Success didn't come overnight for Yulo, Petecio and Obiena
Mark Escarlote on Oct 19, 2019 06:38 PM
GOLD SQUAD: Olympians and champion pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo and world championship gold medalist Nesthy Petecio.
What makes every victory sweet are the compelling stories behind the most glorious of triumphs.
Beyond the statistics, the points, the records, it’s always the journey that make sports conquests inspiring.
For Olympians and champions pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo and world championship gold medalist female boxer Nesthy Petecio, success didn’t come overnight.
They shared the same experiences where they bled, shed tears, felt pain, experienced regret and lost.
It was never easy.
“’Yung sports kasi it can be brutal for us,” said Obiena, who was the first Filipino to book a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last month. “That kind of makes winning sweet. It’s a series of ups and downs.”
“I think everybody here… now we’re champions but we lost a lot of times before we actually won,” he added.
The 23-year-old vaulter remembered how devastated he was when he sustained a knee injury in 2017. Obiena just jumped to a new national record prior to that injury.
From there, he needed to work his way back up again.
Just like Obiena, Petecio also faced a tough road.
The lowest point for the Davaoena was when she lost via a controversial 2-3 split decision to Chinese Yin Jun Hua in the 2018 Asian Games featherweight match that could’ve catapulted her to the gold medal bout.
“’Yung experience ko sa Asian Games sobrang na-down po ako nun kumbaga sabi ko sa sarili ko noon baka hindi para sa akin ang boxing,” Petecio said. “Kasi pinaghirapan ko po yung apat na gold po ako sunud-sunod po doon para i-prepare ang sarili ko sa Asian Games tapos ganoon po ang nangyari. Down na down po ako nun.”
It was so painful that the 27-year old pug thought of hanging her gloves for good.
“Alam po ni Coach Boy [Velasco] yun, sinasabi ko po kay coach na magtatrabaho na lang po ako kasi naka-graduate naman din po ako ng associate course sa University of Baguio. Sabi ko sa sarili ko kaya ko pala maghanap ng ibang work.”
Meanwhile, Yulo was just 16 then when he left his family in Manila to train for three years under the tutelage of Japanese coach Munehiro Kugiyama.
One could just imagine what goes through the mind of a teenager in a foreign land away from his parents and friends.
“Sa Japan, nu’ng unang taon ko po dun, actually nu’ng three months ko po dun OK naman po siya di masama,” Yulo recalled. “Pero nalulungkot na po ako noong mga sumunod na araw, nami-miss ko na po ang family ko.”
His Japan training did wonders for Yulo as he became a consistent medalist in the 2018 world cup series last year winning medals in Melbourne and Baku in vault and in Doha and Cottbus in floor exercise.
But homesickness and the difficult routine training, Yulo admitted, almost broke him.
“Yung mga trainings ko po dun hindi siya masaya, sobra pong hirap. Araw-araw po naiyak ako kasi di ko po siya kaya, susuko na ako,” he said. “Last two years po sinabi ko rin sa coach na magku-quit na ako kasi sobrang wala po eh parang tae di po maganda sobra ang training.”
“Pauli-ulit lang po ang araw. Parang hinihintay ko lang po matapos ang araw,” added Yulo.
Then Yulo suffered a big blow in 2018 Asiad when he crashed to 7th place in the floor exercise.
“Sa Asian Games din po wala ako sa kondisyon nun,” Yulo said. “Pumunta lang ako ng gym para mag-training pero hindi po talaga galing sa puso.”
“Hindi po ako makapag-focus nun tuwing competition. Marami rin po kasi akong pagkakamali bago yung preparation ko sa Asian Games din po,” he added. “Hindi po ako nanalo ng medals dun, naka-finals po pero di ako nanalo ng medals. May chance po pero hindi po para sa akin siguro yun.”
For the three sports heroes, it was when they hit rock-bottom when they realized that they were actually on solid ground where they could stand up and rise above the adversities they faced.
It is in the darkest of nights where the stars shine the brightest.
After a seventh place finish in the Asian Games, Obiena cleared 5.71 meters in the Asian Championships in Doha, Qatar last April. He then set a new national record of 5.76 meters to rule the Universiade in Naples, Italy last July.
Obiena went on a roll as he cleared 5.81 meters in a tournament in Italy last month to secure a berth in the Tokyo Games.
“We're very lucky to have the Philippines as the country we represent,” he said. “Sometimes I compete and I'm the only Filipino there in the stadium then I see a tiny flag waving and it's just nice and that kind of makes me happy and makes me feel lucky that I get to show the world that there is a Filipino vaulting here and we actually exist.”
Yulo, on the other hand, needed a short talk with her mother, Angelica, and a trip to the church to clear his mind.
“Umuwi po ako at kinausap ko po ang mama saka papa ko. Sinabi ko po sa kanila na nahihirapan na ako, gusto ko na mag-quit. Sinabi ni mama sa akin na, ‘Ikaw, pero sayang kasi ang mga pinaghirapan mo. Nasimulan mo na ba’t di mo pa tapusin?'”
“Kinabukasan nagsimba kami tapos nag-sink in po sa utak ko na grabe ang dami ko na ring pinagdaananan sobrang nakaka-stress pala,” he recalled.
Clinging on the vow to surpass his bronze medal in the world championship last year, Yulo made sure that he’ll be ready in the 2019 World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Stuttgart, Germany.
“Ngayon tinarget ko talaga na di na maulit ang nangyari dati na umi-stop ako na walang magawa parang naiiyak na lang. Gusto ko lumaban at ipagmalaki sa lahat na kaya ko,” he said.
Late Saturday night in the Philippines, Yulo made his historic stride on the other side of the world.
Yulo bagged gold in the floor exercise final with a score of 15.300, besting Israeli Artem Dolgopyat (15.200), who dropped his shoulder when the Filipino's score flashed on the screen, and Ruoteng Xiao (14.933) of China. All-around, Yulo wound up 10th in the competition.
“Hindi ko ini-expect na maka-medal ako kasi nung nakita ko ang score ng kalaban 15.2 po siya, hindi ko pa po nari-reach ang score [na yun],” said Yulo.
After his routine, Yulo sat beside the Israeli gymnast and waited for his score.
“Na ano ko na lang sa sarili ko na parang training lang ‘to. Gusto ko ipakita sa buong mundo na maganda ang gymnastics ko, na kahit matalo ako nu’ng araw na yun iniisip ko na lang na ginawa ko ang best ko,” he said.
He then made history.
Less than 24 hours after Yulo’s feat, on the Eastern Front, a Filipina carried the nation’s pride on top of the boxing ring in Russia.
“’Yung mga kalaban ko po hindi po basta-basta po kasi nakikita ko rin po sa kanila na willing na willing din po nila na panalunin ang laban po,” Petecio recalled. “Kung gaano kadami ang suntok ko, dinadamihan din nila. Dinadaan ko na lang po lakas kasi alam kong mas malakas ako sa kanila.”
She was a favorite during the prelims up to the semifinals, with the crowd in Ulan-Ude cheering her on.
But the complexion changed when she entered the ring before the gold medal match. She was up against the hometown bet.
Despite fighting in hostile territory, Petecio bested Liudmila Vorontsove to annex the gold medal via split decision.
The victory was doubly sweet for Petecio. It was her long-awaited payback.
“Bago po yung final bout ko po, sabi ko po sa sarili ko na ‘Akin na ‘to’. Di ko na ibibigay ito,” she said. “Kasi noong 2014 last world championship nag-silver lang ako tapos Russian ang nakatalo sa akin. So sabi ko hindi ko na ipapaulit po na tatalunin ako ulit ng Russian. Akin na ‘to. Kini-claim ko na po sa sarili ko.”
Having the gold medal finally on her neck, Petecio was just happy that she made the right decision just when she thought that her career was already bleak with the stinging Asian Games loss.
”Iniisip ko that time kung ano ang purpose ko kung bakit nag-boxing ako. Binalikan ko po ang insipirasyon ko, yung pamilya ko,” said Petecio, who once lived in a house made of tarpaulin and was financed by then Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to fly to Manila to pursue amateur boxing.
”Nagdasal po ako kay God nung time na yun na, ano ba talaga ang dahilan kung bakit di niya ibinigay sa akin ang inaasam kong gold sa Asian Games,” she added. ”Nagpursige po ako ulit, bumangon po ako paunti-unti sa tulong ng mga coaches ko din and ito po nakuha ko na ang ginto sa world.”
Looking back, the trio now had a clear understanding why they had to go through trials that tested not only their character but also their faith in themselves.
“Part of our life is challenges, everyday struggles and its just a series of good memories that makes us who we are now,” said Obiena.
The new breed of Filipino heroes are now enjoying the fruits of their hard work and sacrifice. The accolades came pouring in left and right.
However, the trio agree that they are just at the beginning of their journey.
They still have to make a home stand in the 30th Southeast Asian Games next month.
For Petecio, a Tokyo Games ticket also awaits early next year in her attempt in the Asian qualifier in China.
Obiena and Yulo also gun for podium finishes in Tokyo.
The road ahead is still long. It will never be a smooth and easy ride.
But they will be ready.
For flag and country.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles