Eighty eighty

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Today, there are various numbers that proliferate in the triathlon scene. There’s “111” (Tabuelan). There’s “123” (DEFY 123). There’s “5150” (Olympic distance), “70.3” (Half-Ironman), and “226” (Timex Bohol).

These all pertain to the distance. In the case of Tabuelan, that’s 111 kms. — swim for 2-K, bike for 88-K, and run for 21-K.  With the extremely difficult “226,” that’s similar to the full Ironman distance: 3.8-K swim, 180-K bike plus a full marathon. (Crazy distance, no?)

There’s one more number that’s invaded the Tri’ calendar and it’s happening next Saturday, November 8.

8080. If you’re Chinese and believe in the lucky powers of the number “8,” then you’ll be happy. If you’re a graphic artist, you’ll note that when you handwrite the digits “0” and “8,” they’re endless loops — the same loops that triathletes will traverse in San Remigio.

Cornerstone Group is the organizer. Led by Steve Maniquis, he gathered two others — Quinito Moras and Joel Juarez — two years ago and decided to start an event-organizing company that “would make quality triathlon events and fun runs.”

1.8-K swim + 65-K bike + 14-K run. Summed up, that’s 80.80 kms.

“We came up with the 8080 distance,” said Steve, “so people could slowly increase their distance if they wanted to eventually do a 70.3 or Half-Ironman. We feel that the distance is finding a niche in the triathlon community.”

The Nov. 8 race in San Remigio was scheduled because it was one year ago — Nov. 8, 2013 — when a major tragedy truck our nation. “It’s our way of commemorating the one year anniversary of Yolanda,” said Steve. Next year, Cornerstone has lined-up four events: a Sprint distance in January plus three more 8080s: March in Daanbantayan, May (location to be finalized) and back to San Remigio in Nov. 2015.

Like many from Cebu, Steve got bitten by the tri-sport bug just recently, joining his first Sprint race in February 2012. He pedaled onwards, joining the IM70.3 races last year and last August.

What’s remarkable is that Mr. and Mrs. Maniquis are both Ironman 70.3 individual finishers. Maricel Martinez Maniquis, Steve’s wife and a long-time friend, herself completed the IM70.3 race last August. Next year, both husband and wife plan to do another round of IM70.3 races in Cebu and in Vietnam.

What makes 8080 different? For one, the starting time. Unlike all other events that start before 7 a.m., this race begins at high noon! Yes, around 12:30 p.m. The reason: in San Remigio, the low tide means really shallow waters. At noon, it’s the highest of tides and the best time for that freestyle. “The noon time start will make for a not-so-hot run portion and the swim portion will not be too deep,” said Steve.

There’s also a 4040 category — half the full distance. Plus, relay teams are welcome in both divisions. The event will be on a Saturday (while most are on Sunday). Timing chips will be used. “The bike route will be closed for a safer bike ride,” added Steve. “It’s a longer race than the Standard or Olympic distance and it’s also draft legal for the bike so it makes for a faster and more strategic race.” During and after the race, the party will be hosted by Cable Car.

“Triathlon is still growing but you are already seeing derivative forms like CrossFit and Adventure racing gaining exposure,” said Steve. “Triathlon is a very demanding sport and the body definitely takes a beating. Although it’s nice to see the progression of young kids who do triathlons. Before you used to be a swimmer or a biker or a runner; now, the new breed of triathletes are good in all three disciplines. It’s gonna be here for a while.”

With advice for the newcomers, Steve gave three: Get clearance from the doctor. Be careful of doing too much too soon. And, if you want to get faster, do interval training on all three disciplines.

The 8080 deadline for registration is tomorrow. Visit the Facebook page now and see you in San Remigio on the 8th.

Love in Singapore

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SINGAPORE — If you follow tennis, you know that the meaning of “love” is different with this game. While love means everything in life, in tennis, it means nothing. It’s zero. What transpired here the past week was love-filled.

First, the shocker. It happened last Wednesday when Serena Williams lost to Simona Halep. The score: 6-0, 6-2. The first eight games were won by the 23-year-old Romanian. Watching from the bleachers, the sound was deafening inside the Indoor Stadium. All of us were in disbelief. Was this happening?

But, thanks to the round robin format, a loss doesn’t mean an exit. Usually, tournaments employ a knockout system. You lose, you’re out. Not in the BNP Paribas WTA Finals.

At the press conference minutes after that embarrassment, I sat 15 feet away from Serena. She was downtrodden but still managed to smile. (Amazing how champions stay positive despite defeat.)

Serena survived — barely — to make it to the semis. In the last elimination round match of her group, Ana Ivanovic had a chance to gain entry had she won in straight sets over Halep. She won the first set. But then Halep won the second set and vanquished the chance for Ana. Serena, by virtue of a higher quotient, advanced.

FINAL. Last Sunday at 7 p.m. during the Women’s Singles final, the stadium brimmed with a boisterous crowd. Top Philta official Randy Villanueva was here. So was Jean Henri Lhuillier, accompanied by his wife Bea Lucero-Lhuillier. Many top honchos and players from Philippine tennis watched.

Three legends were in attendance. Chris Evert entered the arena and was honored as a WTA Ambassador. Martina Navratilova has the doubles trophy named after her. Also here was the founder of the WTA herself, Billie Jean King. The three Americans sat beside each other at courtside.

The Serena-Simona final was just like their match on Wednesday. Only this time, the roles were reversed. Then, Simona was the aggressor. This time, Serena made sure to be in control.

“I had to play more Serena-style tennis,” she said, “and just do what I do best: enforce myself.”

Serena’s serve, nearing 200-kph on many occasions, was the overpowering shot. On short balls or on floaters, she’d run towards the net and topspin-volley the ball for a winner. In one memorable game while Halep served, she finished the point with a thunderous smash. On her subsequent shot, returning serve, she smothered that ball so hard that it boomeranged harder than Halep’s serve.

Halep was helpless. It was another cold-blooded and unforgiving display of tennis from SW — the same type that won her 18 major singles crowns.

Personally, I’m lucky to have witnessed a few historic Serena moments: when she won her first major in New York at the age of 17; when she won the Olympic doubles gold with Venus in Beijing; and two nights ago.

DOUBLES. Speaking of “love,” another love set occurred in doubles when Sania Mirza and Cara Black blanked the defending champions, Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-1, 6-0. Everybody expected a closer bout. The Chinese/Taiwanese pair were the higher seeds (No. 2). But Mirza/Black were inspired. They were down a match point in the quarterfinals and down three match points in the semis but survived. They possessed that nothing-to-lose spirit last Sunday and, after losing the opening game, won 12 straight games.

TV. Too bad for us at home, I don’t think the BNP Paribas WTA Finals was shown on TV. The Singapore tournament should have been broadcasted worldwide — especially to Asia considering that it was the first-ever WTA Finals held in Asia-Pacific.

FUTURE ACES. One program that the organizers included was the Future Aces. They invited the top 14- and 16-and-under female player from each Southeast Asian country to join in a round-robin competition held at the Kallang Tennis Centre. Monica Cruz and Rafa Villanueva represented the Philippines. Not only did they get to join and play, they also got to be up close with the Top 8. During the Draw Ceremony the other Saturday, Rafa stood beside Serena Williams and was gifted with her Wilson racket! Nice!

SEA EVENT. There was also another junior tournament: the South East Asian Championships featuring the top two boys and girls players from the 12-, 14-, and 16-and-under divisions of the various ASEAN countries. Representing the Boys 14 was Cebu’s very own, Arthur Craig “Iggy” Pantino.

BALLKIDS. I’m also here as a tennis parent. My daughter Jana, together with top junior netter Kara Salimbangon, are the two representatives from the Philippines in the ballkids program. Indonesia is also represented by two girls, joining 48 children from Singapore. What a rare chance for Jana and Kara to be on court, just a few feet away, from the world’s Top 8.

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WTA is the Williams Tennis Association

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SINGAPORE — The official wording of WTA is Women’s Tennis Association. But the way she’s been playing here, they might as well rename it for Serena Williams.

Yesterday at 4 p.m., I witnessed one of the most enthralling matches I’ve seen in my 20+ years of tennis life.

Caroline Wozniacki had been undefeated all week. She carded a 3-0 record and was feeling confident after beating Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska.

Against Serena yesterday during the semifinals, she won the first set, 6-2. While Wozniacki hardly made any errors, Williams was spraying her shots all over the Singapore Indoor Stadium. At one point, Williams was so exasperated with her start that she hit a smash. No, she didn’t smash the ball; she smashed her racket. Not once or twice but multiple times that the Wilson racket twisted and formed an unrecognizable form.

Wozniacki was en route to an upset. Having lost to Williams in nine out of the 10 times they’ve played, this time in Asia, it was to be her time.

Not so fast, said Ms. Williams. After a 3-all tie in the 2nd set, the 33-year-old American sped to a 6-3 victory. One set apiece.

W & W are actually “besties.” In proper English, they’re the closest of friends. When Caroline was dumped by Rory McIlroy, it was Serena who invited her friend for some beach time relaxation.

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Last Friday night, during the concert of Mariah Carey (here at the neighboring National Stadium), it was these two girls who sneaked out of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to watch “The Elusive Chanteuse.”

Putting their friendship aside hours after that late night out, yesterday’s 3rd set could not have been closer. 1-all. 2-all. 3-3. 4-4 and 40-all. At that point, Caroline earned a break point and didn’t waste it. She broke Serena and led 5-4.

Jasmin, my wife, who predicted a Wozniacki tournament win when we arrived, was ecstatic while watching at our hotel room.

Seated in the middle section of the 12,000-seater Indoor Stadium, I had other thoughts. I wanted the match to last longer. It was too high-quality a back-and-forth exchange of gunfire for it to end. The Singaporean crowd was pro-Serena. You could here it from their screams… GO, SERENA!

Serving for a place in the finals, Caro was broken. What I find amazing with the 24-year-old Danish star is her running. She doesn’t possess the brute power of Serena; what she does own are those amazing legs that never tire. (Next Sunday, during the New York City Marathon, Wozniacki will join two prominent Cebuanos: Liloan Mayor Duke Frasco, running his first 42-K, and marathon veteran Dr. Vic Verallo.)

Third set, 5-all. Wozniacki had another break point and an open backhand shot. She missed. Williams held serve — assisted by 198-kph and 194-kph aces — and led 6-5. Then, a few moments later, it was match point for Serena. What ensued was a remarkable exchange with Caroline attacking and Serena counter-punching. It culminated with the best friends slumped at the net and a jumping volley winner by Caro.

Six-all, tiebreak. At this point, the thousands of spectators realized what they have been witnessing: the best match of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals.

First point, Wozniacki winner. Second point, Williams winner.

The match quality was worth every cent of the S$128.90 ticket that the spectators paid. Then, a couple of the American’s errors saw Wozniacki lead 4-1. This is it, we thought. But you don’t become the first female player to earn $60 million in prize money without putting up a Battle for Singapore.

Serena won the next five points, including a 201-kph ace. Leading 6-4, this is it! But like a movie thriller whose excitement builds endlessly, Caro leveled the match, 6-all. Finally, the end came at 7-6 when Serena scored the final shot. Serena wins 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8).

In today’s 7 p.m. final against Simona Halep, is there any doubt who’ll claim the W in the WTA Finals other than Ms. W?

Beauty and the Best in the Lion City

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SINGAPORE — Here, it’s all about “the girls.” The dominant colors of the tennis court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and the Gardens By The Bay attraction all emit one lady-like color: Purple.

With tennis, only the girls are invited. The top eight men will have their own season-ending ATP Finals in London; here in Singapore, it’s only the top eight women singles players and the top eight lady doubles pairings that have been welcomed. Even the Future Stars tournament for children 14- and 16-and-below are all-girls.

On Opening Night last Monday, the first match was the highlight: Ana Ivanovic and Serena Williams.

I don’t know if it was a mere coincidence but when Serena Williams stepped into the court and started to warm-up, would you believe the song they blasted on the loud speakers: “I Like Big Butts.” I doubt it if anyone noticed the vulgar song but, wow, what timing.

The WTA Finals couldn’t have asked for a better pairing: Serena is world No. 1 while Ana was formerly at the top. In their Australian Open meeting last January, Ana defeated Serena for the first time after eight meetings.

The American led early, 3-1, before the Serbian fought back and, at 4-all, earned a break point; but she missed an easy volley by inches. Deuce. That was the only chance for Ivanovic to pounce. She lost that game and the game thereafter, losing the first set, 6-4.

In the “point of the match,” Serena was ushered to the net by a short ball by Ana; a lob was thrown to the ceiling as Serena smashed the ball hard; but waiting by the baseline and with a high jump, Ana smashed the ball in reply for a winner. A smash counters a smash!

The contrast between the two was captivating. Ana, soaring tall at 6-foot-1, is slender. She moves like a gazelle. Serena is a few inches shorter but is stocked with might and muscle.

The biggest advantage of Serena? Her serve. It clocked up to 194-kph and would give her one or two free points each time she serves. She can also split! A couple of times when she had to sprint to the side, she’d stretch, extend and split. Outstanding flexibility.

In the 2nd set, Ana gained an early break but it quickly evaporated. When she served to remain in the match at 4-5, she double-faulted. Down match points, she succumbed to the indomitable Ms. Williams. Final score: 6-4, 6-4.

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In Game 2, it was Eugenie Bouchard vs. Simona Halep. Of the eight ladies competing, these two are the only “rookies” (first-timers) to the WTA Finals.

I was hoping for a Bouchard victory. Instead, she was spraying errors all over Singapore. Only 20, she plays with the reckless abandonment of a youngster. At the other side of the net, Halep was as steady as a wall, hardly making any mistakes. Plus, she had a large contingent who flew all the way from Romania. They were loud and they motivated the diminutive 5-foot-6. In the end, it was an easy romp for Halep, 6-2, 6-3.

Gardens By The Bay

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Shifting topic to non-tennis, you’ve got to visit Gardens By The Bay when you come to Singapore. This country has always been known for their flora. From the moment you step out of Changi Airport, millions of trees and flowers and grass fields await you. This tiny nation (2nd smallest in Asia) has a land area of only 714 sq. km. — much smaller compared to our Cebu island’s 4,943 sq. km. Yet, in every corner and walkway, greenery mesmerizes your eyes.

Gardens By the Bay, which opened in 2012, spans 101 hectares of reclaimed land. The SuperTrees tower above all; they’re giant, man-made structures that illuminate at night and are shrouded with various species of plants.

The crowd-drawers are the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome — these are fully-encased glasshouses that are home to waterfalls, vines, palms, flowers and so much greenery from all over the world.

Words cannot describe the natural beauty that’s exhibited in their latest attraction. No wonder Lonely Planet, in their latest guidebook, picks Singapore as the world’s No. 1 country to visit.

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Li Na, Martina dazzle in the WTA Finals opening

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SINGAPORE — Prior to the very first session here at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals — featuring the beauteous Ana Ivanovic versus the best, Serena Williams — there were two important moments last Monday.

The Legends. Yes, four of them played one pro-set (up to 8) of tennis. Martina Navratilova and Marion Bartoli teamed up against Tracy Austin and Iva Majoli.

The Singapore Indoor Stadium, which houses the WTA Finals this October 20 to 26, is not as giant-sized as the MOA Arena or Smart Araneta Coliseum in Manila. Capacity-wise, it only seats 12,000. It’s cozy and comfortable. All the seats are cushioned. The airconditioning is far, far colder than Cebu Coliseum’s. At the center stood one rectangle: the tennis court, colored purple since this is an all-women’s tournament.

As the legends entered, the entire arena turned dark. Then, all lights focused on the court. They installed giant projectors to illuminate the rectangle, showing not just a spectrum of colors but actual images — yes, a mammoth TV screen on the tennis court! Amazing technology.

The legendary star? Who else but Martina Navratilova. Already 58 years old, she can still volley like a teenager and drive that forehand up the middle like a WTA pro. She is the holder of the most extraordinary of statistics in Tennisdom: In Grand Slam events, she owns 18 singles trophies, 31 women’s doubles titles, and 10 mixed doubles crowns. She’s won these year-ending WTA Finals a whopping eight times.

Here in Singapore, like she is received everywhere around the globe, Martina is revered. As evidence of her athleticism despite nearing “senior citizenship (age 60),” in one point she sprinted back from near the net to the backcourt to retrieve a lob then, two shots later, scuttled her feet to smack a forehand down-the-line winner. The crowd roared in applause. Two points later, she calmly ends the game with an ace. Trademark Navratilova.

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The Legends exhibition was fun because all four of them were having fun. Towards the end of the set, the announcer enters the court and speaks to Iva Majoli, reprimanding her for being coached. Her “coach?” Her little daughter, seated nearby, who gave her mom some words of support. It was all for laughs and entertainment. We were entertained and the score, with Navratilova-Bartoli defeating Majoli-Austin, 8-5, was not as important as the crowd’s delight.

By 7 p.m., it was another showcase. This time, the greatest Asian female player of all time was to be recognized.

Li Na, who rose to become world No. 2 last February but shockingly retired from pro tennis recently due to chronic knee problems, was being honored. Wearing a dazzling long black dress, a tribute was organized for the 32-year-old Chinese star, who won the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open. Had Li Na not retired, she was to have been part of the WTA Finals Singapore and would have stolen the glamour from the likes of Serena and Maria. Sayang. But still, it was terrific to see her.

Laser lights sprinkled as fireworks erupted inside the coliseum. Drum sets thumped. As the boys and girls banged their drums, lights were emitted from their shirts. Smoke machines exhaled fog. Us The Duo, the husband-and-wife band of Michael and Carissa Rae Alvarado, sang a few songs to excite the Singaporean audience.

Then, in an unprecedented moment, after making the ceremonial serve to start the WTA Finals (the first time the Asia-Pacific has hosted these games), guess what: Li Na rallied! Yes, wearing 4-inch high heels, she swung forehands and backhands with the Under-16 winner of the Future Stars program. The thousands gathered inside the Singapore arena exploded in cheers.

WTA Finals: The Top 8 gather in Singapore

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SINGAPORE–You can’t ask for a better line-up: Serena Williams. Maria Sharapova. Simona Halep. Petra Kvitova. Eugenie Bouchard. Agnieszka Radwanska. Ana Ivanovic. Caroline Wozniacki.

In tennis, next to the four Grand Slam events (Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open), the grandest stage is this one, happening this week, here in The Lion City.

It’s the BNP Paribas WTA Finals. Only the top eight best female players are invited. The total prize money is hefty: $6 million. Plus, there’s an appetizer waiting to be devoured: the year-end ranking. If Serena wins this Sunday, she keeps that top spot. If Sharapova manages to lift that trophy, she’ll snatch the No.1 ranking.

Exciting? Absolutely. We arrived here last Friday and, by then, all the ladies had descended at Changi Airport. On Saturday, we visited the Singapore Sports Hub — an expanse of multiple complexes, housing an aquatic center, tennis courts, indoor arenas, the Singapore Indoor Stadium and the 55,000-seater National Stadium (same seating as our Phil. Arena!). The entire Sports Hub costs S$1.3 billion.

At the OCBC Indoor Arena, we got to see the “girls.” Yes, this event is purely for girls. The men will have their year-ending finale during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London from November 9 to 16. So, for now, it’s all about the girls.

This is the beauty of tennis: the beauty of the tennis players. The first player to practice when we entered the arena? She’s 6-foot-1, born in Russia but now a Florida resident, and her boyfriend is Grigor Dimitrov.

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Maria Sharapova practiced from 10 to 11 last Saturday morning in plain Nike attire. She was relaxed. Three bodyguards (okay, they were her coaches and hitting partners) accompanied the world’s most photographed female athlete. She’s super-tall and smothers that yellow ball with the fierceness of a Bengal tiger (like the one we saw yesterday at the Singapore Zoo). She hit cross-courts, topspin volleys, down-the-line backhands. By hour’s end, she stopped by the sidelines to sign autographs before exiting.

Next in line? A player who, to me, looks even prettier, especially in person: Eugenie Bouchard. Only 20, she has that golden face and a tennis game that’s golden. Wearing short shorts and a loose black Nike top that would rise often to reveal her abs, Bouchard smacks that ball with a short backswing. She powers her shots with as much force as Maria.

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My wife Maria (Ma. Jasmin) and I were discussing women’s tennis. This is why the lady-players are so famous, led by Sharapova, who’s been often voted the most recognizable face among the planet’s women athletes.

It’s because of this combination: athleticism and beauty. These are some of the best athletes; they’re also the prettiest. Apart from Sharapova and Bouchard, also here in Singapore, though we have yet to see her, is the lady from Serbia: Ana Ivanovic. A former world No. 1, she had the “misfortune” last night of facing one of the all-time greats: Serena Williams.

Yes, SW is in SG. This is terrific news. Prior to our arrival, I had read articles saying that she might not come to Asia. Nursing an injured knee, she could have rested to recuperate. But no, Serena is here and, as an 18-major (in singles) champion and the winner of her last 15 matches at the WTA Finals (she won in ’09, 2012 and 2013), she’ll be very, very difficult to beat.

Back to the practice courts last Saturday: Of the three indoor courts, the middle one was occupied by Wozniacki and Halep. Wozniacki is famous for being the “ex-girlfriend of Rory McIlroy.” Scheduled for marriage this year-end, they split. While that was painful, their golf and tennis games resurrected; Rory is back to No.1 while Wozniacki is back in the WTA Finals.

Halep is not a famous name. Yet, she’s ranked No. 3. Small at 5’5”, she must be the fittest of them all. Before she hit the court, she stretched and did a myriad of training exercises at the side court for over half an hour.

As the banners here proclaim, it’s… Game. Set. Singapore.

PBA @ 40

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The Philippine Basketball Association is Asia’s oldest professional basketball league. Next to the NBA (born in 1946), it is, according to Wikipedia, “the second oldest continuously existing” men’s pro basketball organization in the world.

Today, the league starts its fifth decade of existence. And what a mega-production the Opening Ceremonies will showcase.

The Philippine Arena, located in Bulacan, will host today’s twin opening games. I had the chance a few months ago to see for my very eyes this humongous dome-shaped structure (while traveling en route to Baguio) and it’s an eye-popping sight that I’ve never witnessed before.

Fifty five thousand people. Yes, that’s the capacity of the Phil. Arena and the PBA hopes to flood the entire stadium with loud and fanatical spectators. “We’ll try to fill up the 55,000-seater arena. I think we can do it,” said our good friend Pato Gregorio, the PBA Chairman.

Will the number of fans who’ll troop to Bulacan set a record? In our country, yes, definitely. The previous PBA record was around 25,000; the recent NU-FEU Finals Game 3 of the UAAP surpassed that figure. Surely, with a crowd of over fifty thousand, today’s game handily breaks the record.

Worldwide, the largest-ever basketball crowd was in 1998 when the Chicago Bulls played the Atlanta Hawks. That brought in over 62,000 spectators. If the Phil. Arena reaches full capacity today, we’ll be ranked among the world’s top five biggest basketball crowds. Ever.

A huge reason for the excitement? Because our most famous Pinoy will lead the opening salvo. No, Manny Pacquiao isn’t fighting Chris Algieri today (that’s on Nov. 23 in Macau), but the boxer-turned-ballplayer will be the center of focus as the coach of Kia Sorento. (Speaking of the team name, wasn’t the original name “Kia Kamao?”)

The question is: Will Manny play or not? We know he will coach — but will he dribble and shoot as a player? Weeks back, I read comments from Freddie Roach saying that he insists that MP not play — to safeguard his ward from injury. But the latest I read was that he has softened his stance and given Manny the go-signal.

My guess? Of course, Manny will play. You think he’ll just stand by the sidelines and deprive himself of a chance, for the first time, to fulfill a lifelong dream? Let’s just hope the Blackwater guys take it easy on the boxer.

The schedule today: The Opening Ceremony kicks off the festivities at 1:30 p.m. Then, Kia plays Blackwater Elite at 3 p.m., after which Ginebra San Miguel battles Talk n Text at 5:15 p.m.

To help transport the riding public to the venue, Kia has partnered with JAM Liner for the bus company to “hakot” as many as 10,000 fans from Metro Manila — all for free — to Bulacan. Up to 200 buses are said to be ready for deployment.

What’s new this 40th season? Plenty. There are plenty of new faces, including over two dozen rookies. And these two new teams: Kia and Blackwater. There will be a total of 12 teams in this PBA All-Filipino Philippine Cup.

The format? It’s a single round robin schedule; each team plays 11 games during the elimination round. The top two teams advance to the semis while the bottom two squads get eliminated. The remaining eight teams enter the quarterfinals.

Schedule? After today, the next game is on Tuesday (Globalport vs. NLEX and Rain or Shine vs. San Miguel). The regular weekday schedule will be every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Some Saturdays will see out-of-town games. During Sundays, the first game commences at 3 p.m. TV5 will show complete the live coverage.

Related to the PBA’s 40th year, a new documentary was recently launched. It’s called “A Nation’s Passion” and it was produced by Bill Velasco. A few months back when Bill and I met here in Cebu, he told me about this major that. It was finally unveiled earlier this week to a select group in Resorts World Manila. I recall Bill coming to Cebu to spend time interviewing Ramon Fernandez.

Beginning today, for the PBA… life begins at 40.

A letter from Boy Tiukinhoy

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 6.32.33 AMTiukinhoy (right) with CDN Sports Editor Ricky Gabuya during the 2008 Cebu Sports Awards

I received an email at 1:44 p.m. yesterday. The sender? Felix Tiukinhoy, Jr. He’s not only the President of Virginia Farms, Inc. but, in the world of sports, he’s the commissioner of Cesafi. Spelled in full, that’s the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. Since the league started in 2001, one man has stood on top of the organization, receiving neither large salary nor high praises in this thankless job. In full, I reprint Tiukinhoy’s letter:

“Hi John: Let me inform you offhand that your feature of me sometime ago as ‘The David Stern of Cebu’ is properly framed and hung on the wall behind me. So many visitors in my office notice it and I am very happy and honored of what you wrote; sometimes the visitors will tell me that I look handsome when I was young. Hehehe.

“Let me again thank the CESAFI Team for their support to all the activities from the Board of Trustees, Athletic Directors, Tournament Managers, especially Fr. Manny Uy, S.J., President, CESAFI; Deputy Commissioner of Basketball Danny Duran, Deputy Basketball on other sports, Dr. Danilo Villadolid, the Secretariat workhorse, Mr. Bernard Ricablanca, Rico Navarro and all the others who have one or the other helped so much for the success of CESAFI. I am honored to work with you all.

“Our assessment of the 14th Cesafi Basketball Season is relatively fair in fans attendance in watching the basketball games as compared to the previous seasons. Several factors caused the fair attendance:

“POSITIVE: 1) The presence of foreign players in USC, SWU, UV, and USJ-R added excitement. 2) The support of the school and their Alumni for their teams especially in the recruitment of players and financial assistance. 3) The media support for the awareness. 4) The coaches and players played a high level basketball in the spirit of sportsmanship. 5) The suspension of key players of UV by management for disciplinary action to play in the current season.

“NEGATIVE: 1) The withdrawal of USP-F to participate this season in the College Division. 2) Good Cesafi Players after graduating high school are all pirated by school teams form Manila.”

ATENEO-UV. “With the SHS-Ateneo vs. UV finals in high school, I was surprised that it reached Game 3. SHS-ADC beat UV three times in the tournament including Game 1. In Game 2, SHS-ADC brought their fans that practically made the gym color blue. Only a handful, around 20 pax, of boisterous UV fans were present.

“I already told Fr. Manny, sitting beside me as President of CESAFI, that the SHS-ADC boys are tense because of the presence of so many fans including their parents and relatives.

“In Game 3, the presence of fans of both sides created a level of playing field, one side of the gym was a sea of blue and the other side, green. Father Manny did not sit beside me but went on stage as he said he wants to cheer too for his team. Hehehe. That game should not be watched by one who has a heart condition.

“In all 3 games, we commend the coaches and players for their sportsmanship. It made our job in the Commissioner’s Office easier and pleasant.”

COLLEGE. “With the USC-SWU collegiate finals: Game 1, USC was tense and showed that USC boys still lack championship experience but in Game 2, USC made the adjustment that SWU was not able to prepare. Imagine, Macmac Tallo (SWU star player) was not able to make a point in the game. This will be a long series.

“With USC, yes it is very good that USC is in the finals again since 2007. It offers a different profile of the fans.

“Supposedly, the CESAFI Final Series will be covered live nationwide by ABS-CBN – Sports. Somebody from them reneged in the arrangement without informing us. This was supposed to be a first in our CESAFI basketball. They covered it but I don’t know when they will show it on TV.”

Dr. Rhoel Dejaño reflects on SHS-Ateneo’s win

Dr. Rhoel Dejaño is one of Cebu’s top sports doctors because, apart from spending time inside his clinics at Perpetual Succour and Chong Hua, he ventures out to personally supervise the fitness needs of his patients and athletes.

The Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu is one such school. Since 2011, Dr. Dejaño has assisted the school’s basketball program. (In 2010, he also helped CEC win the Cesafi trophy.)

After SHS-Ateneo triumphed last Saturday in the deciding Cesafi Game 3 against the University of the Visayas, I asked Rhoel to ponder on his team’s success and his personal involvement.

Here’s Dr. Dejaño: “As their team physician and conditioning coach, preparations started when the team was completed last summer. Daily strength and conditioning sessions were done.

“I had to individually assess each individual’s fitness level… see how they move, how they run, how they jump. In other words, look at their physical attributes or athleticism. From there, I can design a program that will improve whatever inadequacies they have and make them perform better.

“I also teach them proper diet that includes what type of food to eat and what not to eat and what to drink and what not to drink. You’d be surprised that our players do not drink soft-drinks and most sugared drinks.

“Injuries are also addressed right away so that when the game season comes, they are in tiptop shape. One thing that is very admirable with Coach Rommel Rasmo is that he has a very open mind. He collaborates with me on matters concerning the health and fitness of our athletes.

“In game 2, when SHS-Ateneo lost to UV, the players were too tense. They felt the pressure of trying to win the championship. Most of our players did not have the championship experience as this was probably their first time to play in front of a huge crowd. Plus, most of their parents traveled great distances to watch the final games.

“In game 3, the coaching staff told them to just enjoy the game and improve on their defense. For my part, during the game preparations and warm up (which I personally handle), I gave them relaxation exercises (e.g., closing their eyes for a few minutes and just think of the happiest moment in their lives ) and some drills to make them focus on the game aside from the regular warm up and stretches that we do. They were fired up and warmed up. This time around, they were ready both physically and mentally. That’s why in the first quarter they exploded with 26 points. The game was physical and fast but I think we prepared them enough for the rigors that come with this type of play. In the end, they kept their cool and composure that made them last the distance. Skills plus Science in the works!”

Dr. Dejaño’s job isn’t done yet. Because while he has won the trophy in high school, his other team (USC) played Game 1 of the collegiate championship versus SWU last night.

Said the tennis-playing doctor: “Can’t relax yet. Feeling the pressure and tension in the college finals. The game preparations are more intense and different because of the scheduling of the games. Imagine playing 3 straight games in 3 days and 2 more games one day apart if it goes the distance. Hopeful USC will make a good fight.”

CESAFI LIVE. For those who can’t visit the Cebu Coliseum, Sun.Star has live coverage. Just visit cesafi.sunstar.com.ph/live.

Are you ready for your first 42-K?

The beauty of running is this: There’s that next goal. After you’ve completed your first 3 km. run, there’s a 5-K. After that and weeks more of training, you can attempt to double the distance. You finish a 10-K. While previously you thought that you’d never be able to run that far, with gradual and steady time on foot, you can do it.

After that first 10 km. run, the possibilities are plenty. There are multiple 12-K races. The 15-K is another good target. And, there’s the famous “half-marathon” or 21-K. But the biggest prize? Unless you’re Mayor Rex Gerona of Tabuelan, who recently completed the 160-K Ultra-Marathon, the mightiest target is to complete a marathon.

That’s 42.195 kms., all without the aid of your car or bicycle or motorbike. You run the entire distance using your God-given legs. Isn’t that amazing? I’ve completed a couple of marathons and I can say that, while the training is strenuous and pain-inducing, the reward upon crossing that finish line is a memory to last a lifetime.

Are you ready? Obviously, if you’ve done a 42-K before, then you know yourself best. If you’re in good shape — let’s consider the Cebu City Marathon (CCM) this Jan. 11, 2015 as the target — then you’ve got 3.5 months to prepare. You can.

How about for first-timers? How do you know when you’re ready?

The marathon is not an ordinary race. It’s not an 8-K that you can easily join next Sunday. It requires the participant to have logged hundreds of miles on the road. Ideally, one must have done several 21-K runs.

I’d like to consider my friend Raycia Eullaran as an example. Raycia has completed more than six 21-K races the past year. (We ran together two Sundays ago.) Is she ready for the 42-K in CCM? Absolutely. As long as she gradually increases her mileage (peaking with one or two 32-Ks), then she’s good.

How about for those who have yet to complete one 21-K? I’d rather you run the 21-K this January. And, after that, build your mileage by running several more half-marathons.

As part of the CCM organizing committee, through the years we’ve encountered participants who, despite just logging-in a few 10-Ks, decide to jump straight to the marathon. This is not advisable.

Tips on preparing? One, see a doctor. Before you register (or embark on any rigorous exercise program), have an Executive Panel test or a full check-up. This is first priority.

Second: go online and check the myriad of training schedules available for free. You can click on “Beginner” and the appropriate weekly schedules are yours to follow. Usually, these programs ask that you run 4x a week with the Sunday long run as your most important run. Some will advise that you do speed work (tempo or intervals). Unless you’re a seasoned runner, you can skip this. The general rule is to increase weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent.

On your first marathon, the goal is to finish. Forget about the “I need to do a 4:30 time” mentality. Your goal should be to enjoy and run injury-free. Speaking of injury, this is the one hurdle you have to avoid. As your mileage increases, some of your joints and muscles may not be ready for all that excessive pounding — thus, the injury. Listen to your body. If the pain is unbearable at your knee, rest for a few days. If it persists, go see doctors Rhoel Dejaño or Tony San Juan.

Find a group. Especially on weekends when your long runs extend for three to four hours, it’s essential to have friends to chat with. Time will pass quicker. Maintain a “conversational pace.”

Rest. After a tiring session, rest the next day or have an easy jog. Make sure your body has ample time for recovery. Allocate one full day a week of complete rest.

Get a massage. This is good for your aching muscles and becomes a reward for your effort. Talk to marathoners about their experiences. Buy new shoes and socks. Alternate running between hard (cement) and soft (treadmill, track oval, grass) surfaces. Relax. Often, we get tense and uptight — keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. Best of all, pray!

Celebrating No. 20

The date was “September 21, 1994.” That’s 20 years ago today. That’s when my first ever sports column appeared on printed paper. I started with The Freeman. Then, my sole focus was writing about this game that involved Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf. As simply as can be put, the title of my column read: “Tennis Is My Game.”

My first piece? I wrote about Jun-Jun Cabrera, Lino Suico, Joseph Lizardo and Robert Angelo — names that, in the 1990s, were tennis-famous. I entitled that initial article, “A first for Cebu tennis.”

I was only 22 then. How fast time passes. How did I get into sports-writing? I was never a writer. I’d rather stand in front of an audience and speak. In La Salle Bacolod during my 7th grade, I applied for that plum “Editor in Chief” spot of our school paper and wasn’t picked. Putting thoughts into paper was never a strength.

Not a natural writer, what I was was this: a sports fanatic. The author Valerie Sherwood once said, “Don’t write what you know—what you know may bore you, and thus bore your readers. Write about what interests you—and interests you deeply—and your readers will catch fire at your words.”

I was passionate — and still am, every waking hour of each day — about sports. I not only write about sports… I do sports, read sports, watch sports.

My stint with newspaper-writing started two decades ago one morning in Jollibee – Mango Ave. We were there for the launching of the 1994 Cebu City Olympics and I was then in-charge of organizing the tennis competition.

Huddled among other sportsmen, we listened to Joy Augustus Young, then the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission and a top city councilor. I sat beside Nimrod Quiñones. My former schoolmate from UP Cebu, Nimrod is a fellow sports addict.

“Are you interested in writing a column about tennis?” he asked. I was startled. I’ll think about it, I said. Weeks passed and, one day, I was at The Freeman office to shake hands with The Freeman owner, Jiji Gullas.

I started pounding on the keyboard using a two-inch-thick and super-heavy Toshiba Satellite laptop. After completing a piece, I’d print it on paper and fax it to Nimrod, our sports editor. Then, email was nonexistent. And, via fax transmission, someone from TF office would retype the whole piece and we’d often have wrongly-spelled words because the fax print-out wasn’t clear.

From “Tennis Is My Game,” I changed the column name to “Tennis Shorts.” Then, it evolved into “Gut Feel” (I still like that name; “gut” also means “tennis string.”). Soon after I started, others followed, each one an expert: Graeme Mackinnon for football, Chris Tio for basketball, Dr. JV Araneta for cycling, Raffy Uytiepo for running.

My every-Wednesday column for The Freeman came to an end after eight years. I needed a break. My final article read, “Game, Set and Match.” After a year’s rest, I came back to write for Sun.Star Cebu.

Through the months and years, I’ve had the most amazing ride chronicling hundreds of sporting events and featuring dozens of athletes and sportsmen. I’m still reminded of shaking hands with Pete Sampras and standing beside Roger Federer in Kuala Lumpur. That was in 2007 and Jasmin and I were there with (my boss and editor) Michelle So, Chinggay Utzurrum and Dr. Ronnie and Steph Medalle.

With tennis, I’ve recorded plenty of smashes: from our gold medal-winning SEA Games campaign in 2005 to our Davis Cup forays here at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

Watching my daughter Jana transform into a junior champion and, at times, writing a feature on her, ranks as a major fulfillment, especially with my role as a dad.

One highlight was the Olympics of 2008 that Jasmin and I watched. For 10 days without miss, I wrote a story about our exploits in Beijing. From witnessing Lin Dan in badminton to Rafael Nadal’s winning gold to the disappointing exit of boxer Harry Tanamor.

On this 20th anniversary, I look forward to the next 20. And, like Beijing, to the nearby Tokyo Games. I like that year and number: 2020.

Brian Lim: eSports is the modern-day Chess

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I visited SM City Cebu last Friday. Upon arrival, I went straight to witness an event that had intrigued me. It’s called “eSports.” Does the term stand for “Extreme Sports” or “Endurance Sports” or “Exciting Sports?”

Yes, it’s all of the above. It’s those words transformed into one name that’s spelled… Electronic Sports.

Inside the Cebu Trade Hall of SM, I met the organizer himself, my good friend Brian Lim. Everybody knows Brian Lim as a sportsman-businessman. His family owns the giant Rose Pharmacy and he’s CEO of Salon de Rose and Pyroworks. With sports, he’s a multi-athlete: He’s completed the IM70.3 and Xterra triathlons; next month, he’ll travel to Hawaii to join the Xterra World Championships. But last weekend, Brian sported a different role: As chairman of PESO — that’s Philippine e-Sports Organization.

“eSports is the modern-day equivalent of Chess,” said the always-smiling Lim, the organizer of last weekend’s event dubbed “eSports Festival: Rigs. Cosplay. Games.”

“It’s a mind sport but without any physical boundaries as it can be played across the internet and across different genres or game types,” he added.

My younger brother Michael explained to me that the most popular game is Dota 2. Brian adds, “Dota 2 is similar to basketball which is a 5-on-5 game but highly strategic in which players go through a draft phase in the beginning to pick and ban certain characters to best pit themselves against the opposing teams. Games can last anywhere between 15 mins. to a little over an hour.”

I must admit: I’m not a gamer, although I did enjoy the Space Invaders and Pac-Man games by Atari (this reveals my age). But here’s what I know: Tens of millions of people worldwide today engage in e-sports. Here in the Phils., the organization PESO is helping put us in the international gaming map.

With the leadership of Brian and PESO’s executive director Tryke Gutierrez, whom I also met last weekend, their Vision is clear: For the “Phils. to excel in eSports internationally by 2015… where we are not limited by height, weight or size but rather the competitiveness of our mind and the Filipino fighting Spirit.”

The event at SM helped advance these goals. “We had over 500 participants,” said Brian. “We held qualifiers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; the champion teams flew in from each region.”

Sven Macoy Schmid, an avid gamer and eSports fan, wrote this in his blog (svenmacoyschmid.com): “I only attended the 3rd and last day to watch the Championship games but I came without much expectations since I thought that the eSports scene was on a decline. But as soon as I entered the trade hall I was stunned by how many spectators the event drew and contrary to what I thought the eSports scene was actually getting bigger! As usual there was the cosplay event, the rig competition and the beautiful creatures called ‘booth babes.’”

Sven added: “As for the games, there was Hearthstone, Street Fighter 4, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Star Craft 2 and the much awaited Dota 2. Dota 2 was the main event once again with participants from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mongolia, South Korea, Manila and our Local team Arcanys. Arcanys dominated Group B having a flawless 3-0 record while MVP from South Korea took 2nd place. In the other group The Prime (Indonesia) and MSI-EvoGT (Manila) upset one of the favorites coming into this tournament Mith.Trust (Thailand) and Orange Esports (Malaysia) both ending up with a score of 2-1.”

The highlight was Cebu-based team’s Arcany’s beating the heavily-favored team (and eventual champion) MVP Phoenix during the group stages. “The game is akin to a high level chess game where they sacrificed their queen in order to produce a check mate eight mins. into the game,” said Brian, “beautifully outwitting their Korean opponents who made it to 2nd place in the South East Asian qualifiers for the TI4 or the international — a whopping $10,000,000 prize pool tournament.”

eSport? Electrifying Sport.

Ateneo vs. Army: An ‘A’ for girls volleyball

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Full house. That was the scene inside the hot USC Main Gym last Sunday. Six girls versus six girls faced each other inside a rectangle. A tall see-through net stood in the middle. Screams from the thousands rocked the coliseum. Most of the spectators wore blue; some, green.

The contest: Ateneo versus Army. It was an army-like battle. The playing field: a volleyball court. The arena felt concert-like; Cebu had not seen a star-studded game like this. Maybe, ever.

The Ateneo Lady Eagles against the Philippine Army Lady Troopers. Could there be two more “A” teams — alluring and appealing? The one-afternoon-only encounter was named “Champions Tour.” And, true to its name, it was a tour of two champs: the Ateneo collegiate team are the reigning UAAP winners. Remember them winning that crown, having to make comeback after comeback against the likes of NU and La Salle? That was one for the Ateneo books. A season that will forever be etched in the storied history of ADMU.

Ateneo’s opponents? The current Shakey’s V-League Open champions, the Lady Troopers. Despite the little publicity the event generated in our local newspapers (I only read about it the day of the event; and my daughter Jana and I were barely able to enter because they had no free passes for sportswriters), the USC Gym was filled to the topmost bleachers.

Volleyball is now a craze. More so because these were athletes who were long-legged and towering; many of them were sexy and pretty.

Take the crowd favorite Rachel Anne Daquis. Codenamed “RAD” by the placards that several raised from the bleachers, Rachel has a supermodel’s smile. Fair-skinned and mestiza, she has light brown-colored hair — with a matching beautiful volleyball spike that she uses to smother that ball. RAY–CHEL! DA–KISS!

As this was an exhibition match, Rachel gamely approached the fanatic audience, took their cellphones by her hand and, with back facing her newfound friends, posed for that selfie.

On court, no crowd cheering sounded louder than when one girl — the best of them all — sprinted towards the net, jumped at her peak, and spiked that ball with an angry strike.

Alyssa Valdez. No player in women’s volleyball is more celebrated today than the forever-smiling 5-foot-9 superstar of Ateneo. She’s the MVP girl version of Kiefer Ravena. On campus or in the volleyball circles, all eyes are circled on her. And no attack is nailed with more ferocity than the spike of Alyssa. BANG!

She steps back, watches the setter toss a high ball towards her wing… she shuffles her feet for a quick sprint, bends slightly then jumps so high as if she were to slam dunk… then she snaps her wrist and slams that ball from the ceiling to the parquet floor. BANG!

It’s a beauty. The power. The speed. The “bounce.” The bullet shot from above, triggered by the palm of Alyssa’s right hand.

The beautiful thing about ladies’ volleyball? The smiles. The high-fives. The hugs. After each winning point, especially after a “kill,” the six players huddle for a quick session of clapping and smiling. They celebrate. It’s positive bonding and it’s a refreshing sight to see.

The actual game wasn’t close. The Army Lady Troopers dominated. In the first set, Ateneo wasn’t far behind. Still, they lost. The second set was lopsided. In the third set (of this 3-out-of-5 game), the Army girls did not field their strongest squad — and so they lost. In the fourth set, while the Army led by a wide margin, Ateneo clawed their way back and were two points away from tying the game. But they stumbled. Final score, in favor of the Lady Troopers: 25-21, 25-15, 19-25, 25-22.

As 5 p.m. neared (the game started 2:30) and the girls shook hands in the end, they performed one final act: the girls danced. Yes, one by one, as they formed a giant circle, player after player stood in the middle to bend and strut and twist and shuffle. This was beyond spiking, killing, blocking, digging. This was volleyball, entertainment-style.

2015 Cebu Marathon: The Sinulog race is on

 

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Last January 12, the Cebu City Marathon or CCM, as its initials are spelled, included only two distances: the full (42K) marathon and the half-marathon at 21,000 meters. For the 8th edition — that’s this January 11, 2015 — a third length will be added: the 10K.

Everyone has four months to prepare. That’s more than enough time to train. Enlisting for a race is always a good motivator. You’re forced to prepare. You look forward to that moment and encircle the date in your wall calendar.

For CCM ’15, the start and finish areas will be the same: the Cebu I.T. Park. The routes will be similar: run through Lahug, then the Provincial Capitol, then along Osmena Blvd., pass through the Sto. Niño Church and Magellan’s Cross… enter the Tunnel, emerge at the South Road Properties and run along the SRP until you return the same way.

Here’s another spectacle to expect: lots of music, dancers, hydration stations, bananas, Gatorade, and Sinulog drum-beaters. And, of course, the public already knows this: CCM is one of only two Philippine races (the other is the Milo Marathon Finals) that’s AIMS/IAAF certified. It’s accredited internationally.

What’s new? Apart from the 10 km. distance, a new set of singlets and finishers shirts will be handed out. Together with Steve Ferraren, our Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) president, we previewed the design last Friday and they’re new and colorful — just what you’d expect from a Sinulog-themed event.

All runners will be given singlets. All finishers, including those joining the 10K, will be rewarded with Finishers Shirts upon crossing that finish line. As to the medals — I can’t divulge the design but it’s brand-new — these will be reserved for the more hard-core of participants: those running 21K and 42K.

Personalized singlets? With your name printed on the back? Why not? Thanks to CCM’s partnership with Ayala Center Cebu — led by Anne Climaco, Mikmik Corvera and Wilma Entera  — this will be introduced during the Race Expo. Also, there will be a different and more exciting CCM Pre-Race Party two nights prior the event.

Online registration starts tomorrow at www.cebumarathon.com. Slots will be limited to the following numbers: 1,000 (42K), 1,200 (21K) and 1,500 (10K). Since these numbers were exceeded last January, I suggest you register early. First come, first serve. Register this week to be assured of a slot.

Also because the fees are lower (compared to the late registration in November). The fees beginning tomorrow are: P1,400 (42K), P1,100 (21K), and P900 (10K).

Rio de la Cruz, the most famous runner and race organizer in the country today, was here last Friday. He arrived at 10 a.m. and, by 11, we were meeting at the I.T. Park with Steve to finalize the details. Rio was accompanied by Franco Bambico, the man tasked to oversee CCM.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 9.59.04 AMFrom left: Steve Ferraren, Franco Bambico, John Pages, Rio de la Cruz, Anne Climaco, Mikmik Corvera, Wilma Entera and Peter Rabaya

Each year, Rio and his team handle a total of 39 races throughout the Philippines. About 18 of these are the Milo Marathon events that are scattered everywhere. The latest addition to his events: the Condura Skyway Marathon this Feb. 1. This October 5 will be a major Manila race, also organized by RunRio. It’s the Run United Phil. Marathon.

Rio started organizing races eight years ago. Since then, he’s improved his craft and added race after race to his calendar. When CCM first introduced the full marathon with “01-10-10” (Jan. 10, 2010), it was Rio that our organization tapped to handle the electronic timing system.

For a man who stars on the cover of magazines and adorns giant billboards, Rio’s popularity has not changed him. Born poor and having had to struggle through his school life (his running for the varsity team helped pay his tuition), he has remained humble. We are proud to partner with Rio.

At the wide Open, will Nishikori be O-Kei?

Nishikori of Japan celebrates after defeating Djokovic of Serbia in their semi-final match at the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York(Photo: Reuters)

The United States Open Tennis Championships, which started in 1881, is one of the sport’s four Grand Slam events (the other three are the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon).

It’s called “Open” because it is open for the public to join. Months before the August start of the US Open in Flushing Meadows, there is a nationwide contest participated in by thousands. The top winner is awarded a Wild Card to join the qualifying tournament. This means that, if you’re a 45-year-old club player from, say, Los Angeles, you have that minuscule chance of gaining entry to the US Open. Thus, the name “Open.”

Open also means that the event is “open to change.” And, yes, what changes this year. For the first time since the 2005 Australian Open (when Marat Safin defeated Lleyton Hewitt) — that’s 10 years this January — someone not named Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal will contest a grand slam singles final. That’s how dominant these three have been.

This is exciting. It’s new. “For a change,” we call this. Because while all predictions pointed to a Djokovic-Federer final, the opposite happened: it’s Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic in the Men’s Finals today, played at 5 a.m. (Phil. time).

The champion doesn’t only win $3 million but, more importantly, gets to be crowned the title, “Grand Slam winner.”

My pick? Who else… but our fellow Asian. Standing only 5-foot-10, Nishikori will be dwarfed by the 6-foot-6 Cilic when they meet.

It’s the first time in tennis history that an Asian-born man has reached a major final. If he wins, then the accomplishment becomes bigger. The person coaching Kei? He’s also Asian — by blood. Michael Chang, born and raised in the U.S., won the French Open as a 17-year-old. This was in 1989. Imagine if, 25 years later, Chang’s student (Nishikori) wins today?

The all-star coaches line-up isn’t limited to Chang coaching Nishikori. The mentor of Cilic is a former Wimbledon winner, Goran Ivanisevic. The losing semifinalists, even more star-studded: Novak is coached by Boris Becker while Roger has Stefan Edberg. These four coaches own 14 major titles between them.

With the Kei-Marin final today, the head-to-head has the Japanese leading the Croatian, 5-2, and Kei winning their last three meetings (including twice this year). En route to the US Open final, he downed Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Djokovic — three of the toughest.

This points to an easy win by the Asian, right? Not so fast. Cilic dismantled Federer last Saturday. While tennis experts predicted an RF victory in NYC (his 18th major, same with Serena Williams) — mainly because he escaped those two match points in the quarterfinals against Gael Monfils — Cilic had other plans. He embarrassed Roger with a clinical 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win in just 105 minutes. He, too, is supremely confident.

The key of the match is Cilic’s serve. Against Roger, he served three straight aces in the final game. He was untouchable while tossing that ball and blasting 132-mph aces. If he serves the way he did against Roger, he’ll win. But if his first serve percentage dips and the points last longer, I tip the favor on Nishikori. Go, Japan!

SERENA. Fifteen years ago, my dad Bunny and I were at the US Open as we watched a 17-year-old win her first major title. Now aged 32, this same girl has won a total of 18 majors. (Her finals opponent then, in 1999, was Martina Hingis — who lost the women’s doubles the other day.) Given her hunger and athleticism, Serena Williams is on her way to breaking the records of Helen Wills Moody (19 majors), Steffi Graf (22) and Margaret Court (24).

IPTL. Tickets to the Nov. 28 to 30 meet featuring Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray plus many other top names are now available. For now, they’re selling “season passes” to all three days. They range from the least-expensive (P2,500) to the highest-priced (P49,000). They’re not cheap. Venue is the SM MOA Arena and tickets are available at smtickets.com.

Ahas to break Flash record at home

While the boxing world’s focus is in Dubai for the Pinoy Pride 27, one world champion has been patiently waiting. Rumors have circulated that after the Middle East promotion this Friday, Donnie Nietes will return to Dubai to fight his title bout there.

“We have not announced it yet but you can write about it,” said ALA Promotions CEO/President Michael Aldeguer in our email exchange earlier this week. “Right now, we are thinking of holding it in the Philippines tentatively on Nov. 15 either in Manila, Cebu or Bacolod.”

So, there. It won’t be in America or in Dubai — but here at home. And rightfully so. “People from all walks of life have been asking me, ‘Why hold it abroad when this is a historic fight? When a lot of boxing fans and enthusiasts would want to witness Donnie break the seven-year reign of the great Flash Elorde?’”

Correct. As you know, Gabrial “Flash” Elorde, who hails from Bogo, Cebu and was the youngest of 15 children, holds the record of longest-reigning Filipino world champ. His Wikipedia entry reads: “He (Elorde) won the world super featherweight title on March 16, 1960 by knocking out the defending world champion Harold Gomes in seven rounds. That night, Elorde ended the country’s 20-year world championship drought. The crowd estimated to be around 30,000, inside the newly built Araneta Coliseum… He defended the crown 10 times until June 15, 1967 where he lost a majority decision to Yoshiaki Numata of Japan. This made him the longest reigning world junior lightweight champion ever (seven years and three months).”

Donnie Nietes? The 32-year-old former utility man of the ALA Gym, Nietes won the WBO Minimumweight title here at the Waterfront Hotel in Lahug in Sept. 30, 2007. End of next month, it will be exactly seven years. En route, he’s won 11 more times and drawn once. If Donnie wins this November, Ahas breaks the record of Flash.

Manila, Cebu or Bacolod? “We are thinking of holding it in Manila because of the significance of the event,” said Aldeguer. “The huge venue (in Manila) will match the enormity of the bout and the impact to Philippine boxing.”

As for the home-court advantage here, added Aldeguer, “Cebu could be considered too because it is the Boxing Mecca of the Philippines and it is where Pinoy Pride, now the highest rating show on Sundays for the 15th straight time, was launched. We would also be proud to stage it in Cebu for the Cebuano Boxing fans and the media who helped us where we are now. After all, Cebu is where we truly started and took off. ALA Promotions and Pinoy Pride wouldn’t have achieved what we did and have now without everyone’s support.”

The City of Smiles is another possibility. “Donnie is from Murcia, Negros Occidental,” said Aldeguer, “what better way to mark this important moment in history than have it happen before the very crowd that has been loyally following the growth of their own boxing hero and where Champion Donnie Nietes started?”

Michael Aldeguer: ALA flies to Dubai

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Over 450,000 Filipinos reside in Dubai. Working in the fields of construction, retail, I.T., tourism, medicine, architecture and more, our fellow Filipinos comprise a huge population in Dubai. With this backdrop, the Antonio Lopez Aldeguer Promotions has decided to launch its first-ever international event at the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Middle East is one of the areas where we get the highest ratings every time we stage Pinoy Pride Events,” said ALA Promotions CEO/President Michael Pastrano Aldeguer.

The foresight of the Aldeguer father-and-son tandem of Tony and Michael is bold: After organizing dozens of promotions on Philippine soil, it’s time to fly elsewhere and go global. “Our vision has always been to bring boxing closer to the Filipinos,” said Michael, “and to showcase the talents of Filipino fighters to the world.”

If older brother Jay promotes our country via the Islands Group locally (Islands Souvenirs, Islands Stay Hotels and more), it’s younger brother Michael who’s showcasing Pinoy talents abroad, via boxing.

Next Friday on the 5th of September, it’s the 27th edition of Pinoy Pride called “Duel in Dubai.” The venue is the Dubai World Trade Center and three of ALA Boxing’s top names are ready to brawl: Boom-Boom Bautista fights Jose Martinez of Mexico; Arthur Villanueva tackles Henry Maldonado of Nicaragua; and, in the main event, it’s Genesis Servania vs. the former two-time world title challenger from Mexico, Jose Cabrera.

As far back as five years ago, the ALA Promotions group had planned to go international. With the Middle East, said Michael, it’s “one of the biggest continents with a great number of Filipinos and one of the regions that we first looked at.” He added: “Considering the program’s ratings there, we feel that Dubai, distinctively being known for world-class events, is the perfect first international venue for Pinoy Pride.”

Dubai owns the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa with 163 floors) and the world’s largest airport. They hope to be the sports capital of our planet. Tomorrow, August 29, the One Fighting Championship (One FC) will showcase Ana Julaton and several other mixed-martial fighters in Dubai’s top MMA event called “One FC: Reign of Champions.” The Friday after, it’s Pinoy Pride in what will be an inaugural: the first time that the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) will have sanctioned championship fights in Dubai.

Michael Aldeguer credits their TV partnerships with ABS-CBN and TFC-Middle East as important. Yet, he admits that it wasn’t easy coordinating the entire promotion. “The planning has proven to be challenging,” he said. “It’s a different story organizing (an event) in another place, let alone a country as huge as Dubai with an equally huge population of boxing fans. There have been numerous teleconferences, emails, and overseas calls just to put everything together.”

With the Bacolod-bred Villanueva and Servania, “they are both 100% prepared,” said Michael. “They have been training very hard, as both have tough opponents. Being their first in Dubai, Servania and Villanueva aim to give impressive results to the boxing fans that will be watching them live and through the worldwide telecast.”

On the TV telecast, I got this message from SkyCable top official Ronnie Pacio: “Watch Pinoy Pride 27 ‘Duel in Dubai’ LIVE & Commercial FREE via SKYCable Pay-Per-View in Standard and High Definition on Sep 5 11pm Phil Time for Php199 ONLY! Visit us or call 421-1818.”

I asked Michael about Rey Bautista. “Boom Boom is doing great,” he said. “He’s determined to win and give a good show. He hopes to let the Dubai crowd witness the same power he had in his first fight in the country last 2010. Right now, Boom Boom is more dedicated to his training compared to the last few years and we hope he’ll show the world what he trained so hard for on September 5th.”

From Cebu to Dubai, we take pride in the Pinoy.

Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s become a social media sensation. The question today isn’t “Who has taken the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge?’ it’s “Who still hasn’t?” Everybody from Oprah Winfrey to George W. Bush to Lea Salonga to Lady Gaga has been viewed in YouTube with the same act: They say a few words, “I’ve been nominated by so-and-so..,” they get dumped a pail-full of water and ice cubes, then, all drenched and freezing cold, they end the short video by nominating two others.

The world has not seen a phenomenon like this before. Only Barack Obama and P-Noy Aquino have yet to be doused with ice. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” started last year in what was then called the “Cold Water Challenge.” It was meant to raise funds for cancer: you either donate money or jump into cold water. This concept evolved.

Today, the focus is on ALS. I’m no doctor like Albert Santos or Ronnie Medalle but the term stands for “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” and it’s an affliction that affects the brain and the spinal cord. According to Wikipedia, ALS is “a neurodegenerative disease with various causes… characterised by muscle spasticity, rapidly progressive weakness due to muscle atrophy, and difficulty in speaking (dysarthria), swallowing (dysphagia), and breathing (dyspnea).”

The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” first became popular in June 30 — less than two months ago — when a TV program in the U.S. decided to do an on-air Ice Bucket Challenge on Golf Channel. Since that televised episode, celebrities have followed.

Have you watched LeBron James? He’s sitting on a moving speedboat in Greece and, shirtless and muscles all toned, gets smothered with a bucket of ice. He nominates his son LeBron, Jr. and Barack Obama.

Bill Gates? He’s not an athlete but his video is one of the funniest. David Beckham is on his knees. Shirtless and his chest and arms revealing a full canvas of artful tattoos, three men pull not a bucket but a barrel full of ice and water and pour it on the football star. He smiles in cold delight.

Kevin Durant’s is simple. Sitting on the porch of a high-rise building, he’s relaxed and ready as a friend pours cold water. I like Ronda Rousey. Instead of a beast-like-looking UFC attire, she’s sexy in a body-fitting dress complete with high heels. Michael Jordan is classic MJ, cool and classy; he challenges Phil Jackson and his 1992 “Dream Team” co-players to both “cash and ice bucket.”

A fun tandem that will give you all-smiles: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. You’ve got to watch their 39-second video. The best one? It’s got to be the NHL hockey player Paul Bissonnette. I’ve never heard of this athlete before but his act (I won’t spoil the crazy video but will tell you that it involves a helicopter and some colorful underwear) is the best I’ve seen.

So far, all these fun acts have also contributed a huge amount in a short span of time: over $42 million raised in less than a month — a huge figure considering that, for the whole of last year, the amount of $64 million was raised. That will surely be eclipsed in the coming weeks.

“This is something we could have never imagined,” said Barbara Newhouse, the president and CEO of the ALS Association. “This has taken us to a whole new level.”

She credits one sector as most helpful in raising awareness (and money) for the disease. “The sports community has played in key role in making this what it became,” said Newhouse. “We’re very thankful of everything athletes and teams have done.”

It’s fitting that the plight to help ALS is assisted by the athletes because ALS is also popularly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Lou Gehrig was the first baseman of New York Yankees baseball team and he played for 17 seasons from 1923 to 1939. At the age of 36 and stricken with ALS, he retires from baseball and, shockingly, just two years later, at the young age of 38, he dies. That’s when ALS was named “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Todd Entner writes about Brasil

It’s been over a month since the Fifa World Cup ended in Rio de Janeiro.

Todd Entner is a friend whom I’ve known since our late 1980s tennis-playing days at the Cebu Tennis Club. He’s American but was born in Manila and lived here for 13 years. Now back in the U.S., he visited Brasil last month with his son Josiah. It wasn’t Todd’s first WC watch; he’s been to the last four WC Finals. Plus, he’s watched Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and — take this, sports fans — he’s been to the last five Olympics! When Jasmin and I visited Beijing in 2008, guess who hosted us for China’s first Games? Mr. Entner.

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Here’s Todd’s World Cup review:

“My first World Cup experience was in 1990, listening to the Final by radio in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, holding the antenna to get better reception as Germany defeated Maradona for the trophy. In 1994 in America during college, I watched on TV as the hosts USA narrowly lost to Brasil in the 2nd round. France in 1998 was also just a TV spectacle for me, but in 2002 in South Korea I was able to see several games in person, followed by another experience in Germany four years later.

“After that I was hooked, and so in 2010 my (then 7-year-old) son Josiah and I flew down to South Africa for the first major event on the continent. This year we knew Brasil was a must-see, so we used frequent flier miles to fly down for 2 weeks. Landing in Sao Paulo, we took buses around the country, visiting 4 cities and seeing 3 games. A massive country (5th largest in the world in area and population), Brasil is a beautiful land, reminding us of a mix of the Philippines and America – rolling mountains covered with jungle, lovely beaches, and good highways.

“A largely Christian people, Brasilians are very hospitable (we never needed to spend a night in a hotel), generous and friendly – some of the local fans even gave ‘free hugs’ – and the food is fantastic – flame-roasted barbecue skewers loaded with chicken and beef. Though it was winter, the weather was excellent, mostly sunny and cool, with scattered rain and sunshine. The infamous crime does exist (my camera and our Australian friend’s wallet were stolen), the joy of the crowds and the great competition made up for the difficulties.

“The games were exciting, and we all agreed it has been the best WC ever, in terms of history (the first Cup in South America since 1950) and excitement (goals scored, comebacks, upsets, and goal-keeping). The highlight was seeing Messi in person leading his team to victory over the Swiss.”

Top 5 blessings in Brasil: “1) Wonderful hospitality from our brothers and sisters – we stayed with friends and never needed a hotel, enjoying great fellowship,  food and culture. 2) Safety in travel (flying from Dayton to Chicago to Toronto to Sao Paulo) and going around by bus, subway, train, van and lots of walking. 3) Wonderful weather – when we arrived the forecast was for 100% probability of rain – miraculously, it dropped to zero and stayed dry! 4) Free flight tickets using our frequent flier miles, and a free Brasil visa. Our colleagues also made it there okay, despite cancelled flights and late visas. 5) Many ministry contacts, with well over a million tracts and 400 DVDs given out to fans from over 30 countries.”

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Top 5 burdens in Brasil: “1) The country is vast, so travel was exhausting – we spent 84 hours on buses going between the 4 cities of Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Sao Paul and Rio. 2) Always on the go, we had few times to lay our heads, literally – only 5 nights in a bed, 2 on planes, one in a car, and 5 overnights on long-distance buses. 3) Brazilian food is fantastic – alas, so busy, we had but 4 real meals, the rest were snacking on cereal, snacks and sandwiches – but the meals were great! 4) The notorious crime is a sad reality – our new camera lasted less than half a day before being stolen on the subway, and Matt got his wallet pick-pocketed. 5) Since it was winter there, germs and cold and rainy weather led to virus bugs.”

Todd’s next stop? Back to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.