‘Start them young’ so athletes can bloom in international play

PSC CHAIRMAN WILLIAM RAMIREZ — POC

SPORTS leaders should scout and train their athletes early so they can develop and flourish in international competitions such as the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, according to Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman William “Butch” Ramirez.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, so athletes do not become champions overnight in international play like the SEA Games. It’s good to start them young since it takes time to develop them,” noted Mr. Ramirez on Sunday as the 31st edition in Vietnam was set to close after nearly two weeks of nonstop action.

He singled out Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn F. Diaz and world champion Carlos “Caloy” Edriel Yulo, who stamped their class in weightlifting and gymnastics, respectively, in Hanoi, as products of long-term programs that made them elite athletes.

“(Ms.) Diaz is a product of the PSC grassroots development program when she first made her debut as wild card entry at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games at the ripe age of 17,” recalled the PSC chief, who was the national team chef de mission of the PH contingent at that time.

“Haidie (Ms. Diaz’s nickname) did not do well in the 2012 London Olympics but won a silver medal in the Rio Summer Games in 2016 during the start of our second term as PSC chairman. She finally delivered the country’s first gold in Tokyo last year,” Mr. Ramirez stressed.

A protégé of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines since he was eight years old, Mr. Yulo has emerged as the country’s top athlete for the second straight SEA Games in the Vietnam edition with five golds and two silvers.

“Before Caloy became a world-class athlete, he excelled in the Batang Pinoy and the Palarong Pambansa,” said Mr. Ramirez, who first came to the PSC in 1998 as a commissioner under the late chairman Carlos Tuason, of the two-youth oriented meets that the government sports agency is associated with.

“(Mr.) Yulo’s skills were honed in both the Batang Pinoy and Palaro that helped him become an outstanding gymnast,” said the PSC chief, who lamented that both sportsfests were suspended for two straight years due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic.

He prayed that both events and the PSC’s Philippine National Games, another breeding ground of sports talent, would resume soon, as the country copes with the coronavirus crisis better and conditions continue to improve.

Mr. Ramirez cited boxing and archery as among those with sound grassroots sports development programs that enabled them to identify young boxers and archers in grooming them for overseas competitions.

“Tokyo Olympic veterans Eumir Felix D. Marcial and Nesthy A. Petecio rose up the youth boxing ranks while Pia and Abi Bidaure and Phoebe Amistoso, who won the women’s team recurve event in archery, are in their early 20s and began as junior archers,” he pointed out.

“What we are saying is that if we plant the seeds early in scouting and nourishing our athletes through grassroots programs, they and our country will reap the rewards and recognition later on as they stand out in international competition,” Mr. Ramirez explained.

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