Palarong Pambansa 2024

[Judgment Call] Finding another Caloy Yulo

Jasmine W. Payo

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[Judgment Call] Finding another Caloy Yulo

Raffy de Guzman/Rappler

'Why cover the regional games? You never really know if you’re actually watching the next world champion.'

One of the first sports videos that Rappler produced features Carlos Yulo, then a wide-eyed, 12-year-old gymnast hoping to win a gold in the 2012 Palarong Pambansa.

Seven years later, the boy fondly called “Caloy” made history as the first Southeast Asian gymnast to capture a gold in the world championships. In the same tournament, he qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

As the next few years rolled on, Caloy captured more gold medals in the Southeast Games, Asian Championships, and other international events, making the decade-old Rappler footage not only amusing but also an archival peek into the early career of one of the country’s sports gems.

Hello, I’m Jasmine W. Payo, Rappler’s sports editor. I’m reminded of this Carlos Yulo video as we plan for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the grandest sporting event of the year set to kick off in July.

Just a couple of weeks before that, we’re also planning to give a big effort for the coverage of the Palarong Pambansa, the country’s biggest grassroots sports event, in Cebu. 

Currently, we’re running stories on the different regional qualifiers featuring elementary and high school athletes, all hoping to make their schools and provinces proud by winning and qualifying for the Palaro.

But why even bother cover the regional games?

While some may think that only families and friends really care reading about these young athletes, our Carlos Yulo experience shows you never really know if you’re actually watching the next world champion. 

It also feels like a break of sorts.

While we celebrate the victories of our world-class athletes, there are also joyous triumphs in far-flung fields and barangay courts.

In Palarong Pambansa 2023, we found Baby Jane Santos, a javelin thrower from Andabuen Elementary School in Benito Soliven, Isabela.

The promising athlete trained with bamboo sticks and tree branches, but, despite the lack of equipment, she impressively bagged the gold.

Just this week, we met Zach Lucas Obsioma in the Western Visayas Regional Athletic Meet. The 10-year-old swimmer from Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, captured three gold medals in the para games, a competition for differently abled athletes. 

Born with no legs, Obsioma only picked up the sport last year and, after just two months of training, won provincial tournaments and regional events, then splashed his way to the 2023 Palarong Pambansa.

It’s in grassroots sports in the provinces where it often starts. 

When weightlifting superstar Hidilyn Diaz made history by winning the Philippines’ first Olympic gold medal in 2021, we all heard her story of how she used to carry buckets of water to her home, a strength eventually honed by local government sports programs in Zamboanga City before she got discovered by the national team.

Like Diaz, boxers Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial recalled that, before their Olympic glory, they competed in provincial matches as kids and teens, all hoping to fight their way out of poverty. 

These four medalists in the Tokyo Games – all delivering the Philippines’ biggest Olympic medal haul in 97 years – grew up, trained, and jump-started their sporting careers in Mindanao.

So, while chronicling kids in sports from the provinces may not amount to much for some, it’s really the start of a journey for them.

It’s like sports in its unadulterated form, seeing young athletes still in their unguarded moments, before some of them plunge into the world of managers and sponsors, feel the media’s bright glare, and learn to juggle things beyond winning and losing.

As we’ve seen with Caloy, this can go by fast. 

So, even in those brief and seemingly inconsequential sports moments, when it’s just all about joy, sweat, and tears in the playing field, we want to be part of that. –

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Jasmine W. Payo

Jasmine joined Rappler as its sports editor in 2018 after over a decade of working as a sportswriter for a national broadsheet.