MANILA • At 1.49m, Carlos "Caloy" Yulo is barely taller than Simone Biles but like the most decorated gymnast in world championship history, he can also reach heights that others can only dream of.
Last Saturday in Stuttgart, the Filipino stood tallest on the mat, claiming the floor exercise to become the first South-east Asian to not only qualify for the 2020 Olympics, but also win a gold medal.
His feat, coming just a year after becoming the first gymnast from the region to bag a bronze at the world championships in Doha, has shot Yulo into the limelight, making him one of the biggest names to watch at the upcoming SEA Games in the Philippines.
December will mark his first appearance at the biennial event and he has been tipped to sweep the floor exercise, all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars, vault, rings and high bar events he will be competing in.
Gymnastics Association of the Philippines secretary-general Bettina Pou told local sports website www.spin.ph that if "luck rolls his way, he can win all seven gold medals in men's gymnastics".
"His performance in the world championships was very impressive," she said. "The Vietnamese perform well in those apparatuses.
"We don't want to give them a chance. We would tell Caloy to give the best he can and the victory would definitely follow."
The government and the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) also have high hopes that Yulo can be the country's next breakout sports star, mirroring the rise of Filipino boxing great Manny Pacquiao.
Yesterday, he paid a courtesy call on President Rodrigo Duterte and PSC chairman William Ramirez, whose organisation has been funding his training in Japan, said they are "planning to further increase that level of support because we believe that he has what it takes to make us proud in the SEA Games and the Olympics next year".
LET'S DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT
...we should refocus our resources and energy on other sports because there is no way that we could beat bigger and faster players in world basketball.
MANNY PACQUIAO, Philippine boxing great, urging the country's sports authorities to switch their focus.
The country has never won a gold medal at the Summer Games, but in Yulo, who yesterday received one million pesos (S$26,600) for his achievement in Germany, it has an athlete capable of landing the elusive prize in Tokyo.
The 19-year-old, who has been training in Japan for the past three years under Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya, also believes that his world title will "motivate me to work harder for the Olympics".
And in a country where basketball reigns supreme, his accomplishments have made Pacquiao sit up and take notice of how lopsided the support is for sports "that give undue advantage to bigger and taller athletes". Citing Yulo's win, the boxer said: "Just like many Filipinos, I love basketball and there is nothing wrong with it.
"But as far as the government's sports development policy is concerned, we should refocus our resources and energy on other sports because there is no way that we could beat bigger and faster players in world basketball."
Yulo has also expressed his hope that more Filipinos will now be inspired to try their hand in the sport, because while he understood that "they like basketball, (and) we're small", "gymnastics is more fun".
THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK