Changing of the guard

“The changing of the guard with the rise of new stars among our national athletes is something worth cheering for.

The 32nd Southeast Asian Games delivered a glimpse of the future of Philippine sports.

New heroes have emerged and contributed the bulk of the 58 gold medals in the biennial meet that came to a close last Wednesday at the Morodok Techo National Stadium in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The star of the show, of course, was Carlos Yulo, who wrapped up his stint with two gold and two silver medals in the gymnastics competition.

The Japan-trained Yulo, who sees gymnastics as his only ticket out of poverty, dazzled his way to triumphant performances in the men’s artistic all-around and parallel bars events topped with silver medal finishes in team and still rings events to emerge as the most successful athlete in the Games.

He could have won more had the Cambodian organizers not limited his number of events in a bid to prevent the Philippines and other countries from jacking up their gold-medal production.

But the number of medals that he won was not the real story.

The most important thing is the fact that he is just 23 years old with a lot of good years ahead of him.

Sure, he botched his chances as a 21-year-old boy during the Tokyo Olympics, but he will soon get his flowers when he sees action in the Summer Games in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles in 2028.

In between, he is expected to draw a lot of honors in the Asian Games this year and in 2026 as well as in the SEA Games in 2025 and 2027.

But Yulo wasn’t the only athlete who sparked a youth movement in the previous biennial meet.

His teammates — Miguel Besana and Ivan Cruz — also made a lot of heads turn as they clinched gold medals despite competing against older, more seasoned foes.

Besana may be just 19, but he already displayed tremendous talent, maturity, and grace under pressure when he ruled the men’s artistic vault event.


Cruz, on the other hand, is a 21-year-old dynamo who broke down in tears after emerging victorious in the men’s artistic floor exercise event, saying that he will use the cash incentives that he won to send his six other siblings to school.

The future also looks bright in weightlifting.

Vanessa Sarno and Elreen have proven that they have what it takes to replace Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz as the queen of Philippine weightlifting.

At 19 years old, Sarno is already one of the most feared lifters in the region after ruling the women’s 71-kilogram class while the 24-year-old Ando reigned supreme in the women’s 59-kg class — the same weight class where Diaz wants to see action in the Paris Olympics.

Diaz didn’t compete in the SEA Games as she focused on gaining Olympic points from the 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships, but with the way things had gone, it appears that the weightlifters’ campaign in the Paris Summer Games is already in good hands.

A lot of rising stars also surfaced in swimming.

A 17-year-old Filipino-American by the name of Teia Salvino announced his arrival with a bang as she ruled the women’s 100-meter backstroke event in record-breaking fashion.

The California-based Salvino, who is set to join the University of Alabama, clocked one minute and 1.64 seconds to shatter the SEA Games record of 1:01.89 mark notched by Nguyen Thi Anh Vien of Vietnam in 2019 as well as the national record of 24-year-old Chloe Isleta of 1:02.70 also in 2019.

With Salvino, together with 22-year-old Filipino-Canadian Kayla Sanchez who will join the national squad starting the Asian Games this September, at the helm, the Filipino swimmers are set to regain their glory in the international arena.

Other young guns who delivered for Team Philippines were 24-year-old Jamie Lim of karate, 24-year-old Agatha Wong of wushu, 24-year-old Carlo Paalam of boxing, and 24-year-old Umajesty Williams of athletics as well as 23-year-old Kurt Barbosa and 23-year-old Patrick King Perez of taekwondo, who are tipped to fill the void that will be created by the looming retirement of Samuel Morrison and Kirstie Alora.

The celebrated Gilas Pilipinas was also sprinkled with a lot of promise as collegiate stars Mason Amos of Ateneo de Manila University, Mike Phillips of De La Salle University, and Jerom Lastimosa of Adamson University played key roles in helping it reclaim the gold medal.

Indeed, there’s a lot to celebrate after Team Philippines delivered an impressive performance to finish fifth in the previous SEA Games.

Again, the number of gold medals hardly matters.

The changing of the guard with the rise of new stars among our national athletes is something worth cheering for. With the young blood making their presence felt this early, we can be assured of strong performances in the years to come.

Philippine sports is in good hands.

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