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Emma Malabuyo qualifies to represent Philippines at 2024 Paris Olympics

Junior Emma Malabuyo celebrates after a routine at the NCAA California regional in Berkeley. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin staff)

By Aaron Doyle

May 29, 2024 11:05 p.m.

Emma Malabuyo’s Olympic dream began when she was a little girl.

And now, they’ve been realized.

After missing Olympic qualification through the World Cup Series this year, the UCLA gymnastics junior clinched a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics after placing third in the all-around at the 2024 Asian Championships on May 24 – a competition she had just four weeks to prepare for.

“I was just closing my eyes and holding hands with everybody, but when we found out, we all screamed, and everybody just gave me hugs,” Malabuyo said. “It was such a surreal moment. My dad was crying, and then I FaceTimed my mom, and she was crying. It was just such a happy moment.”

After landing an alternate spot for the United States in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Malabuyo had a final opportunity to qualify for this year’s Olympics at the Asian Championships in Uzbekistan.

Malabuyo’s third-place finish – her first time competing in the all-around internationally since 2021 – was the highest-placing Filipina gymnast in the all-around in the history of the Asian Championships. Her placement solidified her journey to Paris, securing the spot by only 0.033.

“I never thought of trying for the Olympics again,” Malabuyo said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I had my time, and I’m going to go have fun in college.’”

Malabuyo’s glory continued in the floor event final, where she won gold – becoming the first-ever Filipina gold medalist at the competition.

An opportunity to represent the Philippines found Malabuyo in 2023 – crystallizing a second shot at Olympic qualification.

In April 2024, Malabuyo competed in the World Cup Series with a final chance of securing a bid to Paris on the floor exercise. But in her final competition, her Olympic dream was once again elusive.

“After the last World Cup, I remember I pulled two all-nighters. I couldn’t sleep afterwards,” Malabuyo said. “I was so heartbroken, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a low point in my life before.”

UCLA gymnastics coach Janelle McDonald joined Malabuyo in Uzbekistan as the coach’s first time accompanying her at an elite competition this year.

With Malabuyo’s qualification to the Olympic Games, McDonald has extended the long-lasting tradition – dating back to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles – of UCLA gymnastics coaches helping breed an Olympic-level athlete.

McDonald said she will join Malabuyo in Paris as her personal coach for the Olympics.

“It’s been one of the most special memories in my coaching career so far,” McDonald said. “Success comes from the people that just don’t give up, and she absolutely hasn’t, and she has done everything that she can to be prepared for these special moments. It’s been a really wonderful journey to be a part of.”

Malabuyo said she will head to Paris with a sense of pride for her family and heritage.

“Being able to represent the Philippines and not only myself, but having two other women alongside of me, it is such a big accomplishment, and we want to bring so much pride and joy to everyone in the Philippines.”

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Aaron Doyle
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