The Olympics—a sporting event so grandiose, it traces its roots to when people aimed to please the chief of all Greek gods, Zeus.
National athletes elevate to icon status the moment they walk in the parade of nations at the start of every Olympic Games. A gold medal winner? In a country long thirsting to celebrate that particular triumph? That athlete may as well have his own Mount Olympus.
For the first time in decades, the glimmer of hope that the country basks in whenever the Olympics rolls around glows a little bit brighter.
Gymnast Carlos Yulo has qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo next year.
And he didn’t just punch an ordinary ticket to Japan. He is flying there first class, with the title world champion attached to his name. Even more important, the rivals he defeated in the world championships’ floor exercise event in Germany this year will be the same ones he will face in the Olympiad.
“He’s just way above [everyone else],” said Philippine gymnastics president Cynthia Carrion—at least in the region. Yulo will have to rank better than the rest of the world if he wants to claim the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal.
“I’m very happy with my performance. But my coach has always been telling me that a lot of work still needs to be done,” Yulo said after the world championships.
But he won’t shoulder the hope alone.
Weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, a silver medalist in the Rio de Janerio Games, hopes to take one step up the podium free from the doping controversies that have moored the programs of traditional rival countries.
In the SEA Games alone, A number of Thai weightlifters tested positive for doping by International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), prompting the country’s federation to undergo a self-imposed ban.
“I’m glad that they weren’t there because us clean athletes are given an opportunity to represent our countries well,” Diaz said. “This is an opportunity for [clean athletes] to show that it is possible to compete at a high level without the use of dope or steroids.”
Among those affected by the ban was Thailand’s Sopita Tanasan, long a thorn to Diaz’s side in major events.
Diaz and Yulo will shoot for Olympic glory riding a wave of momentum and confidence from their gold-medal campaigns in the recently concluded 2019 SEA Games.
After a seven-medal haul in the SEA Games, a couple of gold performances and five silver plums, Yulo, the 19-year-old wunderkind, traveled back to Tokyo to continue his training for the Olympics.
Diaz will still have to fortify her slot in the quadrennial games, but that is likely a foregone conclusion.
The Philippine Air Force servicewoman is, as of writing time, at fourth place in the IWF rankings for the -55 kilogram division.
Diaz, who claimed her first SEA Games gold medal in December, needs to maintain her spot or stay in the top eight by May 2020 in the world rankings to qualify for the Olympics.
“This year has been so good to me and I’ve made large progress in terms of training and technique,” Diaz said. “We’re right on track for Tokyo 2020.”Diaz, who last competed in the Worlds last September in Pattaya, will have to finish strong in her last two Olympics Qualifiers—the Rome World Championships in January and the IWF Asian Championships in Kazakhstan in April.
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