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Emma Malabuyo wins silver at the Asian Championships on floor

Emma Malabuyo

The Filipino language is still a learning process for Emma Malabuyo. UCLA gymnast’s rising junior says she relies on family members and new teammates to learn new words. The Filipino language was previously studied by Malabuyo in a level-one course.

She remembered one word after returning from Singapore’s 2023 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Filipinos refer to her as “ate,” the word for older sister, among the junior team athletes of the Philippines National Team. Despite the historic results, Malabuyo said the connection and respect she developed with her fellow gymnasts shone through despite the best placement for a Filipina gymnast at the event.

“I was so proud when everyone gave me a hug after I received my medal, saying, ‘This means a lot to us.'” Malabuyo said. I think doing it for the people around me meant a lot more to me than doing it for myself. The feeling of love was overwhelming.”

Philippines coach Cliff Parks contacted Malabuyo after the collegiate season concluded with an offer to represent the country. Parks coaches club gymnastics near Oakland. Though tired physically and mentally, she was still excited to compete despite her fatigue.

A 2020 alternate for USA Gymnastics, Malabuyo has switched to the Gymnastics Association of the Philippines to pursue a career in elite gymnastics. Getting a Filipino passport was last minute, so the Santa Clara resident obtained it the day before traveling to make the change.

Her competition status was at risk due to a final travel snafu.

In the final days before the competition, Malabuyo’s flight from San Francisco to Singapore was cancelled, forcing him to travel 23 hours by plane through Chicago and Japan.

In Singapore, however, they hung out together every day, creating a familial atmosphere, once Malabuyo joined the rest of her team.

Malabuyo said she’d invite them to her room so we could hang out together. It’s nice to have friends that enjoy singing and dancing, and it reminds me of what UCLA likes to do.”

Emma Malabuyo

Her elite past also brought a familiar face to represent the Philippines alongside Malabuyo. Olympian Aleah Finnegan from LSU won bronze medals at the Asian Championships in beam and vault.

Finnegan was beaten out of a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by Malabuyo, who became an alternate for the United States.

In addition to being medalists, both are striving to increase the Philippines’ prominence in gymnastics around the world. Malabuyo – which Finnegan met in 2018 – was a good teammate to have because she understood how it feels to finish college and immediately jump into other competitions.

Finnegan said she loves competing with her because she is so fun to be around. I enjoyed reconnecting with her, and we have experienced a lot together, especially going from elite to college to back to elite.”

Despite participating at the Asian Championships being one of her best experiences, Malabuyo did not anticipate the impact it would have back home. At the Asian Championships, Malabuyo and Finnegan were featured in billboard-like advertisements highlighting their achievements.

As a Filipino, I didn’t realize the significance of it. Malabuyo expressed gratitude on behalf of his family, particularly his grandparents.

The Olympics Council of Asia postponed until September 2022 the Asian Games in China, which Malabuyo said the Philippines wants to send her to. In preparation for the international event, the Bruin is currently resting.

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