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.

Bread and butter, boxing and basketball

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I’ve played basketball with Manny Pacquiao. He’s good. But PBA good? As in ready to compete against Marc Pingris, PJ Simon, Jimmy Alapag and Paul Lee? Ha-ha. It’s like the reverse question: Can Calvin Abueva don boxing gloves and fight in the ring? The answer is Yes. But ready to brawl in an ALA Promotions undercard? Absolutely not.

Same with Pacquiao. He can jump 10.5-feet high, elevate his 141-lb. frame and strut an acrobatic lay-up. In our basketball games back in 2007 when he trained against Marco Antonio Barrera, when he would sprint down the lane, our defense parted like Moses parted the Red Sea. The reason: We didn’t want to harm him. Imagine MP getting injured not inside the 23’ x 23’ ring but on the basketball floor? Kita sad-an sa injury.

That’s what happened in Cebu Coliseum. His Team Pacquiao battled our Sportswriters Association of Cebu. In one moment I’ll forever remember, Manny dribbled the ball as point guard. While moving forward, I flicked the rubber ball for a steal. The ball bounced away from Manny and towards the open court. He sprinted. I sprinted. We both lunged forward, diving on court, eyes fixed on grappling that ball. Imagine if Manny had gotten injured and called off the Barrera multi-million-dollar bout?

In the upcoming PBA season, you’ve read the news: Apart from the 10 existing PBA teams, the league is expanding and will accommodate two more squads. There’s Blackwater Sports and Kia Motors.

The head coach for Kia? The boxer who’ll be fighting this Nov. 23 in Macau. Why, of all people, did Kia ask Manny? At this point in his career when he hasn’t retired yet?

Why not Cebu’s pride, the nation’s most decorated coach who has yet to coach the pro league, Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba?

Why Manny? Publicity. Promotion. To attract fans. This is obvious. And when the PBA Rookie Draft is unveiled next Sunday (Aug. 24), will Manny be selected (out of 95 hopefuls), not just as head coach but also as player, ala today’s version of Robert Jaworski? Yes. Because what Manny wants, Manny gets. “We welcome the application of Congressman Pacquiao,” said PBA commissioner Chito Salud. “We wish him luck. He will go through normal procedure.”

Kia has two picks in the second round of the draft. Will they sign him? Sure. Long ago, he announced that he wanted to be both PBA coach and player. The critics questioned the legality. He’ll get his wish nonetheless.

Quinito Henson has a prediction and I believe it will happen. Quinito wrote this last Friday: “If the plan to stage the PBA’s 40th season-opening doubleheader at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena in Bulacan pushes through on Oct. 19, playing coach Manny Pacquiao will make his debut with Kia against Blackwater in the first game…”

Manny has always been impatient. Whether it’s knocking-out opponents (Ricky Hatton) or doing his multi-tasking extra-curricular activities (remember those days?), he’s always relished juggling multiple jobs. “Basketball is my first love,” said Manny, “but boxing is my bread and butter.”

True. But couldn’t he have waited after his boxing career to shift to basketball? Focus on one target at a time? It’s not as if these world titles fights are tiny goals, right? He’s earning over a billion pesos per bout. But then again, if Manny waits after boxing, that’s nearing 2016 — and won’t he run for Senator? That’s even better. Then, his credentials will read: PBA coach-player. Boxing world champ. Billionaire. Senator.

Will his boxing suffer at this time? He knows that if he loses this November, that’s the end of his boxing career. The wise man that he is, that’s why he chose a nobody in the name of Chris Algieri who, despite his 20-0 record, is unheard-of.

With the PBA, what a team name: Kia Kamao. If my research is correct, “kamao” has two meanings. In Bisaya, it means “skillful;” in Tagalog, it’s “fist.” Exceptional choice of name. The initials are easy to remember (“KK”) plus both meanings describe their coach/player.

Kamao gyud ni si Manny.

The Jose “Dodong” Rivera Gullas Tennis Cup

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The year 1919 was when the University of the Visayas was founded. Same with The Freeman newspaper, it was in 1919 when the first publication was printed. The Gullas Tennis Cup? It’s now on its 19th year.

A bit of history: Jose “Dodong” R. Gullas is a sportsman. With basketball, he was the co-captain of the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers that captured the 1957 national title. They defeated the NCAA champs, Ateneo Blue Eagles, in the country’s first-ever televised game. He was later invited to join the Philippine team that included Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga. Basketball dribbles in tandem with the heartbeat of Dodong Gullas.

But there’s another sport that’s even closer to Sir Dodong’s heart: Tennis. One of the most-recognizable events in the Philippine tennis calendar bears his name: The Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup. It is the longest-running junior tennis tournament outside of Manila.

This started at the two clay-courts of the Cebu Country Club. A regular tennis player, Dodong Gullas would often play doubles with his brother, Congressman Eddie. One afternoon in early 1995, we talked at the CCC.

“What can we do to help youth tennis?” Mr. Gullas asked. “Let’s organize a tournament for kids,” I replied. We met at his office. We booked a weeklong date during summer. We discussed the categories (there would be nine – from 10 to 18 year olds). The action-man that he is, Dodong Gullas was soon announcing to the Cebuano community the launching of this major sports event.

Today, the Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup is the most sought-after junior tennis tournament in the Visayas and Mindanao. It was the first event to garner a Group 2 ranking. Through the years, we have cultivated dozens of national champions – all of whom have been winners at the Gullas Cup. The names Jacob Lagman, Fitzgerald Tabura, Sally Mae Siso, Oswaldo Dumoran, and even Francis Casey “Niño” Alcantara – the 2009 Australian Open junior doubles champion – have, in their storied careers, all been called “Gullas Cup champions.”

Tennis is a sport that’s close to Mr. Gullas because, for many years in the 1980s and ‘90s, he personally swung backhands and smashed volleys. His son Johnvic was also a tennis buff – and has been present since the very first serve of the Gullas Cup. In collegiate tennis, the UV squad also boasts of the strongest players in the region. Led by Fritz Tabura, they’ve been multiple
Cesafi champions – and national collegiate winners.

Yesterday afternoon at the Inday Pining Teatro II room inside the UV Main Campus, we officially launched the 2014 edition. Before the start of the Press Conference, as Dodong Gullas and I were chatting, in walks his beloved brother, EddieGul. We talked for a few minutes.

With the Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup, here are the important details: The event will be next week, from August 21 to 24, and is open to all junior netters aged 18 and younger. There will be nine categories for singles (10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 – Boys and Girls) plus five divisions for doubles (10, 14 and 18).

Venues: the CitiGreen Tennis Resort in Punta Princesa and the Alta Vista Golf & Country Club in Pardo. For the first time, it will be an all-indoor tournament. Good idea considering that August is a rainy month.

Registration fee is only P300 per entry (double entry is allowed). This includes all the court & ballboy fees, tennis balls, the Welcome Dinner on Aug. 21 (a holiday), and a free sports JRG shirt. Winners get trophies and gift certificates.

How to register? Visit the “Gullas Cup” Facebook page and post a message. Or, text/call directly our tournament co-organizers, Em-Em Siso (0923-9609117) or Jun Tabura (09278788686). After you’ve registered, visit the FB page the next day to check if your name is enlisted. The deadline for registration is this Tuesday, August 19. Join the smashes and volleys. Register now!

After the split, he recommits

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The two world number ones were scheduled to get married. One was the top-ranked female tennis player. She held that spot for 67 weeks. The other was No. 1 in golf. Imagine a tennis-golf wife-and-husband partnership for life, two of the best at their respective games, living a made-for-Hollywood romance?

The couple: Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy. The wedding: this Nov. 8 at the Rockefeller Centre. Sadly, the wedding is not pushing through. Happily, Rory McIlroy is winning — thanks to the breakup.

Here’s the story: Rory and Caro first met three years ago. Since then, they’ve been together, Wozniacki doing caddy work on the golf course and McIlroy swinging forehands at play. Nice. It culminated with McIlroy asking his Danish girlfriend, “Will you marry me?” last New Year’s Eve. Of course, Caroline jumped with joy. By Jan. 1, she tweeted: “Rory and I started 2014 with a bang! … I said YES!!!!”

As photographers snapped pictures, on her finger glittered a huge diamond ring. But while the romance of the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. McIlroy was on high, their respective games turned southward. Wozniacki tumbled out of the Top 10 and had still not won a Grand Slam singles title. McIlroy? The “Boy Wonder” had fallen to 10th in the world.

Love life, excellent. Sports life, poor.

Last May, wedding invitations were sent to the elite crowd. That’s when fireworks erupted. Rory, in a heartless way, phoned his fiancee and, in all of three minutes, told her the wedding was off. Caro thought the call was a joke. He wasn’t kidding.

“There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people,” said McIlroy. “The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.”

Wozniacki’s Twitter account previously wrote: @CaroWozniacki: Fiancee, daughter, sister, tennis player. Mother to our dog Bruno. The day after the separation, one word was deleted: “fiancee.”

Ouch. That was 10 weeks ago. What happened next were some of the most incredible moments in golf. Hours after announcing the split, McIlroy joined the BMW PGA Championship. He won that title in May. In July, he participated in the Open Championship. Having led the entire way, he beats Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler by two strokes to capture his third career major trophy. Then, a couple of weeks back, he wins again — the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

From 10th-ranked a few months ago, he deletes the “0” and vaults to No. 1. And, yesterday, you know what happened. Every Filipino golfer who has cable TV watched the live drama that unfolded early yesterday until about 8:45 a.m.

I did. Arising before 6, I quickly googled “PGA winner” only to be surprised that McIlroy, the leader heading into Sunday, was down by two strokes. They were in the 9th hole. I sprung up from bed. Perfectly-timed, minutes later I watched McIlroy sink that eagle putt on the 10th to tie him with Fowler and Phil Mickelson. He would birdie twice more as his two adversaries succumbed to bogeys.

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What a final last few holes in the year’s final major. A 331-yard drive by the Irishman on the 16th. Phil nearly holes an eagle on the 72nd hole. And Rory could have stayed conservative in the 18th but he still smothers that ball with his driver — resulting in his ball landing just a few feet from the water. He saves par as nightfall descends.

Four victories in as many months. The No.1 ranking. Two straight majors. Rory credits one move for this resurgence: the breakup.

“I think it has happened to me for the better,” he said. “Just seems like over the past couple of months I’ve just buried myself in my golf game and it seems to be working. What else do I have to do? I get up in the morning, go to the golf course, go to the gym. It’s just my life at the minute.”

In tennis, love means nothing. Rory agrees.

Fittest Fifty

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How do you define a “fit person?” Is a skinny man weighing 135 lbs. who can run a 10K in 50 minutes fit? But what if he can’t bench press his body weight? How about, at the opposite end, a muscleman with biceps size 14” who can lift a Kia Pride but can’t finish a 15K Run?

What is fitness? Sports Illustrated, the leading sports magazine, came up with a criteria of four: speed, strength, agility and endurance.

This makes sense. The fittest person is the one who excels not in just one or two areas but in all four. Visiting the SI.com website, this is how they explain it: “Fitness. For the professional male athlete it is the very foundation of success. But even among the pros, some athletes stand head and sculpted shoulders above the rest. The natural question, then: Who is the fittest male athlete in sports?”

For the first time since the SI magazine started in 1954, they have come up with the “Fittest 50.” With SI’s editors and writers as judges, they’ve used a 40-point scoring system to assess the world’s top sportsmen; each of the four categories has a scale of 0-10.

From SI, here are the criteria: STRENGTH: the pushing power of a lineman or the force of an ultimate fighter. SPEED: the top end of a sprinter or the burst of a running back. ENDURANCE: a runner’s bottomless reserve or a boxer’s ability to keep going in a bout. AGILITY: the balance of a downhill skier or a euro step at full.

So, among the planet’s 7.25 billion inhabitants, who is that one athlete who is the fittest? Drum roll, please…

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He’s Cavalier No. 23! Yup, in all four categories, SI scored LeBron James a perfect 10. His total is 40. Based on this analysis by their experts, he’s the only top-notch athlete to score a perfect mark. LBJ is strong and fast; he can endure a lengthy contest (except that cramps in Game 1, right?), plus his balance and agility are incomparable.

The second best: Christiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese scored 10 in three areas but only 8.5 in strength. Understandable because a footballer needs speed, endurance and agility — minus the bulging muscles which will slow him down. Ronaldo scores 38.5.

Third on the list is Usain Bolt. The fastest human being ever (his 100-meter WR is 9.58), he scores a 10 in speed (of course) but lower in strength (9), agility (8.5) and endurance (9). Bolt scores 36.5.

From fourth to 10th place are: Floyd Mayweather (score: 36), NFL’s Dez Bryant (35), NFL’s Calvin Johnson (34.5), NBA’s Serge Ibaka (34), NFL’s Adrian Peterson (33.5), Jon Jones of the UFC with 33, and at No. 10, the world’s most decorated swimmer, Michael Phelps (33).

If you run through the list of 50 athletes, many names are unfamiliar. That’s because many are American football players. Not including these NFL stars and others that are not too familiar, here are some recognizable names:

Blake Griffin, the LA Clippers slam-dunking Hulk, sits at No. 14. He totaled 30. A bit perplexing is how he scored only 8 in strength (he got 7 for speed and 7.5 for agility and endurance). Isn’t Griffin one of the league’s strongest?

Among the tennis players, only two made the list: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal is ranked 20 while Fed is 31. With Nadal, another head-scratching number: the man who can battle for five hours and five sets only scored 8 for endurance. Ha? Nadal’s total is 28.5. As to Roger, he got a lowly 5.5 for speed and his total is 26. But why no Novak Djokovic?

With the MMA fighters, only one other star is included apart from the 9th-ranked Jon Jones. He’s GSP or George St. Pierre. The Canadian is middle of the pack, No. 25, for a total of 27.5. He scores a high 9 for strength but a low 3.5 for speed.

Among the NBA players, the six total include Ray Allen (30), Nate Robinson (33) and Dwight Howard (36). Cyclist Chris Froome is 45 and marathoner Meb Keflezighi is 46.

Pinoy? Yes. Adjudged the 39th fittest with scores of 6.5 (speed and agility), 6 (endurance) and 5 (strength) for a total of 24 is the planet’s only eight-division world champ, MP.

Ironman motto: Know pain, know gain

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Question: Would you pay $325 to suffer nonstop for seven to eight hours? That’s what the triathletes did last Sunday.

Imagine swimming for 50 minutes the open-sea waters spanning 1.9 kms. Then, after maneuvering past the jellyfish and kicks of your fellow swimmers attempting to dislodge your goggles, you sprint towards your P254,000 carbon-fiber bicycle.

You pedal, amidst the sun that will cook your skin from 7:30 to 11 a.m., climbing the Fernan Bridge. You soon descend into darkness inside the abyss called the Tunnel, emerging to confront the buffering yet unseen crosswinds at the SRP — all of 90 kms., the distance from the Capitol to Bogo. Finally, returning back to where you started at the seaside property of Megaworld, you change from cleats to running shoes — and you stare at your watch: it’s 11 a.m.

Time for a half-marathon! Crazy? No. How about lunatic. At first, the run traverses along shaded portions of Punta Engaño. Good. But wait until you reach Amisa and the winding, open air subdivision where you have nowhere to hide for shade. You walk — but you really want to crawl. The tough part: the run isn’t a point-to-point, from A-to-B route. It’s two loops. Meaning, after circling one entire lap, it’s not over yet; you’ve got to do it all over again. And it’s past 1 p.m.!

This, to the non-Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 participant, is a snapshot of the suffering and difficulty of finishing all 113 kms. of last Sunday’s race. And you pay a fee of nearly P15,000 (in December for an event that’s in August) to willingly absorb this affliction.

Yet, thousands banded together in this modern-day version of hazing, all for the personal satisfaction of saying, Yes, I’ve done it!

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Plenty, prior to August 3, were obese and elephantine; many were sedentary and slothful. Not anymore. That potbelly evaporated into a six-pack. What a transformation; not only of the physical but of the entire mind-and-body.

Why? Because, said Bob Dylan, “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” Because, reads a famous saying, “Without pain, how could we know joy?” For what is life unless we pass through aches and burns and, after overcoming that, emerge to raise one’s arms up to God at the finish line?

The Ironman is about pain management. During training. Facing the sun. Running with cramps. Battling the wind. Fixing a flat tire. Crouching low on the bike for 220 back-breaking minutes. It’s Winston Churchill’s dictum that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

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It’s not about the eradication of pain — because that’s impossible, even for the Canadian named Brent McMahon who won in three hours and 59 minutes. It’s about absorbing the pain and transforming it into that unexplainable feeling of ecstasy that can only be described by one person: you yourself.

Nobody can define this “misery = jubilation” formula but the person who’s actually out there, fighting for his or her quest to cross that finish line.

It’s like Atty. Jess Garcia, minutes after crossing the finish line, telling me, “I’ll never do this again!” Yet, with his wife Leslie beside him, he said those words with an overjoyed tone.

You know who I applaud the most? The IronWomen. Yes, the ladies who braved the same distance of this event named after ‘Man. Comprising only 15 percent of all participants, now the women can claim and say, “We don’t only iron (clothes) well, we can also do the Ironman!” A thunderous clap for all finishers; but a standing ovation for all the lady participants.

The great Helen Keller, who couldn’t see or hear but became one of humankind’s most inspiring figures, once said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Cebu is the ideal stage for triathlon

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.43.58 AMSen. Pia with Team Jack Men

Hosting of the Ironman 70.3 race is supposed to rotate every three years. In 2009, this event featured over 500 triathletes in Camarines Sur. The race lasted for three years in Camsur. Next, with much shock and disappointment from then-Gov. LRay Villafluerte, the organizers moved it south, to Cebu. Now, our three years are up. After Luzon first hosted and, next, us representing the Visayas, will the 2015 edition move elsewhere, maybe in Mindanao (Davao, starting the swim in Samal Island?), to hop on all three Philippine regions?

Maybe. But I doubt it. I’m willing to bet my Vellum bike that Cebu will host again next August, and at least for two more Augusts after that.

First, Shangri-La. Is there a venue elsewhere that can provide a more shangrila-like experience than Shangri-La? None. Well, maybe Boracay, but where can you pedal for 90 kms. around Boracay?

The past three days — Friday to Sunday — we spent plentiful hours in Shangri-La (on Friday to get our race kits and carbo-load during the Welcome Dinner, on Saturday to do the bike check-in and attend the Race Briefing, and two days ago, for the actual race) and, repeatedly, friends would say, there’s no more ideal spot than Mactan. The beach and water are pristine; the added space of Megaworld, near Portofino, where the bikes were parked and where the Transition Area was situated — was ideal.

Second, the crowd support. I ran the 21K relay run and the thousands who cheered along Punta Engaño were tremendous. I’ve never ran with so many people cheering. This provides an immense boost to one’s weary legs. The same was true for the 90-km. bike ride: in many areas, fans stood side-by-side to shout, “Piolo!” and students clapped for the zooming cyclists.

The availability of dozens of hotels — this is a major plus. Our international airport. Mayor Paz Radaza’s assistance with the bleachers, the dancers during the Welcome Dinner, and more. The cooperation of the police, traffic, medical teams (led by Dr. Peter Mancao), of the Cebu Province (led by Atty. Mark Tolentino) … all contributed to a let’s-help-each-other, We’re-One Cebu united front.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.43.11 AMWith doctors Ron Eullaran and Peter Mancao

So, to yesterday’s headline, “Will Cebu host again?” Absolutely. Not that we’re irreplaceable but the set-up and organization and geography of Cebu will make it very, very, very difficult for Sunrise Events, Inc. to pullout of our province.

Still, Fred Uytengsu’s pronouncement of “Maybe… but it’s not sure yet” is good. It forms a leverage for the one problem that’s not difficult to solve: the bad roads. The stretch from Parkmall to the SRP Tunnel is the problem. And when you’re running 44-kph on a time-trial bike, you’d want a glossy pavement. This area is rough and awful. But can it be smoothened, in time for 12 months from now? Absolutely.

The race last Sunday? Ahh-mazing! It started last Saturday night when Kuya Kim (Atienza), who did the Weather Report during the Briefing, announced that weather conditions would be sunny. Afraid of the incoming typhoon, the Shangri-La Ballroom erupted into cheers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.46.07 AMRace Briefing with 3D glasses: Ron, John, Jonel Borromeo and Dr. Tony San Juan

Sunday morning brought perfectly-clear skies. The sea water? Placid and serene. Compared to just a few days earlier when waves tormented Mactan, two mornings ago at 6:28 a.m. when the starting gun was fired, the water was tranquil. Triathletes couldn’t have asked for better swimming conditions.

At the 23rd minute, would you believe, the pros were out of the water after 1.9 kms. and sprinting towards their carbon bicycles. They’re jetskis made of human flesh. One by one, wetsuit after bikini after tri-suit, the thousands of fishes pulled out their goggles to turn amphibious and start their long pedaling journey towards the SRP.

Inspiring? That’s a mild form of description. You see females and males of all sizes, the young ones and the once young, all braving this crazy sport.

Within an hour or so, all bikers disappeared from Mactan, climbing the Marcelo Fernan Bridge, en route to the “M & M” route at the SRP, crossing  the Tunnel eight times.

Iron-willed men and women

Mike Limpag said it best: This weekend is the biggest in Cebu sports. It’s a triumvirate: the Tri’ called Ironman 70.3, the Little Olympics of Milo and the Cesafi opening.

With the IM race, imagine the growth: six years ago in Camsur, less than 600 joined; this morning, it has quintupled.

Of the 2,500 attendees today, based on what my eyes witnessed two afternoons ago in Shangri-La, a huge majority are from outside Cebu. Including the family members accompanying the visitors, this is a massive tourism boost for Cebu — and a testament to the influence of sports.

Last Friday, we trooped to Mactan. I rode with Dr. Ron and Raycia Eullaran and we were joined, meandering through heavy traffic, by triathlete Rap Sios-e. The Marquee ballroom of Shangri-La teemed with super-fit bodies. Six packs did not have the San Mig Light logo — they were implanted on the bellies of the skinny athletes.

Our “Jack Men” team, with Rap as swimmer, Ron as biker and me as runner, waited to secure our race kits. While standing in line, we saw three doctors (as one team): James Guardiario, Tito Macarasig and Elmer Po. The process was a breeze. We received our shirts, snapped-on our wrist-bands, and our number “3360” plastered to both arms. Photos were clicked; smiles beamed aplenty. The Expo was impressive, from Aqua Sphere goggles to Saucony footwear to Cervelo P5 displays.

The pros sat on-stage during the press conference. This is what’s remarkable about this event — some of the world’s best are here. The former Kona Ironman world champ Pete Jacobs is here. (We asked for his photo during dinner but he was busy getting food.) If you’re an IM70.3 participant, you can gloat, saying, “I swam, biked and ran alongside the world’s best!” How many sports can boast the same?

Jenson Button, back after two years, joined the pros on-stage. I looked for Jessica Michibata and, yes, found Jenson’s fiancee standing just meters away. “Hi, Jessica!” I said, as we spoke for a few moments.

By 6 p.m., with a few goodies in the bag for Raycia, we paraded to the open grounds for the Carbo-Loading Party. It was a party! Lining-up the walkway were dancers from Lapu-Lapu City who donned colorful attire. Two large-screen LED screens stood to welcome the athletes. With perfect no-rain weather, the Shangri-La garden transformed into a… shangrila; a sprawling oasis perfect for dinner. A few cocktail tables stood but majority sat on the grass, covered by cloth, to carbo-load on green salad, pasta, chicken and pizza. Lechon? Ha-ha. Not yet. Not until the celebration after the race.

Dr. Tony San Juan got hefty servings, getting ready to do the full 113 kms. We ate with Jun Angeles and Darwin Herbas. Kudos to Lapu-Lapu City, led by Mayor Paz Radaza and the city’s head of sports and tourism, the marathoner Hembler Mendoza, for a superb welcome dinner.

Of today’s weather and because this is an outdoor race that may span up to seven hours, the sun-or-rain hide-and-seek plays a vital role. The past week has been difficult for the swimmers. “We swam for 25 minutes and were still stuck at the same spot,” Ken Salimbangon, who’ll do his second full IM race, told me. The waves and current have been strong. But, thankfully, the past day or so have seen sunny days — and hopefully more calming waters, especially in the early hours (before 7 a.m.) when the swim leg begins.

Rain is preferred to the sun. The best: overcast, cloudy skies. For the run portion, many will be battling the 21K between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — the deadliest period of the day. A drizzle would be welcome.

Finally, some statistics for the race: 40 countries are represented with the most entries coming from Singapore (141). The U.S. is next with 54 followed by 45 Australians. Although women are most welcome, the ratio of individual participants (not relay) is disproportionate: 85 percent are male. This means extra kudos to the women in this male-dominated event that is, after all, called IronMAN.

Ironman Cebu: Four cities, three sports, three days left

imagesToday, registration opens for all participants of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3. What’s 70.3? That’s the total distance of the race: 70.3 miles. The Sunday event is actually a “Half-Ironman” as the full Ironman is twice the measurement: 140.6 miles, translating to a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike ride and a 42K marathon.

Three days from now, the length is still daunting: that’s a 1.9-km. swim, a 90-km. pedal contest and a 21K run using tired legs.

Today, the doors of The Marquee in Shangri-La Mactan will open to welcome all triathletes. By day’s end, you’ll know who’s joining: they’ll be wearing colored bands on their wrists with the IM logo. They’ll have bragging rights while roaming our city streets, quietly proclaiming to all: I hope to cross that finish line this Sunday and be an “Ironman.”

This race is life-changing. People’s lives have been altered because of Aug. 3, 2014. The reason: as soon as one has registered, first-timer or not, one has to devote innumerable hours performing free-style strokes in the 25-meter pool, four-hour-long bike rides to Catmon or Carcar or Carmen, long-distance runs that start at 4:15 a.m.

Belly bulges have been trimmed. Buckets full of sweat have evaporated. Hundreds of thousands of pesos have been spent on Pinarello Dogma bikes. GU gels have been swallowed like soft candy.

All for good. For here’s the good news: I know plenty of 39- and 49-year-olds who’ve never been fitter in their whole lives than today. Amazing, right?

Jonel Borromeo, my high school best friend, comes to mind. Over 24 months ago, he weighed over 230 lbs. and could barely circle the track oval’s 400 meters. Now, he’s lost 80 lbs. of fat and he’s a hard-core triathlete who joined Gianluca Guidicelli’s three-day bike “suffer” fest in Bohol that spanned over 515 kms. When he trekked to the U.S. for a business trip, he was stopped by the U.S. immigration because his new face and body didn’t resemble his passport photo. He was interrogated for two hours!

That interrogation brought an earful and fulfilling grin to Jonel. Ha-ha, he must have screamed inside. This is what being fit looks like, he must have told himself fronting the mirror.

1619604_631142706939972_881171607_nJonel (center) with Joseph Miller and Tenggoy Colmenares

And so, even before the starting gun will fire at exactly 6:28 a.m. this Sunday, I congratulate everyone who’s joining, especially the first-timers. Your dedication has not only made you slimmer and fitter — but, as a whole, you’re more disciplined and goal-oriented.

As Meyrick Jacalan said, “Race day is the pay off. It’s over. Enjoy.” By that, Jacs means that all your months of suffering have culminated towards this weekend. It’s time to claim the prize.

As we applaud the participants, we also thank Sunrise Events, Inc., led by Fred Uytengsu, Jr., whose family roots come from Cebu, and the woman supervising the whole spectacle, the indefatigable superwoman Princess Galura.

Cebu, as a brand, is known worldwide in the triathlon hemisphere because of the IM70.3. Our visitors descending to Mactan will not only spend good Euros but will also spread the good word (hopefully) about our beautiful island. Sports tourism, it’s nicknamed.

This means that, to all those who’ll be inconvenienced three mornings from now, please bear with this annual party. Speaking of “annual,” it looks like, after three years, Cebu will continue hosting the IM. And why not? Camarines Sur was a terrific start, bringing hundreds of newbies. But it’s small. And the water, murky and brown, can’t compare to Shangri-La’s. Three more years. That’s what I hear. Amazing Tri’ news for this multi-city hosting of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Talisay and Cebu.

Me? I did the 90K bike two years ago, was scheduled to race the Individual Full last year until an injury thwarted those plans, and this Sunday, I’ll run 21K with Ralph Sios-e as swimmer and my best buddy Dr. Ronald Eullaran as biker. Our team name is JACK MEN, in honor of my late father-in-law “Jack Mendez” who passed away two weeks ago and because “we’re men of Jack.”

Pointers for the IM 70.3 first-timers

Of the 2,500 participants in next Sunday’s race, hundreds will be new. Last year, I asked a few seasoned triathletes for some pointers. Again, here are those lessons…

AYA GARCIA SHLACHTER: 1. Taper. Do not cram your workouts. 2. If you feel doubtful that you can finish the race, break down the distances in your mind. I have difficulty running 21K so I break down the run as four 5k races; this way, I am not intimidated. 3. Smile and finish strong!

CHRIS ALDEGUER. 1. Race Week = Get enough rest this week. Avoid long training sessions. Keep it short with a nice pace to stay sharp. Eat and Hydrate well. Prepare and check all gear and equipment.

2. Swim= If you are a good swimmer, position well in the front. The swim start is crowded. Positioning well will get you in a good group that can result in an overall fast pace. For the majority, it is best to take the swim easy since it is a long race. The swim can be a warmup for the bike. For the first timers, expect the swim to be chaotic. It’s important to be prepared mentally to avoid panic.

3. Bike= Since it is a long race, ride comfortably the early stage of the Bike leg. It is better to be feeling good in the later part of the Bike rather than suffer.. there is still a 21k Run to follow. Also be reminded at all times to drink and eat.

4. Run= Same with the Bike; start at a comfortable pace. A big percentage end up surviving the run rather than running the run. This often is a result of wrong pacing. It is always good to finish strong.

JANE JANE ONG. 1. Eat and rest well and get plenty of sleep. Try to sleep early every night. If you can’t sleep, just lie down in bed. 2. During race day, it’s important to pace oneself. Although the adrenaline rush might push us to swim/bike/run faster, it’s better to stick by the pace we’ve practiced to avoid getting cramps. 3. Enjoy the race!

JACS JACALAN. Pacing is critical. Going out too fast in one of the disciplines will have a consequential effect on the other two. Settle into your goal pace; you should have put in many miles in the past months at your goal pace, so it should feel natural.

Swimming with hundreds of triathletes is chaotic. Losing your goggles is a nightmare, so put-on your goggles underneath your swim cap to keep it from getting off your head. Going out hard in the swim is a huge mistake. Many triathletes push hard in the swim thinking they won’t use their shoulders during the bike and run. But hard swimming causes the body to burn more carbohydrates and this effect will last until the bike and run legs.

Ease up slightly on the last km. of the bike leg by increasing cadence and using easy gear. The transition from Bike to Run is most difficult. Reducing lactic acid levels and getting your breathing under control will enable a smoother transition. Giving up a few minutes will improve your run split more than it costs your bike split.

You’ve trained hard and with discipline. You have missed late-night partying. You have not been to the newly-opened bars. You have sacrificed family time. Most even have troubles with their wives (hehe). Race Day is the payoff. It’s over. Enjoy the race.

ANNIE NERIC. Make sure you are really prepared. Don’t worry about losing the registration fee or not participating. You are better alive than sorry. Think of yourself and family. Remember this is not an ordinary sports event.

Consult your doctor, have a check up and ensure you are fit (heart, no high blood, sugar levels). Avoid work stress; worries that may affect your condition, psyche, focus. Try to relax and try to get a good sleep the night before (this doesn’t always happen). Don’t try anything new on race day like new rubber shoes, tri suit.

Relax. Don’t tense your body and muscles. Think of good things; think of going thru the course and succeeding. This is Physical, Mental and even Spiritual. So PRAY, too! Go thru with your guardian angel. Have fun, enjoy the scenery, think of the Finish Line and look forward to a Cebu lechon!

Jack Mendez

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We were supposed to travel together this November. A lifelong boxing fan, he followed Manny Pacquiao’s every jab and uppercut. We planned to fly to Hong Kong, hop on the fast ferry to the gambling island then set-up camp inside one of the suites of The Venetian Macao.

Jacinto Mariano Natividad Villarosa Mendez, or “Jack” to the tens of thousands of people who know him, won’t make the trip to watch Pacman. No worries. Instead of a seat inside the Cotai Arena, he’ll have unobstructed front-row seats from high above, seated alongside his buddies like Kits Borromeo, Dito Bugarin, Toto Gallego and his brother Tony — with an unlimited supply of Carlos Uno on his side.

Jack Mendez, my beloved father-in-law, the man I’ve known for over half my life, passed away Tuesday last week. He was to turn 83 years old this August 17.

He left us, to those who’ve met him and laughed with him and heard his impromptu speeches that were always the most applauded — he left us all better people.

Jack’s story is amazing. Born poor, he struggled to study. In college and in law school at the USC, his pants were often torn and he borrowed books. The dean of the USC Law School disallowed him from taking the Bar Exam for fear that he’d fail and would lower the school’s passing rate. He stormed Dean Pelaez’s office and slammed a hand grenade on the table.

He took the test, passed it, became Atty. Jacinto V. Mendez. But still poor, he worked as a security guard. One of his assignments in Manila was to guard a furniture factory where he had to scoot on top of a table to avoid the crawling snakes that wandered all night.

On March 1965, he founded the Centurion Security Agency, Inc. and it went on to become one of the biggest agencies (with over 2,000 guards) in Vis-Min. Counting the years, this March would have been Centurion’s 50th anniversary.

How dad, whom we were ready to nickname, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” longed to attend his baby’s golden celebration. But, no, God has better plans. He wanted his son Jack beside Him early — to be with Him for eternity.

I consider Jack not only as a role model and mentor — but as a best friend. We had the best of times together. Each Saturday dinner that we enjoyed, each trip that we took as a family, each trek to Dumaguete or Iloilo or Bohol that we took so he could watch his granddaughter’s tennis matches — each moment we savored.

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As every Rotarian or lawyer-friend or SSS co-employee would attest, he was jolly. He’d make jokes all night. He was witty and articulate. He loved to hold the microphone and tell the funniest of stories.

He was loved. By his family, above all, led by my mother-in-law Malu, and the children, Michelle, Jasmin, Jake and Monette. By his Centurion family. As example, the day after he passed away, the Head Guards group were so shocked and moved by his sudden passing that, never mind their limited resources, they donated a substantial amount of their hard-earned salary to the Mendez family. This is love. Jack’s love returning because of his kindness.

One of dad’s mottos is GOLF: “Growing Old, Living Fine.” He lived a fine and fulfilling life. Another saying that he held dear was the 5Fs. In life, he said, we must follow these 5Fs… First, faith. God above everything else. Next, family. Third F: finances. Fourth, friends. And last, Fun.

Faith. Family. Finances. Friends. Fun. “It should be according to sequence,” he’d say. “Never, for example, finances over family or fun over friends.”

I add a sixth F in his honor: Father. He was an always-present, very thoughtful, and giving father.

This morning at 10, a mass will be celebrated at the San Isidro Parish Church in Talamban with the interment to follow at Cempark. We will lay to rest a man who loved to the fullest, laughed every problem away, rose from rags to riches with humility; a man who could make the most serious of frowns smile, who commandeered a squadron of centurions.

Jack The Centurion, we salute you. Dad, we’ll miss you.

Home is where the heart (not Heat) is

You cannot please everybody. That’s a fact of life. No matter how good you are or how sincere your intentions are, there will always be that one person — or 20.5 million Floridians — who’ll despise you. That’s life. “You can’t please everyone, nor should you seek to,” said actor Dylan Moran, “because then you won’t please anyone, least of all yourself.”

Agree. Pat Riley must be fuming bad. What happened to their four year ride, reaching The Finals all four seasons and winning twice?

Yes, but then LeBron James is The King. As today’s Jordan, his decision is honored. He is not only basketball’s best but this planet’s greatest athlete. And when you’re at the Mt. Everest of your game and only 29 years of age, you can do as you wish. The Chosen One chooses.

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After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron must have looked at his pal Dwayne Wade’s 32-year-old banged-up body and concluded, “Man, he’s old.” This is a fact: If Miami Heat had remained with the same roster for next season, the result will be the same: they’ll get clobbered by Manu and Tony and Tim.

Stay with the old or gamble with the future? In “The Decision Part 2,” LeBron followed his heart. His heart had always resided in Ohio, where he was born. “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” wrote LeBron in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

The King is coming home. Who’d have expected that? Given their success in Miami, wasn’t the logical move to at least try one or two more seasons before leaping? I’m sure LeBron pondered on that thought. The Heat and our fellow Pinoy Erik Spoelstra have been good to him and helped him purchase what couldn’t buy in Cleveland: two NBA rings. And, yes, while Miami cracked and wilted against the Spurs, surely with some tweaking and importing of new blood, they’d have the best chance next season, right?

Maybe. But that’s now forgotten. What’s important is that a decision has been reached and it’s an astonishing one. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” added LeBron. “After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

Though this issue isn’t about money, it’s not bad receiving extra: While he started with $4 million as a Cleveland rookie in 2003, James took a pay-cut when he flew south to Miami, pocketing $14.5 million in his first season. Obviously, big bucks — but for a giant of his stature, that’s small. Believe it or not, in his whole career James has never been his team’s highest-paid member. That will change starting this October with the Cavs when he pockets $22.2 million.

This story is also about forgiveness. One of the major stumbling blocks of his return was the animosity he received from the Cleveland fans, most notably the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years ago when LeBron shocked his employer with his goodbye, Gilbert wrote a scornful letter, saying LeBron was a coward. LeBron never forgot that (justified) cruelty.

Now he has. In a secret meeting last Sunday, Gilbert was said to have told LeBron, “We had five great years together and one terrible night. I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”

LeBron reciprocated, saying that he, too, was sorry for “The Decision” that aired on worldwide TV in 2010. And so, the two shook hands, probably hugged, and ‘Bron’s coming home.

Which means that Cedar Point, the “roller coaster capital of the world,” will have to fulfill its promise of a new ride: a roller-coaster named, “King James.”

I can’t wait for the roller-coaster ride called the NBA.

Germany humiliates Brasil

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The headlines screamed, “Brazilians Mourn Nightmare,” “Neymar wouldn’t have saved Brazil,” “Massacre!” and “Germany Embarrass Sorry Brazil.”

It was an embarrassment. On home soil. Fronting tens of thousands of Brazilians and after $13.3 billion spent. Their worst-ever beating since that 0-6 loss to Uruguay in 1920. Five goals by Germany in 19 minutes. A day Luiz Felipe Scolari calls “the worst day of my life.”

Who’d have expected that? Entering the game, few believed that the hosts would win, despite Brazil never having lost a home match since 1975 — but nobody anticipated the outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a fan or not of Brazil,” said Graeme Mackinnon, “7-1 was totally from another planet.”

Yes, that planet is inhabited by 200 million football-crazy people and it’s called Planet Brasil. It was an in-your-face embarrassment.

“Germany stops when it’s the World Cup,” said Dennis Valdez, my second cousin and the son of the famed Mt. Everest leader Art Valdez and former Bacolod City Mayor Joy Valdez.

I phoned Dennis yesterday. He’s German with Pinoy blood. By that, I mean this: He resided in Germany from 2003 to 2011 and speaks fluent German. “Friends of mine from Germany whom I communicated with after the game were just as shocked,” he said. “Nobody expected the outcome.”

Dennis, who resided in cities ranging from Heidelberg to Weisbaden to Frankfurt, was at the 2006 World Cup that Germany hosted. Though he never got to see a live game, he watched every game on the large screen alongside his friends and fellow employees.

“There would be public viewing screens everywhere,” he said. “In Frankfurt’s Main River, they setup a huge, huge screen in the middle of the river and everyone watched. The atmosphere was like inside the stadium. The Germans go crazy when their team plays.”

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(Matthias Schrader/AP)

Mr. Valdez worked for Bilfinger Berger, the second largest construction firm in Germany, and he says that business stops when it’s game-time.

Recently, I read an article about the automobile giant: “Volkswagen announced that it cancelled the late shift at its main plant in Wolfsburg so workers can watch the game. The late shift from 2 to 10pm was shut down, which means that around 4,000 workers can get off work early.”

What a celebration it must have been for the 82 million Germans. What an 11-man scoring machine. Consider that, four years ago when Spain won the WC, they scored a total of eight goals… for the whole tournament!

Yet, the victors are not gloating. It’s only the semis. “Germans are humble people,” said Dennis. “I’m sure, as much as they celebrated, they also sympathized with the Brazilians. Na luoy-sila. They also pity them. This was unexpected. Remember, this is, more or less, the same German team as 2006. Eight years ago, they were very young. Four years ago in South Africa, the Germans were expected to win. Now, they’re peaking. It’s about experience.”

Nimrod Quiñones added, “Many say Brazil lost because of the absence of Neymar and Silva, but I believe the reason for the loss was they they failed to play as a team.”

Of the other semifinal (played at 4 a.m. today), Graeme Mackinnon said: “No European team has ever won in South America so the pressure will be on Argentina to try and maintain that statistic. But first they have to beat a fairly impressive Holland who are being favored to win the cup. Whoever wins (Argentina-Netherlands) will be the underdogs in the final.”

Agree. For me, like most people worldwide — especially fans of Argentina’s No. 10 — I’d love to see a Germany-Argentina ending. But not my cousin Dennis who said, “I want Netherlands. Their rivalry with Germany is unbelievable. It’s like Pakistan and India, when it comes to football.” And, my Ilonggo cousin ended saying, “Grabe ila away. Kontrahan gid sila.”

rtr3xped(Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Wonderful Wimbledon

Day Ten: The Championships - Wimbledon 2014(Al Belo/Getty Images)

My choices lost. I picked Eugenie Bouchard and Roger Federer to each win the final point at Wimbledon. They didn’t. The crowd favorites, Bouchard and Federer, just by listening to the screams of the British, were revered.

Bouchard is stunningly pretty. Blonde, svelte, power-hitting yet not named Maria, she was the darling of The Championships. Sadly, Petra Kvitova annihilated her W dreams. The Czech checkmated her in 55 minutes. Only 20 years young, Bouchard will soon be a multiple Grand Slam lady. She has the mentality. When she reached the finals, she was not contented. That’s the hallmark of a champion — that hunger, thirst, need for more.

Roger vs. Novak Djokovic? Wow. That’s the ideal W for these W Championships. Unlike last year’s boring clay-court-like final, last Sunday was bang-bang-bang. They stood on the baseline. They rifled forehands. They swatted backhands. Serves smothered the T.

The first set was nail-biting. Just when you thought that Novak would snatch the tiebreaker, Roger inhales his 17-slam worth of experience to activate his muscles. He won 7-6. This is it! Roger fans believed. Eight Wimbledon crowns. 18 majors. Rolex watches to gift every family member after the triumph. But, no, Nole never goes away. Though he looks downtrodden, though he appears wilted with his skinny looks and skinny shorts, his heart is as large as Nadal’s. He never, ever, as Churchill would say, quits.

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Novak wins the second set. And the third. Oh no, we, Roger fans, watched from our TV sets in anxiety. The 32-year-old looked old. As Novak looked to Boris Becker and pumped his Serbian fists, Roger was, like he always is, silent and cool. He was too cool that he was close to losing the dream.

Fourth set: According to script, Roger fades. He goes down quickly 2-5 as the Philippine clock nears 12 midnight. Time to go to sleep, we say; this will be over in minutes. RF holds. It’s 5-3. Serving for the championship — and the chance to snatch back that No.1 ranking from Nadal — Novak goes down love-30. The crowd erupts in excitement. Two points later, it’s 30-all. The fans turn quiet. Moments after, Roger scores the break — it’s 4-5 and on serve! Yehey.

But Novak, ever the brave, fires back. He reaches Championship Point with Roger serving. Bang! Fault, the linesman calls it. Roger raises his arm. The slow-mo cartoon video is called and it shows that Roger served an ace. Yehey! Minutes later, deflated and in disbelief at letting slip his chances, Novak loses the fourth set, 7-5.
It’s two sets all. By this time, the momentum has shifted to Roger. He has escaped like Houdini. By the 5th set, he’s stepping forward, slamming that backhand inside the rectangle. He has nothing to lose — he should have been in the locker room at this point — and an 8th W to gain. On the other side of the net, Novak wobbles. His leg is injured. Well, not exactly. But he’s limping. Yet, he fires an ace on game point. The trainer is called (delaying tactics maybe?) and he massages the Serbian’s calves.

Roger’s fans, by this time, believe it. They can sense History in the Making. For isn’t that the Rolex ad, “It doesn’t just tell time… it tells history.” Sunday, July the 6th, was Roger’s historic date.

Well, unta. Watching the game until 1 a.m. yesterday, it was painful. It was too bad that Roger lost after that scintillating comeback; although it would have been worse pain for Novak had he lost after that 4th set meltdown.

It was one of the best matches I’ve watched — just like Chris Weidman’s win over Lyoto Machida earlier that day. It was also interesting to see the contest of the two people seated: Becker and Stefan Edberg. The other winners? Uniqlo, with their logo plastered on Novak’s shirt. And tennis… for isn’t this game unique? While all other sports involve a coach, in tennis you’re alone… What made Novak win? His heart, will, mind. Finally, the best sight of all: wearing matching dresses, Myla and Charlene. How we wished their dad climbed the box to hug the twins.

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Sporty weekend

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What a weekend for international sports! Brazil hosted four sets of World Cup quarterfinal games. Germany and Brazil are through. Early this morning, it’s possible that the Dutch and Argentinians advanced. What a final four. Neymar? That’s sad. I watched the replay of the knee kick to his back by Juan Zuniga and it looked intentional. Who flies on air with a knee bent straight to someone’s back? Neymar’s the best player and he was surely a marked man. Now, he’s out. Same with Thiago Silva. Too bad for the hosts. This might become a Germany-Argentina final next Sunday.

UFC 175: two main fights are scheduled and Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey, the reigning champs, are expected to be triumphant.

It’s the Wimbledon final! Last night, Eugenie Bouchard battled Petra Kvitova. I’m biased. And so, if you’ve been following the green grass games, are you: I hope the Canadian 20-year-old won the final point. Isn’t she pretty? Very.

Tonight is the gentlemen’s final as two familiar foes meet. Like Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So, I hope Roger wins. And doesn’t he always win when Rafael Nadal loses early in the tournament? If you recall the French Open in 2009, Rafa lost early and Roger zoomed to claim the trophy. At Wimbledon, the two were slated to meet in the semis but Rafa was slain by the giant slayer Nick Kyrgios.

Roger will win because Wimbledon is his property. He’s won at the All-England Club seven times. If he wins tonight — the final is at 9 p.m., Phil. time — he will have amassed 18 major titles, tying him with Jack Nicklaus. Speaking of the American golf legend, he sat beside Rod Laver last Friday to watch the tennis festivities.

Federer has been playing superb tennis the past two weeks. And, in the only time the two met on grass, the Swiss beat the Serb — in the semis two years ago on Centre Court.

“Against Federer,” said Novak Djokovic, “the key will be to try not to allow him to dictate too much because he likes to be very aggressive.”

Roger’s reply? The same thing: “It’s really important for me to stay aggressive against him… Novak can hurt you down the line or cross-court on both sides. His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most at the moment. He’s really been able to improve that and make it rock solid.”

What I like about Roger is that he’s attacking the net more. A gifted volleyer, this had often been the complaint against him in the past. Why doesn’t he move forward to finish the points up close? Thanks to his coach — one of history’s best volleyers, Stefan Edberg — the Swiss Maestro has been attacking. This will be a scintillating finale.

ENGLAND is busy this weekend because apart from tennis, it also hosts cycling and motor-racing. The Tour de France will have its first race not in France but in Yorkshire. The three-week-long Le Tour will include 21 stages and 2,277 miles of pedaling before the July 27 finish in Paris. Among the nearly 200 estimated riders, one man is expected to win. He’s a Brit and he’s the defending champ: Chris Froome.

Tennis and Formula One racing fans might probably be switching channels tonight as Silverstone hosts the Santander British Grand Prix. It’s the Golden Anniversary of Grand Prix racing in Silverstone. Watch for an Englishman with the initials LH to win the 50th edition.

14 fun facts about the ‘14 FIFA World Cup

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I did a little research and unearthed these tidbits about this June 12 to July 13 event…

1) This WC is the most expensive in history, costing the Brazilians over $14 billion dollars. This amount is about the same cost as the last three World Cups. Of this colossal figure, about $4 billion went to building seven new or fully-refurbished stadiums and $900 million on security.

2) FIFA, the organizers, will spend a whopping $2 billion to run the event. But, no worries because they’re expected to gross $4 billion from ticket sales, sponsorships and other means of revenue.

3) A total of 12 cities around Brazil will host the games — the most number of venues in WC history. The Finals will be in Rio de Janeiro, a vast city of 6.3 million people.

4) Brazil is a massive country, almost as big as the U.S. Thus, teams have to travel far distances between venues. Consider the U.S. team. Their first match was in Natal and, for their second game in Manaus, they’ll have to fly 1,700 miles (as comparison, Cebu to Manila is only 355 miles).

5) The World Cup has existed for 84 years but only eight nations have ever hoisted the cup: Spain, France, Germany, Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and England.

6) Teams demand special requests pertaining to their hotel accommodations. Here are a few: Japan (jacuzzi in every room), France (liquid soap not bar soap), Uruguay (silent air-conditioning) and Algeria (a copy of the Quran in each room).

7) Gisele Bunchen, the most famous Brazilian model, is expected to present the Cup when the event concludes in Maracana Staidum on July 13. She’s a huge football fan, although her husband (quarterback Tom Brady) is involved in another type of football: American football.

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8) The WC champion team wins $35 million while the runner-up, $25 million. Those eliminated in the group stage still take home $8 million. The total purse is $576 million.

9) Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull are singing the games’ official song: “We Are One (Ole Ole).”

10) Out of 209 national teams that vied to participate in the WC , only 32 are entered. They’re divided into eight groups of four teams each with the top two from each bracket advancing to the (Round of 16) knockout stages.

11) Finally! Yes, given the technological advances today, for the first time Goal-Line Technology will be used. Remember the 2010 World Cup when England was denied a goal against Germany after the shot hit the bar and bounced in but the officials failed to call it a score? Now, that won’t happen again. The new system includes 14 cameras that will be positioned around the goal, all connected to a computer in the data room. Once a goal is confirmed, the referee will feel a vibration in a specially-made watch that he’ll use and it will display a simple word: Goal.

12) The referee will be carrying a spray paint. No, he won’t use it against a red card-issued player. It’s a vanishing spray paint that he’ll use to mark the spot for a free kick. Great idea. The paint will last about 60 seconds.

13) This, coming from the Vox.com article “10 things non-soccer fans need to know about the World Cup,” is interesting: “Among the stranger things to know about the event: some coaches restrict their players’ sex lives during the month of play due to the belief that excessive sex will impede their performance on the field. Players on Spain, Germany, Chile’s teams aren’t allowed to have sex at all, while Brazil’s players are permitted to have ‘normal sex’ as long as it’s not ‘acrobatic,’ and France’s are also allowed to have sex as long as it doesn’t last all night.”

14) Brazil is not only a shoo-in to win because they own the most number of WC trophies (five) but also because of “home-court advantage.” In the last 19 World Cups, six hosts have gone on to win the cup. That’s the good news for Brazil. The bad one: the last time they hosted, they reached the finals but lost to Uruguay. That was in 1950.

Harvey Sytiongsa: Q & A with the champ

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In the annual Club Championship of the Cebu Country Club (CCC) last May 10, among the Class A golfers who competed, one young man stood tallest. He was only 18 then (he turned a year older last June 1). It was the first CCC “Green Jacket” victory for Harvey Sytiongsa. Here’s our interview:

START. I started playing golf at the age of seven, but the game caught my attention at the age of four when my dad (Edgardo) used to do practice putting in Del Monte Golf Club. My first coach was Bob Pestaño and the one who further developed my game is Coach Joe Bernaldez.

MILESTONES. During my Junior golf years, I won a Championship in one of the VisMin legs (Mactan).. With my amateur years at CCC, I was champion in some Monthly Medals and won a Lowest gross tournament in one monthly medal… In 2013, I placed runner-up in the Philippine Junior Masters. In 2014, I played for my school (Univ. of San Carlos) and placed runner-up in the individual competition. We won runner-up in the inter-school event at the Orchard Golf & CC. Lastly, I’m a member of the CCC that played in the 2014 PAL Interclub in Bacolod.

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP. It was a great experience for me; a chance to play with the best players of the club. I played my best and shot in the qualifying days 79 and 74 with a total score of 153. I won my first match vs Joseph Stevens, 4 & 3. With the second match, I beat Kiyofumi Takahashi, 4 & 3. The third match was very tough, against Carl Almario, a former pro-golfer; I won 2 & 1.

During the 36-holes final match, I was nervous playing Marko Sarmiento, a former club champion, because he is the strongest hitter in the club. He plays great golf and is an experienced player. I just tried to calm my nerves by playing the way I played that week and not changing the routine I had for the whole week. The first nine was close since we gave and took strokes per hole. The second nine was more challenging since Marko was driving good, hitting the irons solid and making putts. But I finally had the upper hand on the third nine since I just needed to make par and he needed to make birdies. I won the Championship on hole no. 11 with a score of 8 & 7.

GAME. I can’t say that I have a specialty in the sport since I am an all-around person. I treat all shots with equal importance but place more emphasis in the short game.

I usually play with golfers who are better than me so that I can elevate my game. I also play with players who are interested in bringing up their game to the level I am in now. I play as often as possible when I have time. I prepared for the tournament by having my swing and my game checked by my coach.

My idol? Tiger Woods. He plays a solid game and he blocks off any distractions. He has a great mental side and also keeps fighting to win all games. Among the locals, I like Frankie Miñoza. I watched his game against Miguel Tabuena in “The Duel” last May 23 and he played like there was no pressure. I also idolize our own CCC pro Chuck Hong. I was able to play with him during the Pro-Am in “The Duel” and he hits accurately and has a great short game. He is friendly, approachable and is fun to get along with. I really enjoyed playing with him.

WHY GOLF? It’s interesting and challenging. I chose golf above other sports since it is a game where I challenge myself physically and mentally. It is also a game wherein I only blame myself for the mistakes I make. It can be played by anyone of any age; it can be for business and everyone is treated as equals on the course.

My next challenge is to play in the Philippine Amateur Golf and Asian Amateur Golf and hopefully win both the stroke and match play. Another challenge is to qualify and represent the Philippines in the Putra Cup. Tips for the Jungolfers? Just keep practicing, have patience, always keep a positive mindset and never give up!

Danao City hosts the ASEAN Mountain-Biking Cup

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Exciting times! The NBA Finals are underway, the French Open concludes today, the World Cup commences on Thursday, and this weekend, it’s a mountain-biking holiday. It’s the ASEAN MTB Cup from June 13 to 15, this Friday to Sunday.

“There are already 73 foreign riders coming from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Germany, and the USA,” said Boying Durano Rodriguez, the lead organizer. “More than a hundred local riders coming from Manila, Butuan, Davao and Cebu have registered as well as national team riders who have garnered medals in the PNG cycling competition in Tagaytay.”

Danao City is often labeled as “the Mountain Bike capital of the Philippines.” Rightfully so. I think it was Rep. Ace Durano, decades back, who first brought a mountain-bike to our country after his studies in the U.S. Then, in 1997, Danao hosted the 3rd Asian Mountainbike Championships and, in 2005, it was the SEA Games MTB competition.

This weekend in Brgy. Manlayag, Danao will be the first of two legs of the ASEAN MTB Cup. The second stop will be held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia next month. The categories are… Cross Country: Men’s Elite, Junior and Master; Women’s Elite and Junior for the UCI categories while for the non-UCI there are the Men’s Open (19 & older), Master A (30-39) and Master B (40 & older). Downhill: UCI categories are Men’s Elite and Women’s Elite while non-UCI categories are Men’s and Women’s Junior; Men’s Open and the Men’s Master A and B.

Mars G. Alison, writing for Full Point Cebu (Cebu Sports News), wrote this piece: “A point system will be used in the non-UCI categories to help the local racing scene of each host nation in implementing the UCI rules in future local races that will be run under the UCI regulations. The top 3 will be named in each category and the top 5 will be chosen overall. In the final circuit, an ASEAN Cup jersey will be given to the point leaders while the leaders in the ASEAN sub-categories will get a Cup jersey.”

I checked out the routes in the Facebook page and the X-Country track is four kms. in distance (per loop) with these descriptions along the way, “Entry to snail hill,” “Steep descent,” “Entry to jungle,” and “Mango Tree area.” Exciting. The FB page contains complete details, including the 284-meter high elevation start for the Downhill race.

Prize money? More than P260,000 is being offered and a  Cube 27.5 Mountain Bike will be offered as a raffle prize to the early registrants.

Who are coming to supervise the event? There’s UCI International Commissaires Max Mager (Singapore) and Beatrice Lajawa and Geoffrey Kronenberg from Malaysia. UCI International Commissaire Boying Rodriguez is the Race Director.

This event is supported by the Province of Cebu, headed by Gov. Hilario Davide III, Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, Provincial Board Members Jude Sybico, Miguel Magpale, and Ivy Durano-Meca. Shimano, Cube Cycles, Smart, Rudy Project, Endurace, Air 21, ASAP Advertising, Ayala Center Cebu, YKK Trading, Bikeology, Prince Warehouse, The Brick, CycleLogic. Rep. Ace Durano, Danao City Mayor Ramonito D. Durano III, and Vice Mayor Red Durano.

“The course is not difficult and all mountain-bikers are encouraged to join,” said Boying, in our phone conversation last Thursday. “It’s not as extreme as the Xterra course. The area is like a plateau that’s on top of a mountain. It’s like on a golf course where you see most of the terrain and course. It’s very rideable.”

This should be good news to the thousands of mountain-bikers in Cebu. Let’s join! An event this huge does not happen often. “For the Masters category, there will be a couple of loops with each one measuring about 4.2 kms.,” Boying added. “We will have the Masters and other events on Saturday while the Elite competition (finals) will be on Sunday.”

The best news? Late registration is still open; just visit their Facebook page. Apil ta!