SportsPassing the torch: Olympian Stephen Fernandez and Olympic hopeful Kris Uy
Passing the torch: Olympian Stephen Fernandez and Olympic hopeful Kris Uy
April 17, 2016
April 17, 2016

The Olympics is considered as the pinnacle of practically every established sport in the world, with perhaps the FIFA World Cup as one of the few exceptions. Held every four years, it is every athlete’s dream to represent his or her country in the Olympics. What makes it all the more prestigious is that not all countries will be assured of participating in the oldest international sporting event in the world, as some nations have to go through rigorous Olympic qualifiers.

As for athletes in De La Salle University, only a handful has competed in the Olympics. It’s been 24 years since the University last produced an Olympian in Stephen Fernandez, who competed in the 1992 Barcelona Games. Fernandez, who was also once the head coach of the DLSU Taekwondo Team, won the bronze medal for the Philippines while competing in the bantamweight division back when Taekwondo was still a demonstration sport.

Fast forward to today, former Green Jin Kristopher Uy hopes to represent the Philippines as a Lasallian Olympian. Uy will be vying for a spot to compete in this year’s Summer Olympics when he participates in the 2016 Asian Taekwondo Olympic Qualification Tournament on April 16 and 17 here in Manila. The LaSallian sat down with Fernandez and Uy as the former talked about his past experiences, while the latter shared how he is preparing for the big stage.

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Hard work and preparation pays off

When asked on what he thought were the things he needed to do prior to the Olympics, Fernandez recalls, “Before I left for Barcelona in 1992, I knew that this was going to be my last event as a national team athlete. So I knew I had to be tough again physically and mentally. I knew preparation was the key. So I dedicated myself totally to this one last push for the sport that I loved. I set aside all distractions and prioritized the mission at hand.”

Like his former coach, Uy has also put in the work, training three times a day, while watching film of his opponents as part of his mental preparations. With only weeks separating him and the Olympic qualifiers, Uy has said that preparations have been going really well. But along with the glamor of training for the Olympics comes a greater share of sacrifices. Due to the rigorous daily training sessions, Uy was forced to put his academics on hold for the time being. He also had to close down two of his businesses and has Saturdays as his only off day during the week.

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From local tournaments to the Olympics

Uy started getting into Taekwondo at the tender age of four while growing up in his hometown of Concord, California in the United States. He talked about the difference between competing in the US circuits and the local circuit, saying, “In the US, you compete for yourself, by yourself. But here [in the Philippines], to win, your team has to win as well. So here, it has more to do with the team and the team dynamic of the sport.”

22 years later, Uy, now 26, has not stopped since, winning many awards and tournaments along the way, including a gold medal finish in the UAAP Season 76 Taekwondo Tournament in the middle heavyweight division. He also cherished the opportunity to compete alongside his younger brother Kyle in the UAAP. Having represented the Philippines internationally since 2011, the highlight of Uy’s career was bagging the gold medal in the +87 kg division during the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar. Should he qualify for the Olympics, it will be a crowning achievement in itself.

“I remember, [before I won the bronze medal] that going into the last round, I was down on points,” Fernandez recalls on his Olympic stint. “My coach and teacher [GM Hong] was telling me to end strong and attack!  All things started to flow and the rest is history.”

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On chances for Olympic glory

Competing in the qualifiers will not be an easy task for Uy, as he will have to go against six other countries including resident Olympic powerhouse China. Two slots are up for grabs, with the top placers advancing to Rio de Janeiro.

When asked what he thinks of Uy’s chances to make it to the Olympics, Fernandez noted that his former ward has a big chance given his natural size and weight in his division. However, he admits that the road to the big event will be harder for Uy than it was for him nearly 25 years ago.

“During our time, we didn’t have qualifiers yet,” Fernandez says. “It’s actually harder now to qualify for Olympics. There are better training methods, nutrition and rehabilitation now. One thing I believe that has remained all these years… Is the desire to win… You gotta have it. This I believe is instilled when you train with heart and passion.”

Due to the unpredictability of the sport, Uy asserted that it all boils down to the preparations and work one puts in. “My motto would usually be is to do your best and God will do the rest”, he asserts.

As a former Olympian, Fernandez has high hopes for Uy. “For Kris, and all the others vying for Olympic slots… I wish them all the best and keep in mind… God and Country. Enjoy every moment of the event. Have fun. Think simple thoughts, and when there is a situation to score, grab the opportunity. When none, create it,” he says.