Youth movement


There is a revolution brewing in Philippine sports.

The young guns who made their presence felt in last year’s 18th Asian Games are now tipped to carry the torch for the Filipinos in the Tokyo Olympics.

I’m not saying that everything is already cast but with the way these rising stars are performing, it won’t be surprising if the country’s long quest for an Olympic gold will finally end — either in 2020 or 2024.

Topping the list of Olympic hopefuls is 22-year old Kiyomi Watanabe.

The Filipino-Japanese judoka from Cebu recently climbed to No. 13 in the world ranking system of the International Judo Federation (IJF), putting her in a perfect position to clinch an Olympic slot.

Ahead of her in the world ranking system of the women’s -63kg class are three Japanese judokas in her Asian Games tormentor Nami Nabekura at No. 3, Miku Tashiro at No. 5 and Aimi Nouchi at No. 11.

There are also two Slovenians outside the top 12 in Tina Trstenjak at No. 2 and Andreja Leski at No. 6.

Here’s the catch, though: Since Japan will host the Summer Games, the Japanese were given automatic slots while only one of the two Slovenians will qualify in that particular weight class, giving Watanabe a handsome chance of further climbing the ranking and making the cut.

“The top 24 judokas in every weight category will be given slots in the Tokyo Olympics,” Philippine Judo Federation Dave Carter reported.

“So far, Kiyomi is at No. 13 and would further climb in the ranking if they remove two Japanese and a Slovenian ahead of her. I can say that she has about 60 to 70 percent chance of making it.”

Watanabe, who saw action in the World Judo Masters where only the top 16 judokas in the world were given an invite, will campaign in the Paris Grand Slam as well as in the Oberwart European Championship in Austria and Dusseldorf Grand Slam in Germany in February to further hike her ranking.

“She has to keep on competing to gain ranking points,” Carter said. “So far, so good. We like where we are right now with still two years left before the Olympics.”

Carter added that 17-year-old Mariya Takahashi as well as brothers Shugen and Keisei Nakano are also eyeing to take the path Watanabe is trekking.

“The Nakano brothers are actively competing,” he said. “On the other hand, I will talk to Mariya’s Japanese teachers in the next few weeks so they will allow her to compete and gain ranking points for the Olympics.”

Another young athlete making a strong bid for an Olympic slot is Caloy Yulo.

The 18-year-old gymnast is currently at No. 3 in the individual apparatus world ranking of the International Gymnastics Federation following a victorious season that was highlighted by a bronze medal in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Dubai last November.

“I’ve never seen a boy so focused and passionate about the sport,” said Philippine Gymnastics Federation president Cynthia Carrion following Yulo’s feat that made him the first Southeast Asian to claim a medal in the prestigious tilt.

“I’m excited over what the future holds for him. He will definitely go far,” she said.

Also, 17-year-old Yuka Saso and 21-year-old Bianca Pagdanganan — the heroines of the previous Asian Games — are also on track of clinching Olympic spots as they continue to make waves in the international stage.

Another Asian Games golden girl in 19-year-old Margielyn Didal is also set to draw valuable ranking points for the Olympics when she competes in the Street League Skateboarding Pro Championships in Rio de Janeiro from 11 to 13 January.

She’s now in the United States with fellow competitor in 21-year-old Filipino-American Christiana Means to train for the prestigious meet.

If all these young guns, together with a pair of athletes from mandatory sports swimming and athletics, a team in 3×3 basketball and maybe a couple more from sports like taekwondo, boxing, shooting and fencing, will all make the cut, the country would parade a very promising contingent in the Summer Games.

Again, they may not win the gold in 2020, but at least they have a fighting chance when they enter their respective primes in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Hidilyn Diaz was just 17 when she started competing in the Olympics while Mansueto Velasco was 20 when he reaped Asian Games glory.

With this youth movement going on in Philippine sports, the future definitely looks bright.

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