Kyla Ross put a bright luster on her Filipino and Asian roots after helping to propel the US gymnastics team to an Olympic gold in London.
Kyla is part of the “Fab Five” that ended a 16-year gold medal drought in this event. She is the youngest member of the US Olympic delegation in London and is widely seen as one of the future stars of women’s gymnastics in America.
Her mother, Kiana, is Filipino-Puerto Rican. Kyla’s father, Jason, is part Japanese and part African-American.
Kyla’s gold medal raised the standard for other Filipino-Americans who still have to show their wares at the London Games. They include BMX cyclist Daniel Caluag and taekwondo’s Paige McPherson.
Most of the other Filipino athletes have already bowed of contention, at least one of them kicking up a fresh cloud of controversy in boxing in what say was bad scorekeeping just weeks after Manny Pacquiao lost in a questionable ring decision.
"She was born with muscles,” Kyla’s mother said in a recent interview, apparently only partly in jest. “We would go to the park and everybody would say 'Whose baby is on top of that jungle gym?' And I would say 'Oh, that's my baby. Don't worry about her, she's fine.'”
Kiana has worked as hotel supervisor and also with gymnastic team. Jason on the other hand is an outfielder with the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
Starting at age 3, Kyla once trained in Virginia, in Richmond and later in Glen Allen before moving to Costa Mesa, Ca. to be under the tutelage of coaches Jenny and Howie Lang.
Incidentally, one of the alternate members of Team USA was also a Fil-Am, 15-year-old Sarah Finnegan of St. Louise, Mo. whose mother Linabelle Cruz Finnegan hailed from Quezon City.
After her London Olympics stint, many experts predict the world will see a lot more of the diminutive 5’1” gymnast.
But Ross’ glorious victory drew a contrast to the loss of Philippines light flyweight contender Mark Anthony Barriga who lost on points against Kazakhstan’s Birzhan Zhakypov.
Filipino sports officials and commentators were incensed with Canadian referee Roland Labbe who failed to stop Zhakypov’s wrestling tactics and instead penalized the Filipino for supposed head-butting. The fight was awarded to the Kazakh 17-16.
The Philippines protested the fight but this was dismissed. “Of course, I got tired because he kept throwing me around and the referee didn’t even give him a penalty despite at least three cautions,” said Barriga.
“I gave it my all. I wanted to win for our country…we thought the decision was unfair. But I just have to move on. That’s boxing,” he added.
The 19-year-old Barriaga had earlier dispatched Italy’s Manuel Cappai to move up to the Round of 16.
The controversial decision was just one of many that marred the boxing competition in boxing. Charges of fight fixing had dogged the Olympics in London. At least two officials had been expelled, some suspended and at least two decisions have been reversed.
Fil-Am Paige McPherson, 21, had her first taekwondo bout on Aug. 10. She is fighting in the women’s under 75 kg class.
A surprise qualifier during the Olympic trials, McPherson, defeated 2004 Olympic silver medalist, Nia Abdallah, to earn a spot in Team USA.
Fil-Am Daniel Caluag is vying for a medal carrying the Philippine tricolor in London..
The 25-year-old Caluag, son of a Filipino couple from Bulacan who migrated to the US many years ago, figured prominently in three tough qualifying tournaments to get the needed high-ranking points and emerge as the only Asian to make it to the BMX event in London.
It also marks the first time that a Filipino has qualified for the Olympics since the Union Cycliste Internationale has set qualifying standards for the Games.
The last time a member of the Philippine team won a medal was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics courtesy of boxer Mansueto Velasco Jr. who earned a silver. The country bagged bronze medals in boxing in the 1992 and 1988 Olympics.