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.

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

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 10.07.28 AM(From Sun.Star Cebu)

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

art_mcilroy-wozniacki1-620x349(Photo: Getty Images)

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.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 9.42.28 AM(Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

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.