STUTTGART. – At the age of 16, when most Filipino kids still live with their parents, Carlos Edriel Yulo was already a stranger living in a strange land.
Over three years ago, he reluctantly left Manila for Tokyo to continue his intensive training under Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya, the head mentor of the national men’s gymnastics squad.
When Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion, who took in the young boy at the age of seven as a GAP protégé, asked Yulo if he was willing to go, his response was: He would talk it 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 of the daunting prospects of transferring to 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,” Yulo added of his early experience in the Japanese capital while working out at the main training center where the Japan’s national team also trained.
Aside from 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 and all of Yulo’s hard work and sacrifices were 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 after placing 18th overall with 82.164 points in the men’s all-around qualifiers of the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Hans Martin Schleyer Halle here.
With the Chinese, Russian and Japanese campaigners having clinched spots to Tokyo by placing 1-2-3, respectively, in the team event of the previous edition of the gymnastics showcase in Doha, Qatar last year, Yulo moved up to the top of the individual rankings to claim his Olympic ticket.
The youngest entry in the all-around event at 19, he made the cut at 24th among the 160 athletes from 92 countries who saw action in the grueling qualifying round and will see action in the finals on Friday.
Now fluent in Japanese given his long stay inTokyo, Yulo, a college student at the prestigious Teikyo University, looked 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 said: “No, not really. I’ll just take it slow and one day at a time.”
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. He won a bronze medal in the same event in Doha last year.
“The GAP and I personally helped raise funds for Caloy’s training when it all began.
Sometimes even from my personal friends,” Carrion said of the numerous good Samaritans who helped the young athlete achieve his Olympic dream. She also took the occasion to thank the PSC and PSC chairman Butch Ramirez for the all-out support given to Yulo. – Bong Pedralvez