Yulo bouncing back at scene of his greatest success

Doha, Qatar: The 19-year-old was one of the breakout names of 2018, winning his country’s first world championship medal – a bronze in the Floor exercise – in the Qatari capital.

He followed that up with a bronze and then a gold in the first two events of the 2018-2020 FIG Individual Apparatus World Cup series, in Cottbus (GER) and Melbourne (AUS).

He missed the third World Cup event in Baku (AZE) last week as he was recovering from a chest injury, so will be happy to get back to action in Doha.

“A lot of things happened (at the world championships in Doha), there were a lot of ups and downs, but the good thing is I learned a lot of things I didn’t know before, mainly from my mistakes,” Yulo said.

“It was unimaginable (to win a medal), I really didn’t expect that. I was so happy to get one. The reason for my success was my training because I trained a lot. Repeating, repeating, repeating, every day.”

An added incentive for the gymnasts on the Individual Apparatus World Cup circuit this year is that, for the first time, the series is offering the chance of direct qualification for the Olympic Games.

While Yulo hopes to qualify for the All-around event at the Tokyo 2020 Games through the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart in October, he knows his World Cup scores provide an important back-up.

“I’m trying not to think about the Olympics too much but hoping that I can compete there,” he said. “I’m not expecting much (from the World Cup in Doha) but I am aiming for a good performance and a medal.”

Yulo has plenty of reason to get excited about the prospect of competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Firstly, he has a good chance of winning his country’s first Olympic medal in Gymnastics – something he admits would make him “a hero” at home – and secondly the Japanese capital is his adopted home.

Yulo has been training under Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya in Tokyo for two years, under a scheme supported by the Filipino and Japanese Gymnastics Associations and Olympic Committees, the International Gymnastics Federation and the International Olympic Committee’s ‘Olympic Solidarity’ programme.

It was not easy for a 17-year-old to leave his family and home comforts behind, but Yulo has adapted and prospered. “Now I feel more at home here,” he said. “The people are kind. I am studying the language, but it is hard.”

The Doha World Cup event starts on Wednesday and Kugimiya said the circuit is playing a key role in preparing Yulo for their target of an Olympic medal next year – although he stresses that Yulo may be even better for the 2024 Games in Paris.

“The World Cup gives him greater awareness and confidence,” the coach said. “It shows him what his strengths are so we can make a training plan. Each competition makes him grow, whether he has success or makes mistakes.

“We just discuss things and try our best every day in training and go to competitions to win. We have a target for the 2020 Olympics of a medal, but his best age will be 24. So now I must think about his body and mind, his education, to make a plan and follow it.”

Despite living abroad, Yulo’s success has made him well known in his home country, although he insists he still “feels just the same, I feel normal”.

But he knows an Olympic medal would take him to another level.

“I want to win the first one (for the Philippines),” Yulo said. “It would be a super big achievement. I would be a hero. It’s possible, but I have to train a lot. My coach will help me, we all help each other.”

Always looking at the bigger picture, Kugimiya sees Olympic success as a chance to inspire the next generation of Filipino gymnasts.

“It would have a big meaning for the Filipino people and Filipino sports (if Carlos won an Olympic medal),” said Kugimiya. “He is a role model for Gymnastics in the Philippines. We hope that small boys will want to be like him, to have such dreams.”

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