AS he stepped inside the Ariake Gymnastics Center inside the Olympic bubble in Tokyo, 21-year-old Carlos Yulo manifested a vision Filipino gymnasts could only dream of.
It was an ambition 53 years in the making, with the charismatic kid from Leveriza being the first Filipino gymnast in the Summer Games since Norman Henson and Ernesto Beren took the mat in the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Regardless of the finish Caloy had — coming in fourth in the vault final while failing to secure a spot in the top eight of his pet event floor exercise, where he was hailed a world champion in 2019 — the Philippine gymnastics community is filled with gratitude with Yulo's showcase, proud to see the country well represented in the international stage.
“As a gymnast, I used to always think that Olympics was an impossible dream,” Erin Evangelista, a former national team member and Caloy’s friend, told SPIN Life. "But now that I have witnessed my former teammate compete there, it now seems [achievable]."
She added: “I want people to be able to see more than just his performance. To go deeper into all the sacrifices he made to be able to reach that point that not everyone can do.”
Caloy's fellow gymnasts rightfully defended him, insisting that the 21-year-old gave so much more than what was seen on the mats. And they want that to be seen as well.
Beyond the mats for Caloy Yulo
"His performance didn’t justify his preparation. In fact, it’s not even close to what we know he’s capable of doing. The sport is difficult and unforgiving. Everyone has their bad days, and [out there], you only get once chance to prove yourself,” said gymnastics coach Eunice Evangelista, who is Caloy’s former teammate in the national team.
Yana Hermoso, also a former national team member, weighed in. “From mental preparation, nutrition, and sacrificing so much of one’s time with family and friends, the discipline of one gymnast goes beyond the mats,” she said.
She continued: “There is definitely more behind the tape on the ankles of the athletes and the smiles and tears on their faces. These [setbacks] don’t encapsulate how difficult it is.”
Born with it
From the good ol’ Palarong Pambansa to a number of overseas tournaments, Evangelista bore witness to Caloy’s hardwork.
“Even when he was a little kid, you could already see the potential he had. He listens to his coaches all the time and applies everything that is being told to him,” Evangelista, a Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) and Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG) Brevet judge added.
Also a WAG former national team member, Raya Nazario, attested to that talent Caloy has always had.
“Since he was younger than most of us on the women’s team, we would often call him the team’s baby boy. Caloy has always been a natural talent, learning skills quicker than almost anyone and executing them with great form and style,” she said.
Gymnastics Association of the Philippines committee member Linzi Arellano-Co, also a WAG and FIG Brevet judge, also shared how she saw Caloy flourish into an Olympian.
“Caloy as a gymnast, even as a child, was already a standout. He had higher level skills than most kids his age. During competitions, it seemed like he always had a bigger goal or target he was aiming for,” she said.
For Arellano-Co, the mere fact that Yulo made it overseas from a country where support for the sport remained modest is already an achievement in itself.
Caloy puts the sport in the radar
“Gymnastics is not a cheap sport. Unlike powerhouse countries where it is almost a shoo-in that they can qualify a team or athletes to the Olympics, we had to go through the eye of the needle to be able to qualify and to come in as the reigning world champion. But we all have good days and bad,” she added.
Nazario explained that growing up in the sport, their days are pretty much spent inside the gym on top of the mats.
“A lot of sacrifice must be made to excel in a sport like gymnastics. Usually, gymnasts start training from a very young age. We used to skip many hangouts with friends, family events, and other things a normal kid would do, just to train. Caloy sacrificed a lot,” she said.
Coach Rafael Ablaza of the men’s artistic gymnastics national team insists that highs and lows like these are part of the process.
“Preparation takes time and it requires a lot of effort and patience. High-level athletes also fall. Things like this is normal. We just need to accept that it happens in the competition,” he said.
Moreover, Ma. Cristina Onofre Loberanes, a WAG national team member for 15 years, pointed out that the journey has only just begun for Caloy.
It only gets better from here.
“Kung ano man ‘yung nangyari nung araw ng competition niya ay dumadating talaga sa buhay ng isang manlalaro ‘yun. Bata pa si Caloy and I know sa susunod na Olympics, makakamit niya ‘yung medalyang para sa kanya,” she said.
Quest continues for Caloy
While his journey is already a golden moment for the Philippine gymnastics, Caloy vows he’s working his way back to prove himself to the world.
“Babalik po akong malakas,” he promised on a social media post he wrote after his stint.
Behind him is the fiery gymnastics community and Hidilyn Diaz, who herself, took four appearances in the quadrennial showpiece to bring home the country’s first gold.
Diaz said: “Babalik ka at maraming medal mai-uuwi mo. Tiwala kami sayo.”
And no one could tell them otherwise.
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