Christopher Caluza breaks ground for the PhilippinesBy Momar G. Visaya
Earlier this week, Filipino-American Christopher Caluza of the Philippines placed 8th out of 27 skaters at the Men’s Qualifying Round of the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France. The Top 12 in the preliminaries will join the world’s Top 18 in the men’s short program on Friday, March 30 and the long program on Saturday, March 31. His female counterpart in representing the Philippines, Zhaira Costiniano, also a Filipino-American failed to make the cut during the qualifying round.
At the 2012 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Colorado Springs held last month, Caluza finished in 12th place, the highest position ever reached by a Filipino skater in the international competition.
With that achievement and his other stellar performances in international tilts, he earned more than enough points for the right to represent the Philippines at the ongoing World Championships in France.
“Chris said he was nervous and lost his footing on the flying sit but no matter now-he made it!,” said Tim David, Caluza’s manager, quoting coach Dorian Shields Valles.
A figure skater of Filipino descent himself, David is proud of the young skater’s achievements so far.
“I am very excited that Christopher had skated his best for the qualifying and made the 2nd of 3rd round, the short program. This is indeed the highest placement a Filipino Figure Skating athlete had ever made at the World stage. I definitely see Sochi (2014 Winter Olympics) for Christopher and the Philippines,” David told the Asian Journal.
Just when and how exactly did this young man from Chula Vista, California start putting the Philippines on the world figure skating map?
The 21-year-old skater began skating at a young age, while growing up in the San Diego area. At first, he was all about roller skating but unfortunately, the roller rink he used to visit every weekend closed, so he asked his parents if they can find him a new place to skate.
They found one, but it was ice skating at Ice Town in La Jolla.
Needless to say, Chris made the necessary adjustments and he has been gliding on ice ever since.
“It was not an easy thing at first, and soon, I started getting the handle of it. I’ve seen ice skating before, so I tried to attempt tricks and twists and all that. Soon, a coach appeared and talked to my parents about me setting up group lessons with the kids and make friends. That’s pretty much how it started,” Chris shared.
Last year, Chris went home to Manila to compete at the Philippine National Championships, for the opportunity to represent the Philippines in international competitions.
“My experience competing in Manila has been one of the best times in my life. I’ve met so many nice people who appreciate a lot of hard work that is put in to compete,” Chris told the Asian Journal. “I was very nervous at first, because I had a tough time practicing while in the States, but when I came in, I got a lot of support especially from my family and my coach.”
It was his first Philippine Nationals, so he felt that he had to make a great impression.
He skated very well, and was awarded with the gold, and with it, the prospect to compete internationally.
“It felt good winning, but just because I improved on a lot of things in my skating. And coming back after some bad practices weeks before, helped me realize I can overcome obstacles. My coach has always told me, ‘You’re stronger than you think you are’,” he said.
That trip to Manila was the first time Chris has ever traveled outside the States on his own.
“My parents tell me so much about it, and experiencing the country in person, doesn’t compare to what they told me. I never traveled so far from home before, so it was my first. I can’t wait until next year’s nationals so I can compete,” he shared.
Asked why he decided to skate for the Philippines, Chris said it has always been his dream.
“I’ve always wanted to do it since I was 16. I was inspired by Manny Pacquiao and how he brings glory to the Philippines and the Filipino community, and thought that it would be awesome to represent my parents’ country and bring something to our family name,” Chris said.
Asked if he ever felt unwelcome in the Philippines during the competition, Chris replied, “No. Not to my face at least.”
There are critics in the industry who say that Filipino-Americans barge right in and leave after the competitions, taking the opportunity away from home-grown athletes.
“I was welcomed by nice coaches and skaters from the Philippines whom I’ve met from Facebook. I don’t really know much about the Philippine skating community, but I know that the kids who are skating, are working very hard, and I respect people who work really hard and do not complain about working hard,” he added.
He admits having heard the “Fil-Am comment” before.
“That comment just makes me even more motivated to compete because I don’t barge in, I make sure I’m known and ready. My coach and I always talked about how the skaters and parents from a different country react to this (me coming to compete), but my coach told me that it doesn’t matter, I should just be doing my best and show myself how great I can be. People can brag about their kids all they want and how they are native born, but I’m just another skater who is working really hard to make everyone, including myself proud,” Chris said.
When he was 16 in 2006, he thought about competing for the 2010 Olympics for the Philippines, but he eventually decided to keep competing in the USA for a while until he started to improve on his skating more.
“I was 16 and young at the time so I was thinking too far ahead,” he admitted.
“When I was told to watch the 1998 Nagano Olympics, I saw Tara Lipinski won the Olympics. She was my first skating idol because she was a great skater that made me smile. Tara Lipinski got me into skating, but I also admired Alexei Yagudin, Evgeni Plushenko, and Michelle Kwan growing up skating,” he added.
Chris’ parents are both originally from the Philippines. His dad was from Olongapo City, and his mom was from Tagbilaran City in Bohol.
“My dad came to the US in 1979 after he graduated from high school, and he joined the US Navy for 22 years. My mom came in 1986. We currently live in Escondido in San Diego County now,” he shared.
2012 is going to be a pretty busy year for Chris.
After the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, he is now in France for the World Championships.
“I am going to keep training, do what I can do to overcome any obstacles, and hopefully build my skating to a level I never thought I would reach. I want to work so much harder and make my training worth it. I want to compete more and try a quadruple and triple axel jump in competition,” Caluza shared.
Along with the country’s pride and honor comes the pressure, something that the young skater is quite familiar with.
“The biggest challenge now would be the pressure that comes to being a National Champion. A lot of people in any country, would rely on the National Champion to win a competition. All that pressure is another obstacle that I have to try get past,” he said.