By Jean Malanum

TOP GYMNAST. Tchelzy Maayo from the Philippines (center) wins five medals at the 8th International Gymnastics Invitational held from Dec. 9 to 11 in Jakarta, Indonesia. She topped the floor exercise, vault, uneven bars, beam and individual all-around events. (Contributed photo)

MANILA – Tchelzy Maayo has devoted herself to gymnastics from an early age with the hope of becoming an Olympian.

Two weeks ago, she made the Philippines proud after scooping five gold medals at the 8th International Gymnastics Invitational in Jakarta, Indonesia.

“I think I did well because I got five gold medals but there’s always room for improvement and I think I can do better,” said the 10-year-old Maayo, who topped the floor exercise, vault, uneven bars, beam and the individual all-around events in the women’s artistic Level 5 12-and-under category.

Her interest in gymnastics began when she was five years old.

“No one encouraged me. I just wanted it, when I saw videos on YouTube before I told my parents I wanted to do gymnastics,” said the Grade 5 student from Southville International School and Colleges in Las Piñas City.

“Before, I’m a swimmer. But I chose to concentrate on gymnastics because I find it more challenging and fun,” she added.

In 2017, Maayo bagged the Philippine Gymnastics and Athletics Academy-STY individual all-around title (3 gold medals and 2 silver medals).

She had a more fruitful campaign the following year: British School Manila Meet (2 gold medals and 3 silver medals), PGAA -STY Invitational Meet (3 gold medals and 1 silver medal), Bangkok Gymnastics Invitational Meet (Moose Games) in Thailand (4 gold medals) and Hong Kong International Carnival (1 bronze medal).

While the achievements have inspired her to focus more on training, her studies did not suffer.

“Time management,” she replied, when asked how she managed to juggle studying and training.

“I usually do my school stuff before going to the gym, while in the car. Then, when I reach the gym, I’m already ready for training,” said Maayo, who enjoys painting, drawing and building LEGO blocks during her spare time.

She knows what she wants and is willing to do everything to follow in the footsteps of her idols — American gymnasts Simone Arianne Biles and Sunisa Lee.

Biles won seven Olympic medals and 25 World Championship medals, while Lee, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics all-around champion, has six world titles.

“I want to compete in the Olympics, just like them,” said Maayo, a member of the Alpha Gymnastics Philippines (AGP) club where Yza Yulo, the youngest sibling of world champion and Olympian Carlos Yulo, also trains.

AGP head coach Dico Joe Ili said Maayo “is very talented at her age now and for a Filipino talent, she is someone very promising.”

“Tchelzy’s performance is something that she really prepared for. She was not able to join any international competition during the pandemic so it made her excited for that one,” said Ili about Maayo’s five-gold victory.

He also noted Maayo’s determination, saying “when she started doing competitive gymnastics, she really focused. She loves to try new stuff and she is not afraid most of the time.”

Ili, an international Brevet judge for women’s artistic gymnastics, said there is a plan for Maayo to join more international tournaments and train abroad next year. (PNA)