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Tokyo 2020 Olympics: Meet the Philippine athletes competing in gymnastics, athletics, and rowing

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will run from July 23 to August 8, 2021. Nineteen Filipino athletes in competing in 11 sports will see action as the Philippines seeks to win its first official Olympic gold medal. In the lead-up to the opening of the Games, ESPN5 is producing a four-part series on all 19 athletes. This is the third part, featuring athletes competing in gymnastics, athletics, and rowing.

Gymnastics

Carlos Edriel Yulo

World Ranking: 3rd in Floor Exercise (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique)

Form heading into the Olympics

Unlike many of his compatriots, Yulo has been training extensively in Japan with coach Munehiro Kugiyama and recently snared the bronze medal in the 2021 All-Japan Apparatus Championships last June 8th.

History shows that the Floor Exercise is not only Yulo's strongest event but also faired well in the Vault during the 2018 where he won the silver in the Baku, Azerbaijan and third place in the Melbourne tiff. Claiming silver in the other five disciplines (Vault, Pommel Horse, Rings, Horizonal Bar and the Parallel Bars) in the 2019 SEA Games shows the flexibility required to make a serious run for the overall title.

Medal chances

The Floor Exercise is where Yulo is heavily favored coming in after triumphing in the 2019 World Championships in Germany. While his lack of active competition has dropped him to number three in the world, Yulo has been busy adding a few more nuances to his already captivating arsenal in this event, which includes his ridiculous full twisting double lay-out which he highlighted in his winning performance in 2019.

Yulo may also pull off a few surprises in the Vault where he is currently ranked 27th in the world. He is also tied for 35th in the Parallel Bars so these may also be apparatuses that could help him inch towards contention in the overall race.

Israel's Artem Dolgopyat and Rayderley Zapata of Spain have overtaken Yulo as far as the present world rankings go, but he must first make a good impression at the Ariake Gymnastics Hall and finish favorably against the four Turkish and two Italian competitors in his mixed group. He does have his opportunities, but it will now all come down to how his training prepared him for this moment.

The former world champion in the Floor Exercise is vying for a podium finish in all six individual disciplines as well as the overall event and being injury-free has him at a unique position to deliver.

Yulo will be seeing action in mixed group 5 with Italy and Turkey and will be plunging into action in subdivision 3, which tuns from 6:30PM to 9PM, Philippine time on Saturday, July 24th - right after the opening rites of the games. A top eight finish in any apparatus here is necessary for the reigning SEA Games all-around titlist to advance to the next round and Yulo must also barge into the top 24 to have a shot at this overall championship. - Noel Zarate

Athletics

Athletics

Ernest John Obiena

Pole vault

World ranking: 6th

Kristina Knott

200m sprint

World ranking: 113th

Form heading into the Olympics

The Philippines will be fielding two of its best track and field athletes in EJ Obiena and Kristina Knott. Both could boast that they are the current Philippine record holders in their respective disciplines.

Being the first Filipino to qualify to the Summer Games in 2019, Obiena had a lot of time to polish his form and routine heading into Tokyo.

After winning the gold medal in the 30th Southeast Asian Games, he was already rounding into form, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended semblance of normalcy, including competition.

Obiena was able to get better and even reset the national record thrice this year. Obiena cleared 5.80m in Feb. 6, 5.86m just a week later, and is awaiting confirmation for the 5.87m clearance he accomplished last June 30.

Knott, on the other hand, was also able to set the Philippine record in the 200m sprint at 23.01 seconds at New Clark City.

Knott, under the supervision of coach Ro Griffin, had been training in the United States non-stop since the onset of the pandemic.

She is close to her peak form in the 2019 SEA Games, as she clocked 23.17 ticks in a meet in Louisiana, USA last April.

The Fil-Am sprinter, however, had a minor setback when she had a breakthrough case of COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Luckily for her, she has recovered fully.

Medal chances

Obiena is now ranked higher than his training buddy, reigning Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz, but is facing tough competition from 21-year-old Swede Armand Duplantis, the top-ranked pole vaulter in the world.

Duplantis holds the current indoor record of 6.18m, and outdoor record of 6.15m, a bit far away from Obiena's personal bests.

Also seen as contenders for a podium finish are Americans Sam Kendricks and Christopher Nielsen, Polish Piotr Lisek, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Renaud Lavillenie, and Braz himself.

In the event that Obiena does not make it to the podium, expect the 25-year-old to eclipse his personal bests once again.

"Based on history, he's within range of a podium finish -- a top-five finish, at least. EJ is not the only person capable of jumping that high, so it's really about consistency here," his father Emerson Obiena said last June.

"I can't say right now if he can reach 6m. It's too early to tell. But I can see that he can jump higher than 5.85m."

The elder Obiena added that the key for his son to win is to be consistent in reaching those marks above 5.80m.

Meanwhile, Knott is still kind of far away from the world's best 200m runners. The current top record holder, Dina Asher-Smith of the United Kingdom, clocked 21.88 seconds in 2019, almost two seconds quicker than Knott's personal best.

Knott's determination can propel her past the heats, where she could set another personal and the country's best. - Philip Matel

Rowing

Cris Nievarez

Men's single sculls

Form heading into the Olympics

Nievarez was a pleasant surprise as a Filipino representative to the Games as he wound up ninth overall at the end of qualifiers, but still secured a spot due to universality. With that, he ended the Philippines' 21-year Olympic drought in the sport.

Even before qualifying, however, he has already been hard at work, training with coach Shukhrat Ganiev of Uzbekistan and the rest of the national rowing team at the La Mesa Dam in Quezon City.

Medal chances

The qualifiers Nievarez competed in back in May were held at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay. The venue for the Olympic rowing competitions? The Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo Bay.

The fact that he and his paddle are already familiar with those waters will be their advantage, or so the Quezon native says.

"I was able to familiarize myself with the waters there in Japan so I have a bit of an idea about what I should work on and what I should improve," he explained following his qualification.

Still, to keep up with the world's best is a tall task. The good news is that Nievarez understands this and is also here for the long haul.

"I want to improve my time so I can bring my record a little closer to that of the athletes from powerhouse countries, especially those from the European countries," he shared, as the Philippine Rowing Association explained that world champion rowers needed 10 years of experience, at the very least.

At just 21 years old, Nievarez is adamant that his best years are still ahead of him. - Normie Riego