GYMNAST Carlos Edriel Yulo, perhaps the smallest athlete on the Philippine team at 5 feet, stood head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates with awe-inspiring performances Sunday night in the 31st Vietnam Southeast Asian Games artistic gymnastics meet in Hanoi.
The irrepressible Yulo boosted his gold haul to three, adding his forte – the floor exercise and, surprisingly, the rings – to his collection with scores that eclipsed his own tally in both events in the Philippine edition of the Games held three years ago.
The 2019 world men's floor exercise champion was in his element with a top score of 15.200 for his second straight SEA Games gold in the event before capping his splendid outing at the Quang Ngua Sports Palace by ruling the rings with a personal best of 14.000.
These were superior to his tallies of 14.700 and 13.773 booked, respectively, in the floor exercise and rings, where he took the silver, at the 2019 30th SEA Games staged at the historic Rizal Memorial Coliseum.
Counting the men's all-around and team all-around silver he took home last Friday, the diminutive dynamo has emerged once again as the country's most bemedalled athlete for the second straight Games with still a week left in the regional sports festival Vietnam is hosting for the second time.
The Tokyo-based athlete's campaign, however, is far from over, being the top pick in the vault and parallel bars at the close of the artistic gymnastic competitions Sunday where he bagged gold and silver, respectively, at the worlds held in Kitakyushu, Japan last November 2021.
"Masayang-masaya po ako at na-retain ko yong floor exercise gold and sa rings. Kasi nakita yong scores ng mga kalaban ka na kaya kung lampasan kung magawa ko yung routine ng tama (I am very happy in retaining the floor exercise title and also the rings. I saw the scores of my opponents and saw a chance of winning if I did my routine right," Yulo said.
"Pero hindi pa rin puwedeng mag-relax kasi may chance pa maka-gold (on Monday). (But I cannot afford to relax since I still have a chance for gold tomorrow)," added the pint-sized phenom, who was hoisted off the floor by 6-foot-4 national chef de mission Ramon Fernandez in delight after witnessing his remarkable showing.
Also rooting for Yulo at ringside from start to finish were Philippine Olympic Committee president Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino and gymnastics chief Cynthia Carrion.
"Yes, he (Yulo) is a real champion in heart, mind and spirit. Caloy (Yulo's nickname) is really a great athlete and we are all so proud of him," said Carrion of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines protege' since he was 8 years old.
Sharing the spotlight with Yulo was Aleah Finnegan, who bagged her first individual gold medal for the country in annexing the women’s vault mint in garnering the best score of 13.133 points.
"I just feel so blessed. It is a great feeling even if it was not one of my best vaults. I just went out there and do what I needed to do. No regrets," said the Louisiana State University varsity ace.
Finnegan will be gunning for her third gold medal Sunday in the women's balance beam.
"That's the goal but I am not thinking about it. If get my routine right it will take care of itself," said the petite and pretty gymnast.
Not only has gymnastics have the most outstanding Vietnam SEA Games Filipino performer in Yulo, but also the bragging rights as the best sports performer with 5 gold and 2 silver medals in pacing the overall standings among the six countries taking part after two days of the competition.
The Filipino bets have already surpassed the 3 gold, 5 silver and 4 bronze medals they amassed three years ago at the 2019 SEA Games in Manila.