MANILA, Philippines—When Caloy Yulo nailed his landing at the end of his routine in the horizontal bar, the crowd at Rizal Memorial Coliseum let out a roar of approval.
Almost immediately, they transitioned into the chant that they had been doing all throughout the afternoon, as they watched the Filipino gymnast move from apparatus to apparatus in a stunning display of power, athleticism, and grace.
"Yulo, Yulo, Yulo!" had been the crowd's rallying cry all throughout the gymnastics competition, and they chanted it again after the Olympian's final routine. Yulo, in response, pumped his fist and grinned, before waving at the crowd who showered him with cheers anew.
The truth is that hearing such chants and cheers is a new experience for Yulo, who acknowledged that the crowd had an impact on him.
"Grabe, nakaka-hype. Ako ‘yung kinakabahan," he said.
Yulo had competed on the world stage before, but never has he been the center of attention the way he was on Sunday afternoon at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in Manila. The Filipino fans followed his every movement, ooh-ing and aah-ing at every flip and tumble he made while warming up.
They watched in awe as he pulled off a near-flawless performance on the floor, and cheered him on when he briefly stumbled after landing a vault. They were at the edge of their seats by the time he got to the horizontal bar, where Yulo produced another dazzling display to clinch the individual all-around gold medal in men's artistic gymnastics.
"It's quite different," he said of having the crowd's full attention. "I'd say the crowd gives more attention to the Philippine team."
In Germany, where Yulo competed in the world championships and punched his ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, "it's like nobody knows me," he said. "So I'm just doing my thing."
It's not an entirely good thing. Yulo said that with the increased attention comes increased pressure, especially as he knows that the Filipino fans are expecting him to deliver a gold for the country.
"Dito mas kabado po ako kasi alam kong may chance po kasi ako," he explained. "Gusto ko 'yung nagko-compete ako like, parang hindi ako makaka-medal, parang mas nabibigay ko 'yung best ko doon."
Yulo still has time to get used to the cheers. Filipino fans can watch him on Tuesday and Wednesday at Rizal when he competes in the individual events.
The hope for Yulo is that those who come to watch him perform will not just be entertained, but also inspired.
"I (hope) more gymnasts will come in our gym," he said. "I want Philippine gymnastics to build Olympians."
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