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With Caloy getting into his prime and Miguel and Ivan now developing into elite athletes, the future of Philippine gymnastics definitely looks bright.

PHOTOGRAPHs courtesy of PSC TEIA Salvino, Carlos Yulo, Elreen Ando, Miguel Besana, Vanessa Sarno and Ivan Cruz represent the future of Philippine sports.

The 32nd Southeast Asian Games had delivered a preview of the future of Philippine sports.

New heroes have emerged, giving local sports officials a good idea on the athletes they need to focus on as the country braces for major international tournaments ahead, including the 18th Asian Games and the Paris Olympics.

Carlos Yulo was obviously the star of the show.

At 23, Yulo already had massive international experience.

He has been training in Japan since 2016 and had already collected two gold medals from the World Championships, six gold medals from the Asian Championships and nine gold medals from the Southeast Asian Games, easily making him the face of the future of Philippine sports.

Although he botched his campaign in the Tokyo Olympics, Yulo is still expected to be rewarded as he remains in his prime by the time the Paris Olympics unwrap next year and the Los Angeles Games fire off in 2028.

Standing next to Yulo in the medal podium of the previous SEA Games in Phnom Penh were his childhood buddies — Miguel Besana and Ivan Cruz.

Besana may be just 19, but he already displayed tremendous talent, maturity and grace under pressure when he ruled the men’s artistic vault event.

Cruz, on the other hand, is a 21-year-old dynamo who broke down in tears after emerging victorious in the men’s artistic floor exercise event, saying that he will use the cash incentives that he won to send his six other siblings to school.

“With Caloy getting into his prime and Miguel and Ivan now developing into elite athletes, the future of Philippine gymnastics definitely looks bright,” Gymnastics Association of the Philippines president Cynthia Carrion said.

There’s also a youth movement going on in weightlifting.

Rising stars Vanessa Sarno and Elreen Ando also displayed massive improvement, proving that they have what it takes to replace Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz as the queen of Philippine weightlifting.

At 19 years old, Sarno is already one of the most feared lifters in the region after ruling the women’s 71-kilogram class while the 24-year-old Ando reigned supreme in the women’s 59-kg class — the same weight class where Diaz wants to see action in the Paris Olympics.

Diaz didn’t compete in the SEA Games as she focused on gaining Olympic points from the 2023 Asian Weightlifting Championships, but with the way things had gone, it appears that the weightlifters’ campaign in the Paris Summer Games is already in good hands.

“We’re looking ahead,” Samahang Weightlifting ng Pilipinas president Monico Puentevella said.

“When Hidilyn won the silver medal in the Rio Olympics (in 2016), we already mapped out our grassroots program and developed talents for the Paris and Los Angeles Olympics. We know that Hidilyn will not be here forever so we worked hard in discovering and developing new talents.”

Rising stars also kept the country afloat in swimming.

A 17-year-old Filipino-American in Teia Salvino made a strong impression when she ruled the women’s 100-meter backstroke event in record-breaking fashion.

The California-based Salvino, who is set to join University of Alabama, clocked one minute and 1.64 seconds to shatter the SEA Games record of 1:01.89 mark notched by Nguyen Thi Anh Vien of Vietnam in 2019 as well as the national record of 24-year-old Chloe Isleta of 1:02.70 also in 2019.

With Salvino, together with 22-year-old Filipino-Canadian Kayla Sanchez who will join the national squad starting the Asian Games this September, at the helm, the Filipino swimmers are set to regain their glory in the international arena.

Other young guns who delivered for Team Philippines were 24-year-old Jamie Lim of karate, 24-year-old Agatha Wong of wushu, 24-year-old Carlo Paalam of boxing, and 24-year-old Umajesty Williams of athletics as well as 23-year-old Kurt Barbosa and 23-year-old Patrick King Perez of taekwondo, who are tipped to fill the void that will be created by the looming retirement of Samuel Morrison and Kirstie Alora.

The very popular men’s basketball team was also sprinkled with a lot of promise as collegiate stars Mason Amos of Ateneo de Manila University, Mike Phillips of De La Salle University, and Jerom Lastimosa of Adamson University played key roles in helping it reclaim the gold medal

Philippine Sports Commission chairperson Richard Bachmann said the emergence of these new heroes had opened their eyes on the importance of having a solid grassroots program.

“We have to make sure our grassroots sports programs go in the right way,” Bachmann said.

“Our goal is to eliminate the gap of grassroots to the elite, and that is through connecting them to the national sports associations.”

Bachmann said the result of the biennial meet hardly mattered.

The fact that there is already a changing of the guard at the elite level is already worth cheering for. With the young stars making their presence felt early, Team Philippines can be assured of strong performances in the years to come.

The future definitely looks bright.

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