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Meet the 9 male athletes giving their best shot for the Philippines’ next Olympic gold medal

By Johanna Añes-de la Cruz Published Jul 27, 2021 4:06 pm

The Philippine delegation to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is widely considered to be the most talent-rich in the history of the country’s participation in the event.

The hype is justified. Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won for the Philippines its first-ever gold medal on July 26. Apart from Diaz, we have podium finishers and champions in weightlifting, golf, pole vaulting, skateboarding, gymnastics and boxing.

Last week we featured the 10 women from our 19-strong team. Now, let’s get to meet our nine male athletes that are driven to clinch an Olympic medal.

Ej Obiena

Analysts believe that 25-year-old EJ Obiena is a prime contender for a medal after his stellar performance in a series of pre-Olympic tournaments, even breaking the national outdoor pole vault record, not once, not twice, but three times.

Despite battling an ACL injury before the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Malaysia, Obiena bounced back stronger than ever and took home the gold in the 2019 edition in front of the home crowd.

Obiena currently sits at the No. 6 spot in the World Athletics Men's Pole Vault Rankings, breaking into the Top 10 only last year. He has been based in Italy since 2014 to train under Vitaly Petrov, a pole vault legend and decorated coach, and 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz. In the Tokyo Olympics, he will face off against rivals Swedish-American Armand Duplantis and American Sam Kendricks.

Obiena will compete in the athletics—men’s pole vault on Saturday, July 31, at the Olympic Stadium.

Eumir Marcial

Boxer Eumir Marcial, the country’s male flag bearer, is one of the favorites to win a medal in the men's middleweight division at the Tokyo Olympics.

His disappointing appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympic qualifiers only motivated him to be even more focused on improving his game, punching his way medal after medal in several tournaments leading to the Olympics including a silver in the 2019 World Championships, a gold in the 2019 SEA Games, and a gold in the Tokyo 2020 Asia and Oceania Olympic qualifiers.

Marcial is mentored by none other than Freddie Roach, as well as by coaches from the Association of Boxing Alliances in the Philippines.

Marcial will compete in the boxing—men’s middleweight event on Wednesday, July 28, at the Kokugikan Arena

Carlos Yulo

The Philippines' first World Champion in gymnastics booked a ticket to the Olympics through his ranking in the individual all-around qualifiers; he claimed the historic world gold in the men’s floor exercises in 2019. In the 2019 SEA Games, Yulo emerged as the country’s most decorated athlete with two gold and five silver medals.

Yulo exited the floor event on July 24 and will see action in the vault on Monday, Aug. 2 at the Ariake Gymnastics Center.

Carlo Paalam

The youngest boxer in the Philippine contingent, Carlo Paalam opened his Olympic debut with a bang after outlasting two-time Olympian Brendan Irvine of Ireland, Sunday, July 26. The win, a 4-1 split decision, sends Paalam to the round of 16, where he will face Algeria's Mohamed Flissi, a three-time Olympian, on Saturday, July 31, at the Kokugikan Arena.

Paalam’s podium finishes in the SEA Games and Asian Games in recent years have turned him into one of the most exciting young boxers. Despite falling short in the continental qualifiers, his performance earned him a spot at the Olympics. At only 19 years old, Paalam bagged a 2018 Asian Games bronze and a gold in the 2019 SEA Games.

Cris Nievarez

The Philippines’ top rower Cris Nievarez's chances for an Olympic medal have been quashed after he missed out on a Top 3 finish in the Men's Single Sculls Quarterfinal held Sunday, July 25. He earned an outright berth to the quarterfinals after finishing third in his heat last Friday, July 23.

The 21-year-old Quezon native still has so much to be proud of after becoming the first Filipino rower to qualify for the Olympics in more than two decades since rowing legend Benjie Tolentino qualified in the 2000 Sydney Games. Nievarez won the 2019 SEA Games gold.

Juvic Pagunsan

At 43 years old, golfer Juvic Pagunsan is the “kuya” of Team Philippines. Pagunsan dominated the local golf scene in the early 2000s and came to the Tokyo Olympics fresh from winning the 2021 Mizuno Open title with a three-stroke margin.

He skipped the British Open and the chance to earn more for a shot at an Olympic medal. The former Asian Tour top earner has been playing in the professional Japan Golf Tour since 2012 and hopes his familiarity with the country and years of experience will work to his advantage.

Pagunsan will compete in the men’s golf event on Thursday, July 29, at the Kasumigaseki Golf Club.

Kurt Barbosa

22-year-old taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa had already bowed out of his Olympics journey after losing his opening match against taekwondo world champion Jun Jang from South Korea on Saturday, 24 July, and Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi from Tunisia in the semifinals later that day.

Barbosa is a rare rookie-MVP winner in the UAAP, awards he won for National University in 2018. In 2019, he started competing and training internationally in preparation for the SEA Games where he copped a gold. He also won a gold in the 2019 Asian Open and qualified for the Olympics through a gold medal win at the 2021 Asian Taekwondo Qualification Tournament.

Jayson Valdez

Shooter Jayson Valdez ended his Tokyo 2020 Olympic stint last Sunday, July 24, after he failed to qualify to the men's 10m air rifle shooting final.

Still, the 25-year-old bronze medalist in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games takes pride in being the first Filipino shooter to participate in the Olympics since Paul Brian Rosario in the 2012 London Games. He clinched an Olympic berth in the men’s 10-meter air rifle event through continental quota from the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF).

Luke Gebbie

Luke Gebbie is a name to watch out for in Philippine men’s swimming. He swam his way to an Olympic berth after tallying the highest number of FINA points in the Philippines with 828.

He surpassed the FINA B cut (22.67 seconds) when he recorded 22.57 seconds in the 2021 Australian Olympic Trials last June. The 24-year-old Filipino-Kiwi won a bronze medal in the 2019 SEA Games men's 50m freestyle event. He also holds the Philippine record of 49.94 seconds in the 100m freestyle, which he set during the 2019 World Championships.

Gebbie will be swimming in the men’s 100m freestyle on Tuesday, July 27, and 50m freestyle on Friday, July 30, at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.