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The making of Pinoy gymnast Carlos Yulo

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 14, 2021 5:00 am

Still high after the best-ever performance of Pinoy athletes in the Tokyo Olympics, Cynthia Carrion-Norton, president of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP), talks about wonder boy Carlos “Caloy” Yulo and how he has inspired the youth to take up the sports of gymnastics.

Caloy has been living, studying and training in Japan for the last four years. He is expected to earn a degree in Sports Science next year from Teikyo University. He is competing in the Japan Championships this month and also the World Championship next month.

Inspired by his international success and the growing interest in gymnastics, Cynthia relocated the gymnastics training center to a 2,000-square-meter facility in Intramuros. It will have a complete set of gym equipment for men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics.

 THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How did Carlos Yulo start his athletic career?

CYNTHIA CARRION-NORTON: I saw, in his very early stages at the gym, his passion for and dedication to the sport. I asked him to join Batang Pinoy (athletes under 12 years old). He was excited and trained for it. I noticed he won all the gold medals so I asked him to join the Paralong Pambansa and, again, he won all the gold medals.

Munehiro Kugijima and  Carlos Yulo

That was when I knew I had a very serious winner. I decided to hire a foreign coach from Japan, Munehiro Kugijima.

At that time, no one wanted to pay for the coach, until I found the Philippine Good Works Mission Foundation who agreed to pay for the coach fee for one year.

Then the coach approached me, saying he needed to bring Caloy to the Junior World Championship in Russia. I hesitated as I wondered if he was ready to compete with the world, even if only in the Junior category, but the coach convinced me that Caloy needed exposure to improve.

So I had to again raise some funds as, at that time, it was hard to raise money for a sport that no one believed we could excel in. Caloy went and I was astounded when he won a bronze medal out of 120 participating countries. Russia was first (gold), China was second (silver), and the Philippines won bronze.

From then on, I knew we had a winner in our midst!

I worked hard to raise funds to send him and his coach to Japan for training. As the newly elected president of the Federation was Japanese, he helped me get a training center in Japan, where all his medalists trained. Fortunately — and we will forever be grateful — the MVP Sports Foundation sponsored Caloy’s training in Japan.

Surely, all that training and exposure in international competitions helped him excel, right?

He kept up his winning streak. He won the gold medal in Stuutgard, Germany where he competed with 160 countries to qualify for the Olympics. Caloy also owns several medals in the Southeast Asian Games. He has two golds and six silvers. No one has ever won that many medals.

He lost the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics by the skin of his teeth, as he was physically ready, but not mentally ready. It was his very first Olympics! If I was nervous, I can imagine how he felt! But we have the 2024 Paris Olympics to look forward to, as well as the 2022 Vietnam SEA Games, plus the 2022 Asian Games in China.

 Caloy Yulo with Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion-Norton

Has Caloy inspired more young people to take up gymnastics?

Caloy has inspired so many young athletes who want to be like him. We saw about a 50-percent increase in those interested in the sport. Being president of GAP for 10 years, I can spot those who have the talent for the international stage. All we need is good coaching, financial backing, and a good world-class training center.

Being physically fit is of utmost importance for all athletes. With this pandemic, it’s been so hard to ensure that our young athletes continue with their training. In gymnastics, one week of no training will make you feel like a beginner again.