PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: As the floor exercise final scores were flashed on the LED screens and his name announced as winner, John Ivan Cruz couldn't help but break down into tears.
The Filipino gymnast just scored 13.850 points to rule his event in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games and win his first international gold medal at the National Olympic Stadium's Marquee Tent on May 9.
He's one of those athletes who came from a humble family background, those who endured financial difficulty, those who experienced hunger, those who couldn't finish school.
Ivan, 21, remembers all those difficulties, especially being the oldest among seven siblings.
And that's why the tears of joy went dripping from his eyes. He's come a long way, after all.
“I can't explain the feeling. I'm so blessed. My life has been so difficult and I didn't expect that I could reach something like this (gold),” the teary-eyed Cruz told Filipino reporters.
“My biggest problem is the financial aspect. I'm the oldest (among us seven siblings). My siblings weren't able to go to school. I'm just so happy that with this (my gymnastics career), I can provide for them.”
Under Republic Act No. 10699, SEA Games gold medalists are entitled to receive a P300,000.00 award from the government.
Somehow, Ivan has a good foundation now to take care of his family.
IVAN ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE
Ivan, who hails from Malate Manila, isn't supposed to be here. He quit gymnastics years ago.
Poverty made him return to the sport as he couldn't attend senior high and college, having finished Grade 10 at Arroyo High School.
“I'm with the national team for almost two years because I quit before. When I came back last year, God give me an opportunity right away (SEA Games).
“Life is so hard when you have nothing. I decided to go back to the sport because of poverty. I've experienced having really nothing at all.”
WORTHY OF TRUST
Bemedalled Olympic gymnast Carlos Yulo can just go in there and stamp his class in floor exercise. He was a world champion in the event in 2019 and has won back-to-back titles in the SEA Games in 2019 and 2022.
But Carlos trusted Ivan. He knew his childhood friend can deliver in his event and so he let him compete.
Deliver the gold, Ivan did.
“I specialize in floor and kuya Caloy gave this to me. He trusted me and I'm so happy I didn't fail him.
“This is my biggest achievement.”
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