A Filipino of compact proportions but colossal talent and courage is king of the gymnastics world.
Carlos Edriel Yulo came through with a performance to remember in the floor exercise to capture a historic first gold medal for the country in the 49th FIG World Artistic Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Saturday night.
Performing second to last among eight finalists, the 19-year-old Yulo was both breathtaking and flawless in exquisite routines to tally 15.300 points, ahead by the slimmest of margins of top qualifiers and Olympian Artem Dolgopyat of Israel (15.200) and multiple world champion Xiao Routeng of China (14.933).
With dizzying multiple twists and aerial acrobatics, he scored 8.800 in execution with a 6.500 degree of difficulty – the highest level among the competitors.
Raising the degree of difficulty from 6.2 paid off for Yulo as he became the first Filipino world champion in the discipline.
For the first time, the Philippine national anthem was played in the world gymnastics stage after Yulo’s historic feat Saturday night.
This was not lost on netizens, who followed Yulo’s path to greatness in earning for the Philippines a gold medal.
The “Lupang Hinirang” became one of the hottest topics online, with many netizens saying that they felt goose bumps while hearing it being played on the global stage.
It was the first time that the Philippines won gold in the gymnastics world championship.
“Ma, naka-gold ako,” the 19-year-old gymnast said when asked by foreign media what his message was to his mother. This message quickly went viral, especially among Filipino netizens.
Yulo actually made his Stuttgart stint more memorable after he qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics several days earlier. He will be joining Filipino pole vaulter EJ Obiena in the quadrennial games.
He is also set to compete in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) which will be held in the country late this year.
Yulo already made history in his debut appearance in Doha, Qatar, last year after becoming the first Filipino and male Southeast Asian gymnast to win a medal at the World Championships with a bronze in the same event.
It wasn’t enough for the diminutive dynamo.
“Actually last year, I was looking at my medal and I was like, ‘I will get the gold medal next year,’” Yulo said in a television interview with the Olympic Channel.
“(Winning the gold right now), it’s ridiculous. I don’t know.”
The 4-foot-11 Yulo, whose humble beginnings started at local multisport grassroots tournaments like the Batang Pinoy and Palarong Pambansa, had already punched a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last Friday in the men’s all-around – the second Filipino to do so next to pole vaulter EJ Obiena.
He placed 10th in the event against almost the same cast he faced in the floor exercise including eventual all-around champion Nikita Nagornny and silver winner Artur Dalaloyan, both from Russia.
Dalaloyan and Nagornny settled for fourth and sixth in the floor exercise.
Now qualified in two events – men’s all-around and floor exercise – Yulo could end the country’s Olympic gold-medal drought.
He is now also a frontrunner for the Athlete of the Year award, the highest honor given by the Philippine Sportswriters Association, the oldest and longest running sports organization in the country.
Philippine Sports Commission Chairman Butch Ramirez lauded Yulo’s feat in a statement released shortly after his victory.
“We are all thrilled with the golden performance of Caloy (Yulo’s nickname) in the world champs,” he said.
“The President is happy. Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Sen. Bong Go have been in touch, monitoring the competition. The Office of the President and the PSC family congratulate Caloy on this achievement. Mabuhay ang atletang Pilipino!”
Ramirez said they are arranging a hero’s welcome for Yulo on his arrival on Tuesday, including bringing him to Malacañang.
A cash incentive is also being finalized.
The PSC funded Yulo’s trip and supported his extensive training in Japan for the last three years.
Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya has been supervising his training for over six years, forging him into a world-class athlete.
In earlier interviews, Yulo said he is reluctant to leave Manila for Tokyo at barely 16 years old.
“I talked to my mom and she told me it was better to go there and train with coach Mune (Kugimiya). So I went,” he said.
“I was a shy kid then and there was the problem of communication. It was a bit hard since I was alone.”
Now fluent in Japanese, Yulo juggles training and studying at the prestigious Teikyo University under a scholarship program.
Gymnastics Association of the Philippines President Cynthia Carrion said it was a collective effort that enabled Yulo to train abroad. She took him under the association’s wings when he was seven after showing promise in the Palarong Pambansa representing Doña Aurora Quezon Elementary School in Manila.
His journey to where he is at the moment wasn’t smooth. At the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, Yulo topped the men’s floor exercise qualifiers but fell out of medal contention with two failed landings in his routine to settle for seventh out of eight finalists. He also fell short in the vault and placed fourth.
The loss did not discourage him as he moved on and set his sights on other competitions.
Last February, he clinched the floor exercise gold in the first leg of the FIG Apparatus World cup in Melbourne, Australia, and then pocketed the bronze in the second leg of the event in Doha.
The rest is gold medal history.
Yulo’s victory is expected to boost the popularity of gymnastics in the country, with next year’s Tokyo Games serving as the ultimate high with a Filipino boy wonder coming in as world champion.