Caloy Yulo is again the talk of the town following an incredible performance in the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Doha last week.
The 18-year-old wunderkind made history when he became the first and the youngest Filipino to land in the medal podium of the prestigious tournament.
He scooped the bronze medal in his pet routine — floor exercise — to somehow avenge his blunder in the rings event that gravely affected his performance in the overall finals.
Yulo’s journey to become a topnotch gymnast is one for the books.
He was merely eight-years old when he and his grandfather took a short jeepney ride from their residence in Leveriza, Pasay City to the gymnastics hall of Rizal Memorial Sports Complex so he can try the sport.
He worked his way up until he emerged as the top athlete in the Palarong Pambansa and Philippine National Games and eventually became part of the national team.
Right now, he is already armed with vast international experience after seeing action in the FIG World Cup in Melbourne, Baku and Doha aside from the Asian Games in Jakarta two months ago.
He is also an Olympic Solidarity scholar that allows him to train in Japan under the watchful eyes of Munehiro Kugimiya, a former member of the Japanese national team and a licensed international judge.
His next stop would be in the Cottbus World Cup in Germany from 22 to 25 November, where top gymnasts from all over the world will see action to fan their respective bids for slots in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
In Jakarta, talks were pregnant that Yulo was headed for a golden finish.
He has yet to make his first routine in the finals, but Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion was already planning his victory party, prompting sportswriters to plot a fitting lede to what could have been a feel-good, rags-to-riches story.
One of the storylines looked at was that if he won the crown, he would have been the youngest Filipino gold-medal winner since the 17-year-old Lydia de Vega won the mint in the track and field competition of the New Delhi Asian Games in 1982.
Though he topped the floor exercise, his efforts in six other routines, including horizontal bar, parallel bars, rings and pommel horse, were far from spectacular as he landed eighth behind powerhouse countries like Japan and China.
Still, Carrion talked like the gold medal was already in the bag.
“He didn’t want to show everything. He’s still hiding something. But in the finals, expect him to give his 100 percent,” said Carrion.
“That’s the time he’s going to show it off. That’s the time his going to give his all and you will see the real Caloy Yulo.”
The soft-spoken Yulo, within an earshot away, bowed his head and humbly said: “I’m not promising anything. I will just give my all and hope for the best.”
True enough, the grand coronation Carrion anticipated did not come.Yulo bombed out of the medal podium as older and more seasoned gymnasts from South Korea, Chinese Taipei and China stole the show, leaving the shy teenager politely evading further questions.
It was obvious he felt pressure from Carrion.
Carrion humbly admitted she did.
“He was so nervous during the Asian Games. I don’t know if it was pressure or what,” she said. “He said that was his first Asian Games and he didn’t know what to expect.”
Carrion learned her lesson, apparently.
In the Doha meet, she pulled Yulo aside to tell him that he should compete with a smile, with happiness, without any pressure because the mere fact that he was there was a major achievement.
She added that he was already the No. 12 gymnast in the world and there’s already no stopping him from barging into the Olympics — regardless of the outcome of his performance.
And the poor boy from Leveriza responded with a performance of a lifetime.
“No pressure — none at all,” said Carrion.
“Well, he’s such a young boy. I just told him to go there compete, but don’t forget to have some fun. He already ranks No. 12 in the world. He would be in the Olympics no matter what. He shouldn’t get nervous.”
This episode should serve as a lesson to other national sports associations (NSA).
Instead of instilling a win-at-all cost mentality, coaches, managers and NSA executives should embrace their athletes with assurance of their support.
Most of our national athletes are like Yulo.
They are young at heart who are playing not for fame or fortune but for the country’s pride.
Hidilyn Diaz was also a 17-year-old provinciana from Zamboanga when she made her Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008 while Mansueto Velasco was just 20 when he won the gold in the Hiroshima Asian Games.
Only if top sports officials would treat their athletes like precious gems and lift the pressure off their shoulders in major international competitions, then we can surely produce a lot of achievers like Caloy Yulo.
After all, athletes are the reflection of how sports leaders manage their respective federations.