Over three years ago, Caloy Yulo reluctantly left Manila for Tokyo to continue his intensive training under Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya.
When Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion — who took in the young boy at the age of seven as a GAP protégé due to his precocious talent — asked Yulo if he was willing to go, his response was that he would talk it over with his parents.
“I talked to my mom (Angelika) and she told it was better to go there and train with coach Mune (Kugimiya’s nickname) So I went,” recalled the gymnast, who was barely 16 then at that time, of the daunting prospect of living as a stranger in the Land of the Rising Sun.
“I was a shy kid then, and there was the problem of communication. It was a bit hard since I was alone,” added Yulo of his early experience in the Japanese capital while working out at the main training center, where Japan’s national team also trained.
Besides adjusting to his new surroundings, he admitted that under coach Kugimiya, something of a Prussian drillmaster, “the training was hard. Super hard.”
Fast forward to 2019. Yulo saw all his hard work and sacrifices handsomely rewarded last Monday.
In a major breakthrough for Philippine gymnastics, the diminutive dynamo became the second Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He placed 18th overall with 82.164 points in the men’s all-around qualifiers of the 49th FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Hans Martin Schleyer Halle in Stuttgart.
The Chinese, Russian and Japanese campaigners all clinched spots to Tokyo after placing 1-2-3, respectively, in the team event of the previous edition of the gymnastics showcase in Doha, Qatar last year. Yulo then moved up to the top of the individual rankings to claim his Olympic ticket.
As the youngest entry in the all-around event at 19, he made the cut of the top 24 among the 160 athletes from 92 countries who saw action in the grueling qualifying rounds. He will be in the finals on Friday.
Yulo will also figure for honors in the men’s floor exercise finals on Saturday after finishing seventh in the apparatus — also last Monday — with a high score of 14.666 points. It was the same event where he won a bronze medal in Doha last year.
Carrion noted that it was a collective effort that enabled Yulo in accomplishing his historic feat in this nippy city, home to German luxury vehicles Porsche and Mercedes, in the stint funded by the Philippine Sports Commission.
“The GAP and I personally helped raise funds for Caloy’s training when it all began. Sometimes from even my personal friends,” Carrion disclosed of the numerous good Samaritans who helped the young athlete achieve his Olympic dream at the beginning.
She also took the occasion to thank the PSC and PSC chairman Butch Ramirez for the all-out support given to the gymnast.
“Caloy, of course, did his part in dedicating himself to his training and working hard, while coach Mune brought out the best in him so he could become a world-class athlete,” she stressed. “Of course, we also provided a lot of mental and spiritual encouragement so he could have that winning attitude.”
Now fluent in Japanese given his long stay in Tokyo — and a college student at the prestigious Teikyo University, — Yulo is looking forward to performing on the Olympic stage in familiar surroundings.
Asked if he was excited to see action in the Olympics in what he now considers his second home, the gymnast quipped:
“No, not really. I’ll just take it slow and one day at a time.”