but lost the second. We only settled for the bronze medal,” she narrated. “Devastated kami. Me, especially. After that initial setback, I worked hard to bounce back. I promised myself that things would be different the next time.”
That next time came barely a month later in a higher Asian level conclave, in Singapore where she took home a pair of bronze medals in the open weight category and in the 60-kilogram discipline. But she still starved for one particular piece of software – a SEA Games gold medal. But that had to wait for two years.
True to her vow, Gretch to sportswriter friends, buckled down to work upon arrival from Singapore. Meanwhile, she, too, had to work on her study at the University of Santo Tomas where she pursue an AB Communications Art degree that needed a strict disciplined time management.
So, she had to wake up early in the morning to catch school from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. then train from 3 p.m. on up to early evening, A year before the 2001 SEA Games in Malaysia, she graduated and started working as sportswriter cum sports editor for the Pinoycentral.com.
Ten months later, she learned that working and training was more tedious than studying and training. She quit her job wanting to prepare for the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games full-time.
“I didn’t want a life that was all karate. I love my job, but I also want to win that elusive gold medal,” she told this writer. Gretch, thus, begun living the life of a full-time athlete, training daily for a measly P8,000 allowance a month as a non-elite athlete. Parents Peter and Maricel as well as brothers Tyrone and Jean threw their full support for her to achieve her goal.
Their sacrifices were rewarded as Gretch emerged the lone gold medal winner in karate in that 21st edition of the biennial conclave as she beat all who came her way in the 60-kilogram individual event.
Having achieved what she had dreamed for a long time, Malalad didn’t stop from there. There was still the 2002 Asia Game in Busan and another SEA Games the following year in Hanoi where she was to defend her title. After a few weeks’ respite, she was back in the gym in what seemed a never-ending preparations.
She settled for a bronze medal in the Busan Asiad, successfully defended her SEA Games crown in Vietnam and, again buckled down to work upon returning home for the 2005 SEA Games in Manila where she and the rest of the national contingent gifted the country its first overall championship since joining the SEA Games aggrupation in 1977.
Ge continued playing for the flag after that and even completed a 20-gold harvest in her 11-year athletic career when she ruled the 2006 Korean Grand Open in Busan in what more than made up for her bronze medal she also brought home in the Asian Games four years earlier.
Like any other athlete, Gretchen also dreamt of becoming the first Filipino to bring home an Olympic gold medal but that dream remained just that. An MCL injury, a sprain or tear to the medical collateral ligament suffered in 2007 cut short her career. She retired at age 27.
Now 38 and still single, Gretchen became a fitness teacher in ABS-CBN's Pinoy Dream Academy. She was a field reporter for ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs from 2006 to 2013. She worked as a broadcast journalist for Reuters in Shanghai in 2015. She currently works as a freelance journalist in the Philippines, collaborating regularly with Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera.
In 2004. Malalad worked as a courtside reporter for ABC Sports' (now Sports 5's) coverage of the PBA games. Prior to that, she worked in the Philippine Basketball League as an in-house courtside reporter for a brief period. Malalad holds a MS from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in the city of New York class of 2014.
Malalad holds a MS from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in the city of New York class of 2014.
Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.
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