Gone too soon: Table tennis heroine Ian Lariba succumbs to leukemia at 23

September 3, 2018 - 4:24 PM
Ian Lariba, the Philippines' table tennis heroine, has passed away at the age of 23. (Artwork by Uela Altar-Badayos/Photo from International Table Tennis Foundation website)

The Philippines’ sports community woke up to news of the passing of Olympic table tennis player Ian Lariba, whose masterful career inspired athletes to aim for the world stage.

The 23-year old Lariba succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia early Monday, according to the Philippine Olympic Committee. She was admitted to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City after having to go through a five-day chemotherapy protocol in the previous weeks due to a relapse.

The sad news of her passing came just days after Filipina athletes led the Philippines to four gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games.

Tributes from fans, athletes and organizations have poured in since her passing.

The native of Cagayan de Oro first started playing table tennis at the age of nine, as an alternative to badminton, the sport she was initially interested in.

Her successes led her to land a spot in the De La Salle University varsity team. It was during her time as a Green Archer that she made a name for herself, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in Season 74 and picking up the Most Valuable Player plum in Seasons 75, 77 and 78.

She also won back-to-back UAAP Athlete of the Year Awards in Season 77 and 78, the highest honor in the league awarded to most dominant student athletes in any sport during the varsity season.

Her achievements at the collegiate level led to be chosen to represent the Philippines in table tennis in the 2013 and 2015 Southeast Asian Games, and later as the country’s first ever female representative in table tennis at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

She was expected to aim for the 2018 Asian Games and a return to the Olympics in 2020 following her olympic stint, but her diagnosis in May 2017 dimmed the hope of her return to international competition.