Two golds in one day
There’s a lot to celebrate about the triumphs of Carlos Yulo and Nesthy Petecio in the world stage very recently.
Yulo scored the more celebrated victory, becoming the first Filipino world champion in gymnastics, after ruling the floor exercise in the sport’s world championships in Germany.
But not to be overlooked is Petecio, who ruled her division in the women’s competition of the boxing world championships in Ulan-Ude, Russia, beating local bet Liudmila Vorontsove in a sport notorious for hometown bias.
Their gold medal feats, achieved barely 24 hours of each other, not only polished the country’s image in the international scene, they also helped shatter sports’ stubborn sex stereotypes.
Yulo, after all, triumphed in a sport generally seen as feminine, whose women champions are more often heralded as iconic than their male counterparts. Meanwhile, it is not a stretch to say that you’d be in the hundreds when counting down the most influential boxers in history before coming up with a woman’s name.
Yulo and Petecio got their just due from the government, with the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) shelling out a cool million for each athlete as reward.
There is, however, the need to go beyond the cheering and the toasting when looking at the feats of Yulo and Petecio. Their victories in the world stage usher in new hope for the country as it hosts the Southeast Asian Games later this year and, more importantly, navigates its way to next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Yulo and Petecio reinforce the change needed in our country’s national sports program, highlighting the need to funnel limited resources to focus sports.
PSC commissioner Ramon Fernandez is a staunch advocate of focus sports, disciplines where the Filipino athlete isn’t hamstrung by physical limitations like height and heft and can flourish on talent and hard work. Upon his appointment in 2016, Fernandez crafted a blueprint called “Change the Game,” which seeks to resuscitate Philippine sports. Among his plans was to focus on less popular sports where he believes the country has potential to succeed, such as open water swimming — for the Olympic event, known as marathon swimming —
given the country’s vast water bodies.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao also supports the idea of shifting focus to “weight-classed sports and other sports that does not give undue advantage to bigger and taller athletes.” Examples of weight-classed sports are boxing, taekwondo, judo, wrestling and weightlifting.
Filipino athletes can also excel in gymnastics, marathon, synchronized swimming, diving, cycling, shooting, archery, chess and other similar sports that require intelligence, balance, strength, flexibility, agility, coordination and
The call to pour a bulk of government funding in these focus sports came to the fore when Hidilyn Diaz won a silver in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and a gold in the Asian Games two years later, and Margielyn Didal and the golf trio of Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan and LK Go also scored golds in the Asiad last year.
And now come the victories of Yulo and Petecio. Yulo struck gold in gymnastics, for which the Filipino physique, tilted toward the lower tier of the size spectrum, is actually tailor-made. Petecio, on the other hand, flourished in boxing, whose weight classes ensure that athletes of more or less the same body build compete against each other.
Focusing the country’s handicapped resources on identifying and training athletes in sports where natural physique is not an overwhelming edge or is regulated by classifying weights seems a more viable way to turn the Philippines from counting medals in low-level regional meets in 2019 to counting on a milestone golden moment in 2020, as perhaps a sporting celebration for the ages.
Yulo, along with winning the gold in Stuttgart, booked a berth in next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Petecio is also looking to qualify for the Summer Games, with her chances looking good, now that she is already the world’s best female featherweight. Diaz and Didal are also looking to book tickets to Japan, while pole vaulter EJ Obiena has already qualified.
Sparing no expense to ensure they have the best shot at claiming the country’s first Olympic gold—or better, golds—is a no-brainer. And so is spending more on athletes of their kind, who will not have to hurdle physical disadvantages when taking on the world’s best.
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