By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
FILIPINO sports heroes, both old and new, will be celebrated at the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Awards Night in March.
Billiards legend Efren “Bata” Reyes and Tokyo Olympics-bound gymnast Carlos “Caloy” Yulo are among those to be feted in ceremonies organized to channel well-deserved focus on the athletes who brought so much to the country in the year that just passed.
In the case of Mr. Reyes, 65, he is to be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his illustrious career spanning five decades.
The Pampanga native Reyes recently competed at the 30th Southeast Asian Games held here.
And while he admitted to have struggled with his eyesight throughout the men’s carom (1 cushion) competition, it did not stop him from winning a bronze medal and add to the 12 total medal haul of the Philippine billiards team, four of which were gold.
The bronze was not the elusive first-ever gold medal he was angling for in his SEA Games career but it was nonetheless a testament to the winning mindset he has always embodied throughout his legendary career.
Mr. Reyes will serve as special guest speaker during the gala night, which many are anticipating since the billiards legend is not one big on talking.
But he is no stranger to being honored by the PSA as he was named Athlete of the Year by the sportswriting body for 1999, 2001, and 2006.
The long list of achievements of Mr. Reyes include being the best player to win world championships in two different pool disciplines — eight-ball and nine-ball — becoming the first non-American to win the US Open 9-Ball Championship, the inaugural winner of the World Cup of Pool in tandem with good friend Francisco “Django” Bustamante, acknowledged as the winningest player in the history of the Annual Derby City Classic with five titles, and won the largest prize money in the history of pocket billiards after topping the IPT World Open 8-Ball Championship worth $500K.
Mr. Reyes follows bowling legend Bong Coo and cycling champion Paquito Rivas, who were bestowed the Lifetime Achievement Award last year.
Meanwhile. Mr. Yulo will receive the President’s Award at the PSA Awards Night in recognition of a stellar 2019 outing, highlighted by his qualification for the Olympic Games later this year.
Nineteen-year-old Yulo made history by becoming the first Filipino gymnast in half a century to qualify for the Summer Games after winning the gold in the men’s floor exercise of the World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
He capped the historic year by winning seven medals — two gold and five silver — in gymnastics at the 30th SEA Games.
With the winning momentum he is having, many are optimistic that he could well deliver the first-ever gold medal for the country in the Olympics, including his mother federation, the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines (GAP).
“We are confident of his chances and hopefully he stays healthy all the way to the Olympics. Given the preparation he is having and the mindset he has now as well as the support of the government, the federation, his family and others, he has all the ‘tools’ going in and just needs to go for it and give his best shot,” said GAP secretary-general Bettina Pou in an interview.
“In winning gold in the world championships he showed what he is capable of and the Olympics could be the next thing,” the GAP official further said.
Apart from Messrs. Reyes and Yulo also to be recognized is Team Philippines as “Athlete of the Year” for winning the overall championship in the SEA Games after 14 years.
The Philippines won 149 gold medals, to go along with 117 silver and 121 bronze in the biennial regional sporting meet.
The PSA Awards Night is set for March 6 at the Centennial Hall of the Manila Hotel.