Every four years, Barbosa would sit back with his parents to watch the biggest spectacle in sports: the Olympics.
“Nanonood lang po ako noon ng Olympics kasama ang parents ko.”
The Olympic experience had been nothing but a dream for Kurt Barbosa. Still, this did not stop him from dreaming that someday, somehow, he would step on the sporting world’s biggest stage as an athlete himself.
That day came when the final buzzer sounded at the Kempinski Hotel in Amman, Jordan, Saturday. It signaled his win over hometown bet Zaid Al-Hawani — and moreover, his ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in July later this year.
“Nagulat talaga ‘ko — nagsisigaw talaga ‘ko!” the 21-year-old described his first reaction.
“Tumakbo ‘ko kay coach [Caloy Padilla]. Ang gusto ko kasi matapos ‘yung gamjeom (penalties) niya, pero nanalo pa ‘ko sa points.”
That moment would not have been this sweet had it not been for the struggles Barbosa and the rest of the Philippine National Taekwondo Team suffered. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic not only pushed the Games out of schedule, it also halted their frequent trips to the national headquarters in Malate, Manila, to train.
For the young stalwart, it was a bitter pill to swallow following that successful debut at the Southeast Asian Games.
“Actually, umuwi po talaga ko sa province,” the Abra native then recalled.
“Pero kahit andoon, nag-train pa rin po ako. Kailangan ko pa rin mag-training, two times, three times a day. Kasi habit po siya talaga. Kapag hindi po ako nag-train, para po akong magkakasakit.”
Barbosa shared that being devoid of sparring training was tough. But he used his time after physical training to prepare his mind and his strategy going into that moment of truth.
“Nanood na lang ako ng mga laban ng mga makakalaban ko sa qualifying, ng mga laban ko, ng mga laban ng idol ko, para makabuo ako ng strategy,” the National University student-athlete shared.
Their qualification tournament moved several times, but the anxiety reached its height when the IATF had not yet given them the go signal to train in the bubble setup.
Come January, the task force finally gave the Olympic hopefuls the green light to train. Then with the qualification so near then, the Filipino jins — including Barbosa — wasted no time and buckled down to work.
“Na-excite po ako kasi ito na ‘yung inaantay namin,” he said.
“Pinaka-target ko talaga is ‘yung ticket. Kasi hindi naman nagpapakahirap sa training para sa wala. Naisip ko ‘yung pagpapakundisyon at ‘yung effort [sa training].”
The night before the big day, Barbosa even had the time to watch the play-in match between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA.
Wow Ja 🔥🔥
— KURT BARBOSA ✯ (@kurtesyyyyyy) May 22, 2021
The young athlete shared, “Ayaw ko lang kasi iniisip ‘yung laro. Gusto ko parang ordinary day lang, parang pupunta ko sa training kinabukasan. Tune-up lang. Para iwas rin sa pressure.”
Then when the time of the qualification came, it was all business for the UAAP Season 81 Rookie-MVP.
Barbosa used the momentum he gained against Mongolian’s Molom Tumenbayar, and carried it into the first round against Al-Hawani to lead at 14-11. However, the hometown hero had other plans, taking the 44-35 lead.
Barbosa and Padilla had to turn things around come the final round. That last huddle sounded like this, according to the Filipino jin.
“Pinag-usapan namin na kailangan nating magbago. Kasi nung first round, kami ‘yung umaatake eh. Nung second round, naunahan na kami. Kami dapat ‘yung laging nauuna; kami dapat ‘yung laging nasa loob.”
And Barbosa is well aware of another thing: “Ako, nasa isip ko rin ‘yung gamjeom niya.” The Jordanian had amassed seven penalties at this point; three more could have awarded the Filipino the win and all its perks.
What happened in that third round was a classic comeback.
“Basta gusto ko lang matapos ‘yung gamjeom niya kaya binanatan ko na lang siya. Nakikita ko rin kasi na medyo pagod na siya. Hindi ko napansin na dumidikit rin ako at nagamit ko pa ‘yung stamina ko.”
One kick. Two kicks. Then three. A fist pump. Buzzer sounded.
The younger Kurt would feel proud of the slightly more experienced Kurt since his older self saw his childhood dream fulfilled.
“After ng pagkakakuha ko ng medal ko, thankful talaga ko kay Lord,” the newly minted Olympian shared.
Barbosa had mixed emotions, however, despite the win and the Olympic spot. A feeling only a determined, competitive fighter would know and experience.
“Pero pinanood ko talaga ‘yung laban ko. Tinignan ko kung saan ako nagkamali, bakit ganun ‘yung nangyari. Masaya na malungkot kasi hindi ko alam kung bakit ako nalamangan ng ganun kalaki. Mahirap kasing maghabol ng ganun,” he said.
Make no mistake, though, Barbosa feels happy and proud of this achievement. He even thanked everyone through social media who sent him congratulatory messages. And he knows, this is just the start of another dream.
The 21-year-old feels unfazed with the star-studded competition in the men’s minus-58 kg class in Tokyo headed by world champion Jang Jun. He then even went as far as saying that he is targeting no less than the great Filipino dream.
“Target ko is ‘yung gold talaga,” Barbosa curtly said. The Philippines has yet to win a gold medal in the Summer Games.
“Lahat naman ng kalaban pwede mong matalo basta pag-aralan mo lang. Hindi ka naman nag-train para magpatalo.”
The reigning Southeast Asian Games champion has laid down his plans — starting with some active “rest.”
“Pagbibigyan ako ng isang week of rest, pag-aaralan ko ‘yung mga makakalaban ko. After one week, pukpok na naman kami sa training. Hanggang July na ‘yan or depende sa PTA.”
One dream fulfilled and a new dream has emerged for Barbosa. And he will not leave a stone unturned in trying to make it come true.