Philippines' Hidilyn Diaz competes in the women's 55kg weightlifting event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 20, 2022. (Photo by Tang Chhin Sothy and TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP)

Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz competes in the women’s 55kg weightlifting event during the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Hanoi on May 20, 2022. (Photo by Tang Chhin Sothy and TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP)

MANILA, Philippines–Sports leaders should scout and train their athletes early so they can develop and flourish in international competitions such as the Southeast Asian Games, according to Philippine Sports Commission 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 Ramirez Sunday as the 31st edition in Vietnam was set to close after nearly two weeks of non-stop action.

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

“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,” said the PSC chief, who was the national team chef de mission of the PH contingent at that time.

Carlos Yulo wins gold medals in men's floor exercise and still rings. SEA GAMES POOL

Carlos Yulo wins gold medals in men’s floor exercise and still rings. SEA GAMES POOL

A protégé of the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines since he was eight years old, 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 [Yulo] became a world-class athlete, he excelled in the Batang Pinoy and the Palarong Pambansa,” said Ramirez of the two-youth oriented meets that the government sports agency is associated with.

Both sportsfests have been suspended for two straight years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ramirez 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 virus crisis better and conditions continue to improve.

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 Felix Eumir Marcial and Nesthy 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.”

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