Unless somebody comes up with an incredible performance, Carlos Yulo is tipped to emerge as the Most Outstanding Male Athlete of the 31st Southeast Asian Games.
Chief of mission Ramon Fernandez yesterday confirmed to Daily Tribune that the 22-year-old pride of Manila is a strong contender for the prestigious award after plucking five gold and two silver medals in the men’s artistic gymnastics event of the biennial meet in Hanoi.
Yulo, who has been training under the guidance of Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya in Tokyo, cornered the gold medals in the individual all-around, floor exercise, rings, vault and horizontal bar apparatuses while settling for the silver medal in parallel bars.
Then, he led the squad composed of Jan Gwynn Timbang, Juancho Miguel Besana, John Ivan Cruz, Justine Ace De Leon and John Matthew Vergara to a silver medal behind the host country in team event.
Yulo’s feat is the best ever achievement done by any Filipino athlete in the biennial meet.
Prior to the Hanoi meet, Rolando Albuera holds the distinction of being the best Filipino gymnast after clinching five gold medals in the 1979 SEA Games in Jakarta.
Former Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairperson and newly-elected Batangas Congressman Eric Buhain, for his part, is regarded as the best Filipino athlete in the SEA Games after winning five gold medals in the swimming competition of the 1991 Manila meet.
The last Filipino to emerge as SEA Games Most Outstanding male athlete, however, was Miguel Molina, who scooped four gold and a silver medal in the 24th biennial meet in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand in 2007.
Fernandez said if Yulo will emerge with the Most Valuable Player award, it’s going to be a big honor, not only for himself, but also for the entire country, which is just a year removed from winning its fist gold medal in the Olympics.
“If ever Caloy will be chosen as the Most Outstanding Male Athlete, it’s going to be a very big honor,” said Fernandez, who was at the sidelines when Yulo was rewriting Philippine sports history late Monday at the Quan Ngua Sports Palace.
“We haven’t had an outstanding player in the SEA Games in quite a while so being a contender is already a huge honor not only for us, but for the entire country as well.”
Yulo, however, is tipped to meet a stiff challenge before emerging as Hanoi’s best.
Quah Zheng Wen, Singapore’s 25-year-old swimming dynamo, also made a huge splash after cornering five gold, one silver and one bronze medal over at the My Dinh Aquatic Center.
Quah’s feat is way below his achievement in the Clark SEA Games in 2019, where he claimed six gold and two silver medals to win the Most Valuable Player title, but it was still a dominant performance for a Singaporean side that fail to draw a superb performance from its first Olympic gold medalist in Joseph Schooling.
A University of California Berkely alum, Quah sourced his gold medals from 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter backstroke, 100-meter backstroke, 4×100-meter freestyle relay and 4×100-meter medley relay.
Then, he copped the silver from 100-meter butterfly and bronze from 4×200-meter freestyle relay.
But Malaysian gymnastics coach Ng Shu Liang wouldn’t be surprised if the Filipino schola from Teikyo University gains the nod of the SEA Games selection committee.
“That guy is on a whole new level. Our gymnasts recorded 75 points, but he alone scored more than 85,” Ng told The Star, a Malaysian news portal, after witnessing Yulo in action.
“It is hard to catch up to him now. He is just on another level. As a coach, I have to salute the growth he has shown and I am sure my boys would want to emulate hm.”
Fernandez agrees, saying that he had personally witnessed how Yulo converted the hard work, dedication and perseverance into athletic success.
“I have witnessed Caloy’s hard work and dedication,” he said. “If he gets feted as the Most Outstanding athlete, I can say that he truly deserves it.”