Winnipeg, Canada | Sunday, 20 April 2014
Thursday, 23 January 2014 05:42

Gilmore Junio: A Filipino Olympics Hopeful in Canada

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Jerry Caingcoy one-on-one interview with Gilmore Junio. by: Jerry Caingcoy

Again and again, we’ve heard stories of Filipino achievers abroad. They’re truly inspirational but here’s one Filipino achiever who has broken the barriers on a league uncommon to every Filipino. It is a “man bites a dog” kind of story. Thus is the case of Gilmore Junio. He is a Filipino superstar on ice. Yes on ice! He is not just an ordinary ice skater but a SPEED SKATER. If Husain Bolt is the fastest runner on earth, Gilmore could be the fastest 500 m or 1000 m Speed Skater on earth! How could that happen?

Gilmore Junio is a 23 year-old long track speed skating athlete born to Filipino immigrant parents who immigrated to Canada in the seventies. Although, he was born and raised in Calgary, he is proud of his Filipino heritage. His father, Gino Junio, who hails originally from Bacolod immigrated to Canada at the age of twenty-four through a job acceptance program. He worked as a machine operator in Winnipeg but eventually moved to Calgary to find a greener pasture. Gino Junio was a manager when he retired. He is married to Julie Tantay, a native of Pangasinan who has been working for 25 years as a reservoir technologist for a progressive oil and gas company. Gino and Julie have three children - two boys and a girl. Gilmore is the youngest in the family. His older brother is a hockey player.

“I can’t even skate but my two sons love to skate so I put them on skating classes and hockey training camps. I made sure I was always with them in every game and travelled with them everywhere while my wife stays at home to take care of our household. That seemed to work for us but we’ve always been single-minded in supporting our children in whatever they love to do- and that’s skating.” Gino Junio confided.

Gilmore Junio started playing hockey at a very young age. Despite his typical Filipino built – slim and doesn’t look bulky, he is considered as one of the quickest player amongst his counterparts.

“I love to skate, it’s always fun! That’s why I love the sport! Growing up in school I was already into a lot of physical activities. I was neither the tallest nor the strongest but due to my ability to move quickly, I’ve always had a way to get around in any sports.” Gilmore Junio said

Due to a stroke of fate, he changed gears to become a speed skater with the unwavering support of his family as the backbone of his relentless pursuit to be a world-renowned speed skater that he has become today.

“I saw an ad on TV for a speed skating camp so I decided to enroll Gilmore to see if he likes to shift to speed skating considering that his hockey counterparts are bigger than him. But I did not totally pull him out of hockey. For a time he was doing both but one of the coaches told me that Gilmore is an excellent skater and would be a great fit for his size and speed to pursue it. That is all how his speed skating career started.” Gilmore’s father said.

It could be a father’s instinct or his destiny but Gilmore Junio became one of the promising short track speed skaters in his team. He befittingly earned the accolade of being Alberta’s Junior Athlete of the Year for his sterling speed skating accomplishments in 2010.

“Our support for our children was all the way! Although hockey and speed skating are very expensive sports, we did not stop supporting them. We sacrificed going for holidays and attending parties to focus on our children. We drove around Canada, flown from the east coast to the west coast and travelled to other countries for trainings and competitions. Now, we can’t believe Gilmore is going to Olympics.”, Gino Junio confided.

Being in such a very physical and competitive sport, one wrong move could result to a fatal accident. Gilmore is not immune to that! During a training race in preparation for the 2010 Junior World Championships in Taipei, China, he suffered an almost crippling back injury that put his illustrious short track speed skating career to an abrupt halt. Despite the unfortunate setback that could have altered not only his sports career but his whole life, he vowed a comeback even while he was in his stretcher and going through the painful recovery process. True to his promise, he regained his prominence this time in the long track speed skating field. "Coming back from that injury and achieving what I did that season will be one of my greatest achievements. I was so close to quitting but to hold on my dream and accomplish it makes it so much sweeter." Gilmore Junio said.

He recently had a trip to the podium at the World Cup speed skating competition in Salt Lake City, Utah last November 15, 2013 bagging the most coveted first place finish - his second career World cup medal but first World Cup gold medal in the 500 m event. He was tied with Japan’s Joji Kato for the first place finish. It was a well-deserved win. He won his first World Cup medal: silver in Nagano, Japan on December 9, 2012.

With his continued dominance in various national and international competitions and due to his record-breaking performances, he now has a humungous chance of being a first time member of the elite Canadian Olympic speed skating team. He was ranked in the top 10 in the men’s 500 m last year and is touted to be one of Calgary’s Winter Olympic hopefuls in 500 m and 1000 m.

"To go to the Games is a dream come true. I had a taste of what it feels like to stand on top of the podium on the world stage so to replicate that at the Olympics would be incredible!" Gilmore Junio said.

He is finishing a degree in Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. When he is not in school his life revolves around training and competing within Canada, Europe and other parts of the globe. At the 2010 Canadian Junior Championships, he won a silver medal in the 1000 m and bronze in the 500 m. He also bagged several medals when he competed in three international senior season competitions including fifteen World Cups. At his first trial races in the 2009-2010 World Cup, he placed third and fifth in two 500 m races and sixth in the 1000 m.

Seeking support from the Filipino community

Not every day you get the chance to be in close proximity with a young, bemedalled, highly successful athlete, more so a 100% Filipino making waves in winter sports not only in Canada but in the whole world. His presence in the room did not elicit as much reaction until he was acknowledged to stand and speak before the members of the Calgary Filipino Lions Club. As he began to introduce himself, he minced no words in expressing how proud he was as a Filipino. He gladly shared his outstanding accomplishments, yet humble and down to earth enough to seek financial support in whatever amount in preparation for his next competition. To that, he was assured of the club’s full support which is known for supporting and training young Filipino leaders and achievers.

“I am proud to be a Filipino and at the same time honored to represent Canada. I would be grateful if you can support me in whatever way you can. My parents has been supporting me financially from the very beginning even until now but lately, I started getting sponsors for me to be able to maintain in shape and stay in training for bigger competitions”, Gilmore Junio said.

Currently, aside from his Canadian sponsors, he successfully convinced the biggest telecommunications network in the Philippines, The Philippine Long Distance Telecommunication (PLDT) company as one of his major sponsors for the 2014 season owing to his laudable achievement as a world-class Filipino athlete. He attributes PLDT’s support as a big morale booster to his speed skating career especially in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

He will be leaving for Sochi, Russia on January 25, 2014 to compete at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7 - 23, 2014. Let us cheer and support Gilmore Junio as he attempts to clinch his first Olympic medal not only for Canada but for the Filipinos all over the world.

A Filipino pride and inspiration, a beacon of hope

We’ve seen and heard the news in the Philippines but while we recently had a winning streak in the international beauty pageants and the most awaited and timely comeback win of boxing superstar, Manny Pacquiao, there seems to be always a string of challenges that continue to besiege our beloved country: from the multibillion pork barrel scam to the massive devastation of Typhoon Haiyan which was recognized as the most powerful typhoon ever recorded on earth leaving thousands of people dead and billions of losses to infrastructure and agriculture and to the present long and arduous recovery efforts and rebuilding of the lives of millions of people displaced by the typhoon. Behind these maladies, nothing could be more encouraging than the spirit of resiliency of Filipinos in rising up from the rubbles and standing back on its feet regardless of whatever happened and what the future holds for every Filipino.

Gilmore Junio dreams of winning at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics not only to represent Canada but to show to the world what Filipinos are made of. It is also his hope that he will be able to provide a source of inspiration to every Filipino to be the best that they can be and to be a beacon of hope to those who need strength and courage in the midst of difficulties especially those who were massively affected by the recent monstrous typhoon.

"Despite the typhoon, I hope Filipinos can find some hope and joy through watching myself and the other Filipinos who are participating in the Olympics." Gilmore Junio said. Philippines at the Olympics

According to Wikipedia, the Philippines first sent athletes to compete at the Olympic Games in 1924, making it the first country to compete and win a medal from Southeast Asia. The nation has competed at every Summer Olympic Games since then, except when they participated in the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Filipino athletes have also competed at the Winter Olympic Games on three different occasions since 1972, but not since 1994. The Philippines is the first nation from the tropics to ever participate in the Winter Olympic Games.

Gilmore Junio at the podium when he won his first World Cup race at Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. Photo: supplied by Gilmore.
Gilmore Junio in his winning form during the World Cup 2012-2013 season in Calgary. Photo: supplied by Gilmore.