Covid-19 is a marathon

Running 42.195 kms. is strenuous. It’s long and painful. It requires patience and diligence. There are episodes when when you want to quit. Along the route, you walk, stop, grimace, checking your cramps and massaging your knees and questioning why, why, why. The marathon requires perseverance — that decision by the brain to fight and to continue. 

Today’s marathon is called Covid-19. We know this pandemic will not disappear in July. Possibly not by Christmas. This is an arduous and lengthy journey and we need to mentally embrace it as if we’re running an endurance race. Much like a marathon. Or, if this corovirus extends past 12 or 18 months, much like an ultramarathon that’s 50K or 100K.

I’ve ran seven marathons. What are a few lessons from running that I can relate with our situation today?

Stay positive. In a 42K run — the distance from the Cebu Provincial Capitol to Carcar — you will experience moments of negativity. (Maybe somewhere in Naga or San Fernando? When I-can’t-do-this thoughts will penetrate your mind?) No matter how hard you train, your legs will tire and your mind will beg you to stop. 

Don’t stop. Walk if you want to. But move forward. The marathon teaches us to keep moving forward, one stride at a time, in the most difficult moments. 

Tell your legs to shut up! It’s all in the mind. It’s not the marathon you must conquer. It’s yourself. Stay positive.

Another lesson: Be with friends. I know this is impossible for many because of the lockdown but if you can find creative ways to talk and bond and laugh and waste time with friends, you’ll survive this ordeal.

It’s like running. An avid runner during his less-busy days, the favorite quotation of Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella runs like this: “If you want to run fast, run alone. But if you want to run far, run with friends.”

This is true. For running and for life. Same with laughter. Here’s a quotation that I like: “Laughing is one of the best exercises. It’s like running inside your brain. You can do it anywhere and it’s even better with friends.”

Third lesson: Pace yourself. The marathon takes a long, long, long time. So will this coronavirus. “You can run a sprint or you can run a marathon but you can’t sprint a marathon.”

Prepare yourself for this prolonged stretch. Save money as you would save energy (in a marathon). Get plenty of daily exercise; at least 60 minutes. Go outdoors and sunbathe.

“Run your own race.” This is my favorite marathon quote and, in life, it’s the same: relax and run at your own pace.  

Final (and most important) lesson: Pray. The last recourse of marathoners who are writhing in pain is to turn to the Lord. Same with us today. In Hebrews 12: 1-2: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” 

Air Jordan

GOAT. This stands for “Greatest Of All Time.” After watching the first two episodes of The Last Dance, what appeared obvious before has become even more indisputable. 

Michael Jeffrey Jordan is No. 1. In basketball. In all of history. Maybe in all of sports.

This documentary, amidst the dread and darkness of Covid-19, is inspirational. As we’re feeling distressed, this has boosted us. It has made us smile and taught us to both forget and remember. Forget the sadness of the virus; remember the joyfulness of MJ. 

Watching Michael Jordan is nostalgic. For many of us who grew up watching His Airness, we’re brought back to the greatest era in basketball. To an ‘80s music lover like myself, it’s like listening to Duran Duran, Dire Straits and Depeche Mode. You feel good during and after. Watching the two 50-minute episodes made me feel good.

The Last Dance is perfectly-timed for this gloomy period. And let’s not forget that prior to the coronavirus shutting down the planet — the basketball world was shocked by the death of Kobe Bryant.

It’s been a sickening 2020, worst for basketball devotees. The Last Dance is a much-needed morale booster for the 7.8 billion people on earth, basketball fan or not.

The 10-part miniseries produced by ESPN and Netflix was supposed to be released in June, in time for the NBA Finals. But it was shown earlier because, as the official trailer said, “As society navigates this time without live sports, viewers are still looking to the sports world to escape and enjoy a collective experience.”

Apart from the “feeling good” experience, another reason why this documentary is important is this: It reminds the youth of Jordan’s greatness. 

MJ is now 57 years old. To the Gen Z, those born between 1995 and 2010 (and maybe even to some Millennials), I’m sure everyone has seen footages and snippets of His Airness. Everybody knows that he’s better than LeBron James, the second greatest player of all time. I mean, who doesn’t know Mike? Who doesn’t know No. 23? Who hasn’t seen YouTube videos of him sticking his tongue out, floating for 23 seconds and beaming that gigantic smile?

Everybody knows Mike. But not everybody watched those 1990s games “live” — all six championship years.

The Last Dance is our last chance to see the life story of this man who now owns the Charlotte Hornets and is worth $2.1 billion.

Thank you, MJ. And despite the leaked files that have surfaced (8 of the 10 episodes are now available by Torrent), I’m going to watch the Netflix series twice per week, as advertised, prolonging the indulgence as our lockdown is prolonged.

No fans

The NBA Playoffs would have started today. Instead, the entire planet is on an extended timeout. The world is frozen. Can the NBA (and other sports) resume? 

Given the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. (over 720,000 infected and 33,000 deaths), there is no way for the games to restart next week or next month. Not with 19,000 fans screaming inside the Staples Center.

The only way to resume the contest?

“Nobody comes to the stadium.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading U.S. infectious disease expert, had this response: “Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them (the players) in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled, namely a surveillance, but have them tested, like every week. By a gazillion tests. And make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family. And just let them play the season out. I mean, that’s a really artificial way to do it, but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”

LeBron James, when was asked about this possibility, had this reply: “Ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd.” 

But LBJ’s reply was back in March. This was before the world realized the cruelty and venom of the coronavirus.

So the possibility of fans sitting side by side in a packed arena is hallucinatory. It’s not possible. Not even the “checkerboard” arrangement, where fans sit one or two seats apart, is acceptable.

President Trump concurs with the no-fans option, saying, “It’ll be made for television. The good old days, made for television.”

Here’s the viable scenario for the NBA: Choose a couple of key U.S. cities. (I’m sure New York, given its epicenter status, won’t be one of them.) Group together the teams and restart the league with a locked-down hotel and stadium without fans.

The “quarantined bubble,” it’s called. It’s muted, boring, desolate and lifeless — yet possible. But herein lies a problem: Can you fully isolate the hundreds of players and staff of the 30 NBA teams?

Dr. Caroline Buckee of the Harvard School of Public Health is frightened with this approach.

“It sounds like potentially a bad idea,” Dr. Buckee said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to completely isolate and quarantine the players. For a start, there are people who will need to clean their rooms, feed them, wash their clothes, janitorial staff and so forth. And those people will not be protected and they will be interacting with their communities. It is very difficult to truly self-isolate. Purposefully putting people at risk seems foolish.”

What if there’s one COVID-19 case that will infiltrate this bubble? Think of a scenario like a cruise ship.

This is a risky option. But the league doesn’t have a choice.

Exercise? Yes and no 

My wife Jasmin and I were scheduled to run the London Marathon. 

It was set on April 26 — just 41 days from now. But yesterday, I received an email from the organizers: the Virgin Money London Marathon, one of the planet’s biggest events drawing over 40,000 runners, will be postponed to October 4, 2020.

Like the marathons in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Boston —  like the NBA, PBA, and possibly the Tokyo Olympics — sports are put on hold.

Which led me, while scouring the internet, to ask these questions: Should we continue our individual sports and exercise? Is running good for us during this threatening state of the Covid-19?

The quick answer is Yes. Exercise boosts the body’s immune system to make us stronger and more resistant to infections. 

In the article, “How to boost your immune system to avoid colds and coronavirus,” Amy Fleming of The Guardian wrote:

To be immunologically fit, you need to be physically fit. ‘White blood cells can be quite sedentary,’ says Prof Arne Akbar, the president of the British Society for Immunology. ‘Exercise mobilises them by increasing your blood flow, so they can do their surveillance jobs and seek and destroy in other parts of the body.’” 

Exercise is good. But here’s a word of caution: “light to moderate exercise.”

Marathon training, like what Jasmin and I have been doing (25K to 28K runs on Sundays), is not light and moderate. It’s extreme.

Hard, continuous, long-effort exercise like marathons and ultra marathons can lower your resistance for 24 to 72 hours, and lead to increased colds and respiratory illnesses for a week or two,” wrote Amby Burfoot in the Women’s Running article, “This is Exactly How Running Impacts Your Immunity.”

In simple language: Yes, it’s good to sweat but don’t overdo it. The dictum “more (exercise) is better” is not to be applied these days when we want to be more immune to illnesses.

“Too much exercise volume and intensity turns the corner on what experts refer to as the J curve—and your risk of infection goes up,” added Ms. Burfoot.

“After a marathon, your immune state is close to that of an older, not particularly healthy individual,” warned exercise physiologist David Nieman. “And those are the ones getting really sick and sometimes even dying.”

So, what should we all do?

First, the basics, added Ms. Burfoot: washing of hands for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day; sneezing and coughing into the elbow (or best, using tissue paper); and avoid touching our face with our hands. 

Mr. Nieman added a few more tips in his article, “The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system.” He said:

1) As you workout, run and exercise, make sure that you also get ample sleep and recovery. 2) Avoid overdoing your workouts. 3) Skip the gym. Exercise outdoors. 4) Monitor yourself for early signs of sickness or overtraining and stop or adjust. 

Be safe and continue working out, my friends.

 

Cebu Sports Awards

Now on its 37th edition, the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), of which I’m the current president, will be honoring Cebu’s top athletes today. 

If you’re free, please join us at the SM City Cebu this afternoon from 2 to 5 p.m. (at the Lower Ground Floor across The Rib Shack restaurant). 

Mary Joy Tabal will lead the invocation. The PADS (Philippine Accessible Disability Service) Dragonboat Team will kick off the festivities with an opening number. 

Ms. Brianna Leverenz, a top-notch American swimmer and the sister of Olympic bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz, will provide the inspirational message. 

Wilbert Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda will render a dance number and show the crowd how they won multiple gold medals in the recent Southeast Asian Games.

Over 155 athletes representing most of our major sports — from Arnis to Boxing to Cycling to E-sports to Jiujitsu to Scrabble to Taekwondo to Volleyball; plus many, many more sports — will be recognized today.

Is the event open to the public for free? Absolutely. This annual honoring used to be exclusive. It started at the “1521” diner inside the San Miguel Brewery in Mandaue. Over a decade ago, it was held in the posh ballrooms of Casino Español and GrandCon. But the sportswriters, several years ago, decided to make this occasion open for all to see.

Thus, through the years, we’ve had the best of the best in Cebu sports climb the stage and be recognized for all to see. 

I remember Matteo Guidicelli, long before he became famous as an actor, receiving an award as a youngster for his exploits as a go-kart racer. He was about 12 years old then we he received the SAC-SMB Award.

Donnie Nietes. Z Gorres. Michael Aldeguer. Antonio Aldeguer. Michel Lhuillier. Jonathan Guardo. Ricky Ballesteros. Boojie Lim. Felix Tiukinhoy. Edward Hayco. These are a few of the luminaries who received the highest of honors in previous SAC awards.

Manny Pacquiao, then a full-time boxer, graced our event in 2009. He was mobbed by the athletes and parents. POC Chairman Monico Puentevella also rendered a song that night.   

Cebu City Councilor Dondon Hontiveros has been a recipient of the basketball award for many years. This afternoon, he’ll be joining us as one of the city’s top officials. 

Special thanks goes to Ms. Girlie Garces, the Corporate Communication Officer of San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Through the years, SAC has partnered with SMB in organizing this activity.

The Athlete of the Year? That one person (or team) that shone brightest in the past year? Who will the winner be?

I know the answer. But you’ll have to attend today’s activity to find out. 

Happening only once a year — or once every four years since today is February 29 — see you later from 2 to 5 p.m. at the SM City Cebu.

All Stars

The NBA All-Star Weekend was a huge and spectacular success in Cebu a couple of weeks ago.

This Saturday, February 29, our own version of the All Stars will be happening.

Named the 37th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, over 150 of Cebu’s top athletes (based on their accomplishments last year) will be honored. Calling on all awardees (below), see you this Feb. 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Northwing of the SM City Cebu.

Here are the honorees:

MAJOR AWARDEES: Arnis (Dexter Bolambao); Archery (Aldrener Ygot); Athletics (Mary Joy Tabal and Natalie Rose Uy); Basketball (Junemar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter); Billiards (Rubilen Amit); Bowling (Alexis Sy); Boxing (Johnriel Casimero); Chess (Jerish Velarde); Cycling (Nino Surban); Dancesport (Wilbert Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda); Dragonboat (PADS Dragonboat Racing Team); Golf (Lois Kaye Go); E-Sports (Team Adroit Dota: Marvin Rushton, John Anthony Vargas, Bryle Jacob Alvizo, Jun Kanehara, MC Nicholson Villanueva and coach Paolo Bago); Gymnastics (Daniela De la Pisa); Judo (Kiyomi Watanabe); Karatedo (Sarah Pangilinan); Karting (William Go); Motorsport (Team Toyota Cebu and Daniel Miranda); Obstacle course racing/OCR (Sherwin Manangil); Rugby Football (Aumi Ono); Sepak Takraw (Metodio Suico and Jean Marie Sucalit); Shooting (Ditto Nestor Dinopol and Diogenes Avila); Skateboarding (Margielyn Didal and Daniel Ledermann); Softball (Mary Ann Antolihao); Swimming (James Deiparine); Table Tennis (Richard Gonzales); Taekwondo (Rinna Babanto and Aidaine Laxa); Triathlon (Andrew Kim Remolino); Volleyball (Cherry Ann Rondina); Wakeboarding (Raphael Trinidad); Weightlifting (Elreen Ann Ando and John Februar Ceniza).

CITATION AWARDEES: Arnis (Jude Oliver Marie Rodriguez); Athletics (Dr. Yong Larrazabal, Noel Tillor, Azlan Pagay and Prince Joey Lee); Basketball (SWU Phinma Cobras, SHS-Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles, Shaquille Imperial, Leobert Andrew “LA” Casinillo, UV SBP, Team Cebu City/Abellana National School); Baseball (Isaac Bacarisas); Billiards (Warren Kiamco); Boxing-pro (Rey Caitom Jr., Joe Noynay, Carlo Demecillo, Mark Vicelles, Dave Penalosa); Boxing-amateur (Pathricia Mae Sumalinog and Bienjemar Codoy); Cycling (Jonel Carcueva and John Mier); Dancesport (Crisologo Rendon); Dragonboat (Sugbu Mighty Dragons); Football (Raya Tolentino, Maegan Alforque, Mia Evangelista, Roseton Barinan and Dean Ebarle); Golf (Gen Nagai); Gymnastics (Leanne Manning); Jiujitsu (Overlimit Jiujitsu Academy); Karatedo (Rhodee Ann Saavedra); Motorsports (Sylvester Ramirez); Muay Thai (Jemarie Josh Ybanez, Zion Alexander Melecio, and Buen Algono); Sepak Takraw (RheyJey Ortouste); Shooting (Roygbiv Barro); Scrabble (Learjet Dela Cruz); Softball (Jasper Cabrera and Jerome Bacarisas); Swimming (Jasmine Alkhaldi, Maxime Rooney and Raven Faith Alcoseba); Taekwondo (Nica Garces); Tennis (Iggy Pantino, Tiffany Nocus and Chad Connor Cuizon); Triathlon (Moira Frances Erediano and CJ Lipura); Volleyball (Floremel Rodriguez, Edmar Bonono, James Buytrago and Jobert Almodiel).

 

Yong 2020

For an eye doctor, the numbers “20/20” are special. (Don’t we all want to hear the words, “You have 20/20 vision,” from our ophthalmologist?)

For Dr. Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III, the year 2020 takes on a special, double meaning as a top eye surgeon. Just last week, he completed the most incredible of accomplishments: running 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents.

From Feb. 7 to 14, he ran a 42K in Cape Town (Africa); Novo (Antarctica); Perth (Australia); Dubai (Asia); Madrid (Europe); Fortaleza, Brazil (South America), and Miami (North America). Dr. Yong was one of only 23 men and 12 women to have completed the event and he became the first Filipino to accomplish this World Marathon Challenge. 

Yong started running in 2006. That was only 14 years ago — I say “only” because since then, he has completed a mind-boggling 68 marathons. On one of his first, the 2008 Hong Kong Marathon, we were together.

In preparation for a talk (“Exercise is Medicine”) that I gave to a group of doctors two years ago, I asked Yong why he chose this sport.

“Running clears my mind from everything that goes on in my busy daily routine at work,” he said. “I feel my day is not complete without exercise. Mental and physical sluggishness usually happens when I don’t exercise. Joining marathons not only makes me strong physically but mentally as well. In every marathon, there is always an end goal. And just like in life, to reach your goal, there has to be focus, commitment and determination.”

Yong tries to run five times each week (four times on the treadmill) and he joins local races for his long runs. And unlike many of us who prefer morning runs, Yong cannot because of his early daily surgeries. 

“I started exercising because my work became too stressful and I knew then it would eventually take its toll on my health,” he said. He opted for running because his preferred sport (basketball) was too dangerous for his fingers and body — considering his profession (apart from being the CEO and Chairman of CebuDoc). 

“Not only is running safe,” he said, “it also compliments my lifestyle since I finish work late. I can train alone anytime after. Later on, after joining international races, I appreciated travelling abroad and learning about their different cultures. Travelling was rarely done before I started running.”

In my interview with him in 2018, he had just completed back-to-back events: first, the Boston Marathon and, six days later, the London Marathon — achieving the coveted Abbott World Marathon Majors Medal (finishing all six majors).

Last month after Yong completed the Cebu Marathon, I texted to congratulate him that night. He said thanks and told me he was running 42K the next day.. on a treadmill! This was all in preparation for his amazing 7-7-7 (World Marathon Challenge). 

Yong’s advice to us all: If you want to live a long, healthy life with your wife/husband and watch your kids grow old and graduate from school, you should prioritize your health. 

Yong (center) with me and Dr. Peter Mancao

 

Jesse Bernad

When we studied at the UP Cebu for college, everybody who played sports looked up to Jesse Bernad.

In an article I wrote about him years ago, here’s how I described Jesse whenever we played the Intrams: 

“If you saw Troy, he’s Achilles. Our Michael Phelps of the Athens Games. Everybody sweated facing Hulk. As softball pitcher, he threw underhand fastballs that screamed at you like a bullet ambulance. How do I know? I stood meters from him as batter and almost fell off my backside at the zooming softball’s pace. As basketball center, Jessed pulled down rebounds like he were picking mansanitas, deflected shots like one would mosquitoes, and owned the low post like a Tim Duncan.”

Fast forward three decades later, Jesse Bernad is still into sports. But no longer rebounding the basketball or throwing that softball pitch or standing as football goalie and intimidating opponents with his 5-foot-11 frame, he’s into this another workout.

Jesse with Ken Griffey Jr.

I started running in 2015 when I joined a running club created by Amale Jopson in my previous job at Aboitizland,” said Jesse. 

Like all of us, he started running 5Ks. Then, when he experienced that “runner’s high” and wanted to go further, he did 10Ks. Months later and wanting to go for a bigger target, Jesse prepared for a half-marathon. 

“With my first 21K, I was nervous but prepared well enough to finish at 2hrs, 20mins,” he said. “Ever since, I’ve been running 21Ks the past 5 years and must have finished 12 races.”

But Jesse had an ultimate goal: To run 42.195 kms. 

“I had opportunities to run my first marathon elsewhere but I decided to do it here in my hometown of Cebu, to make it meaningful,” he said. “I saw the Facebook posts of friends Hans Congmon, Bernard Sia and Bryan Tan training. I asked to join their practice runs. This was last September. ‘No excuses this time.’ I told myself, ‘If don’t do it now, I never will.’

His goal: the 2020 Cebu Marathon on Jan. 19.

Jesse continued his 5K runs before increasing his mileage twice a week. He ran 5 to 7 kms. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Ateneo de Cebu oval and Angelicum and long runs on weekends while integrating speed and tempo programs.

“We did our long runs at Cempark, in the hills of Casili and Talamban, and on various city roads every Sunday,” he said. “We trained with the New Balance Running Club. This helped a lot. The program was to run for six straight Sundays, gradually increasing the distance from 15K to 35K. There were about 30 to 35 of us who participated all throughout, and I looked forward to it every weekend.” 

Waking up at 3 a.m. every Sunday was challenging.

“It was quite an investment on my time despite my busy work and family schedule especially during the holidays,” he added.

As a result of his training, Jesse lost close to 30 lbs.

Finally, when the new year dawned and the race day drew close, Jesse said he felt “confident and anxious.” He said: “I hardly slept the last two nights before the Cebu Marathon.”

January 19, 2020 arrived and Jesse fulfilled his dream.

I finished with a time of 5 hours and 13 mins. (my Garmin read 44K total distance),” said Jesse. “The final push I planned did not materialize as I felt a cramp about to happen. The salt sticks I took, given by ultra racer Julian Summers, helped. Overall, I was happy with my time.

“Finishing the race was an exhilarating experience, something I will never forget. Seeing my teammates, especially my childhood buddy Mark Tolentino, whom I coaxed to join me, crossing the line and celebrating made it rewarding for all of us. 

“Most of all, having my wife Emma, who did her first 21K, congratulate me at the finish line was the best feeling. I would love to have another opportunity to run another marathon, this time with Emma at my side.”

Jesse and Emma

Jesse shares his tips for all runners:

  1. Find friends who can do it with you. Create a chat room where you can share ideas. Seeing my teammates working hard helped motivate me. Training alone would be a lonely trip.
  2. Ask advise from others who’ve done a marathon. My neighbor and running guru Jun Angeles told me his secret of eating camote with its peeling, which I did for 3 months. It helped me gain more energy. Esteemed triathlete Noy Jopson introduced me to “Double Run” – one in the morning and another at night – two weeks before race day to gain more mileage but less pounding on your legs. I was shocked but understood the concept.
  3. Nutrition is key. After watching “Game Changers” in Netflix, Emma and I learned to eat more complex-carb food: lots of fruits, grains, seeds/nuts and veggies. We avoided fatty food and sweets and became plant-based eaters. Drink lots of water.
  4. Change your lifestyle. Avoid vices, sleep and wake up early. Sleep is your best friend.
  5. Train hard. 42K is no walk in the park. Include leg and core strengthening. Coach Allan Choachuy introduced me to his superset of 10 reps: jumping jacks, squats, push-ups and lunges, to be repeated as many times in 4 minutes. This helped me in the latter stage of the race.
  6. Being busy is no excuse. I continued training despite supervising the opening of our new restaurant – EatsaHabit in Robinsons Galleria – where construction starts at 10pm and ends at 3am. I ran at dawn, at night and in the middle of the day.
  7. Find a running buddy who has the same pace. Veteran runner Roy Trani was my mentor and pacer to the end. I couldn’t have done it without him.
  8. It’s a mental game. Train your brain to deflect pain and the urge to stop. Think of happy thoughts. Your mind will bring you to the finish line.
  9. Age doesn’t matter! It’s never too late to run a marathon. I did mine at age 50. Neither does gender. I came across women who were faster than me.
  10. If you can afford it, invest in a smartwatch. 
  11. Commit yourself wholeheartedly. What you put in is what you get. There are no shortcuts.
  12. Lastly, enjoy the whole experience, it’s once-in-a-lifetime.. or so I thought!

2020 Australian Open

Melbourne ranks as one of my favorite cities in the world. (It was voted “the world’s most liveable city” for seven years until it was toppled by Vienna in 2018.)

If you love the outdoors and you bike, you can pedal endlessly around Port Phillip Bay. If you’re a runner, this city of 5 million people has thousands of kms. of jogging paths. If you enjoy the water and rowing is your passion, you can exercise those upper-body muscles along the Yarra River, which snakes through the city. Melbourne is an exercise haven that’s heaven for fitness aficionados. 

Which brings me to the city’s grandest sporting event, the Australian Open. For two lung-busting weeks, over 800,000 spectators will visit Melbourne Park, a massive complex housing 35 courts, including the main stadium named after their best ever, Rod Laver.

Back in June 2016, my daughter Jana (who’s the team captain of the Ateneo de Manila women’s tennis squad) and I got the opportunity to rent the Show Court 3 for a full hour; we swatted forehands and smashed volleys, the sound of the yellow ball reverberating throughout the empty 3,000-seater Court No. 3. It was an experience that we’ll forever cherish.

Tomorrow’s start of 2020’s first grand slam tournament has been controversial. No, Nick Kyrgios did not slam his racket to destroy the Plexicushion surface; the controversy surrounds the recent national calamity called the bushfires — which have burned 18.6 million hectares and killed over a billion animals. The bushfires and the smoke they’ve generated have threatened the event.

“There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening, or starting later,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. “The Australian Open is happening.”

Mr. Tiley had to make that statement after receiving complaints from players related to the air quality. Earlier this week in qualifying, Dalila Jakupovic was forced to stop after succumbing to nonstop coughing brought about by the smoke. But the show will go on. 

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are the defending champions and favorites. The world No.1s — Ashleigh Barty and Rafa Nadal — will also be strong contenders. 

Ash Barty is popular in Australia. Only 23 years old and standing 5-foot-5, the Queensland-born star won the French Open last year. Her fellow Aussies hope she wins on home soil on Feb. 1.

Among the men, the biggest question is this: Will the “Big Three” finally be toppled in the majors? Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won the last 11 (and 54 of the last 65) majors.

My answer: Yes, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem or Andrey Rublev will triumph in Melbourne, Paris, London or New York this 2020.

One name that we should all watch is Alexandra Eala. She grew up in Manila but now studies and trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. Alex, who’s playing her first Australian Open (girls juniors category), is only 14 years old. In juniors, she’s world No. 9.

21 fun facts on the 42K

As the 2020 Cebu Marathon unfolds at dawn today and as thousands of runners pound the streets of Cebu City, here are interesting tidbits about the 42.195-km. event.

  1. The Everest Marathon is the world’s highest marathon, starting at 17,000 feet at Gorak Shep, close to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
  2. During the 2007 Boston Marathon, astronaut Sunita Williams ran 42K (in 4 hours and 24 minutes) while onboard the International Space Station.
  3. The world’s oldest marathoner is Fauja Singh, who finished the 2011 Toronto Marathon in 8 hours and 11 minutes. He was 100.
  4. In 1990, only 25% of road race finishers in the US were women. Now, women comprise nearly half of all finishers.
  5. In 1977, an 8-year-old (Wesley Paul) ran the NYC Marathon in 3 hours.
  6. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, 17 competitors ran 40K.
  7. Football freestyler John Farnworth completed the 2011 London Marathon in 12 hours and 15 minutes, juggling a football the entire distance — not dropping the ball once.
  8. It wasn’t until 1921 that 42.195 kms. became the official distance.
  9. ‘Marathon’ comes from the legend of Pheidippides. He ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to spread the word about the Persian defeat in 490 BC. After completing the run, Pheidippides collapsed and died.
  10. In the Midnight Sun Marathon, held in Tromsø, Norway, runners compete under a night time sun.
  11. The oldest female marathoner is Gladys Burrill, aged 92.
  12. The North Pole Marathon holds record for the northernmost marathon, with competitors running in temperatures of -30C.
  13. There is a “Man vs. Horse” marathon in Wales. Humans have won twice since 2004, especially on unusually hot days.
  14. At 200 meters below sea level in the Jordan Valley, the Tiberias Marathon is the lowest marathon in the world.
  15. Eliud Kipchoge holds the world record (2018 Berlin Marathon) with a time of 2:01:39. For the women, it’s Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04).
  16. The fastest average for men (in 2017) was from Ukraine. Their average marathon time: 3:51:10.
  17. The Boston Marathon, which started in 1897, is the world’s oldest annual marathon.
  18. As part of the 42K distance of the Great Wall of China Marathon, runners also climb 5,164 steps.
  19. The world’s youngest marathoner is Budhia Singh. He finished 48 marathons before his fifth birthday.
  20. The 2019 NYC Marathon owns the world record for the number of finishers: 53,627 runners.
  21. Markus Jürgens holds a world record. At the 2017 Hannover Marathon, he timed 3 hours and 38 minutes — running backwards!

 

2020 Cebu Marathon

When you utter the word “marathon,” it doesn’t mean 5K or 10K. It’s one specific distance: 42.195 kms. Why that odd number? The marathon dates back to the Greek time when a soldier named Pheidippides ran from Athens to Marathon to announce the Greek victory against the Persians. Sadly, Pheidippides died of exhaustion after running 40 kms.!

True story? Ha-ha, no; this is all a legend. 

As to why the “42.195 km.” number? This can be traced back to the 1908 London Olympics. Originally, the route was 25 miles but distance was added because, among other things, one: complaints were received that the final miles were cobbles and tram-lines and, two: that the British Royalty wanted to watch the start and finish.

Thus, for concocting this preposterous torture (the marathon), we should blame the Greeks; and for the odd 42.195 number, we ought to blame the British.

Here in Cebu this Jan. 12, 2020, over 1,200 runners will attempt to run the same 42K. (Over 1,600 will run the half-marathon.) They’ll commence at the Cebu Business Park (CBP), traverse towards the Provincial Capitol, jog to the Mambaling Underpass, return to Osmeña Blvd., dash to the Sto. Niño Church, dive into the SRP Tunnel and gallop towards the U-turn point in Il Corso, SRP, before returning to CBP. 

The starting gun will be fired at 3 a.m. and there’s a cutoff time of 7 hours. Along the way, there will be 14 stations that will be loaded with water and entertainment. 

Why, you ask, do people spend months waking up at dawn to prepare for the marathon? As one Bill Buffum once said: “The marathon is not really about the marathon, it’s about the shared struggle. And it’s not only the marathon, but the training.”

True. The actual race is the “easy” part. By easy, I don’t mean it’s effortless; I mean it’s the electrifying finale of the whole process. The most difficult times are these: the 3 a.m. alarm clock rings; the Sunday 30K long runs; the weekend sprints; the knee pains. 

As the saying goes, the marathon is hundreds of kilometers; the finish is the last 42K.

To all running the Cebu Marathon, especially to the first-timers, I salute you. It’s time to taper and rest those muscles. Like Manny Pacquiao days before his Las Vegas fight, it’s time to stop the sparring (running) and get your body relaxed for Sunday.

Carbo-load days before. Drink lots of water. Buy your energy gels. Get enough sleep. Don’t run too fast in the first 21K. (It’s often said that the first half of the marathon is up to 32K and the last half is the remaining 10K.) Best advice of all: enjoy it. Smile, take photos if you can bring your phone; high-five the volunteers; ask your friends to cheer you on. You are lucky to be among the world’s first to run a marathon this new decade.

New Year, New You

This Wednesday, we welcome not just a new year but a new decade. The “2010s” decade has passed and we unveil a brand-new 2020 to 2029 term.

What will this new 10-year era bring us? We can plan, dream and create “New Decade” Resolutions. But life has many turns and twists that we’ll never anticipate. 

My aspiration for all of you, dear readers?

For each one to embark on a pursuit of getting healthier and fitter. 

How? By making exercise a priority in your life. That’s why I’m excited for the 2020 Cebu Marathon participants. Over 1,200 will run the 42K and 1,600 the 21K (plus several hundred more for the 5K) this January 12, 2020.

To all runners in CCM: Did you know that you will be one of the first lucky people in the entire world to run a marathon this new decade? I did a quick Google search and there are only a handful of 42K runs in the first days of the new decade.

To my dear readers: This 2020 Decade, aim to run a marathon. Join an Ironman 70.3 race. Train for a Spartan race. Not interested in enlisting for an extreme-type of sport?

Pay for that full-year gym subscription. Purchase that treadmill that you’ve long-planned to acquire. Buy the most expensive sports-related equipment that you can’t afford. 

Remember: the more you spend on something, the more you will use it. 

Spend on sports and fitness.

Specialized Bikes (through AutoFocus Bike Center) has incredible deals of up to 60 percent off. Visit their Facebook page and order that road bike.

Aim to incorporate sweating into your daily routine. Like eating and showering and brushing teeth, target to brisk-walk or swim or play badminton each day. Climbing stairs to your 8th floor office building is a guaranteed way to increase your heart rate. 

Increase your heart rate. If you don’t have much time, go for a 15-minute sprint (or sprint to the top of your building stairs). Any way to force your heart rate to spike to 190 beats per minute (for a short period) is good.

Climb in the morning, climb down and up to do an errand; do the same climb for lunch and before you leave the office. Don’t take the elevator.

Walk to work. Run to work. Bike to work. 

As the author Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” 

 

See Games

 

Two Fridays ago, I arrived in Manila to watch the Southeast Asian Games. 

Since the SEAG started in Bangkok in 1959, the Philippines has hosted it three times. The first was in 1981 (Marcos time); the second was during Cory’s term in 1991; and the third in 2005 under GMA.

Fourteen years after we won our only SEAG overall title, the biennial event returned to PHI.

I watched two sports. The first event that I witnessed was my favorite: tennis. The men’s singles final was about to start but, unfortunately, no Pinoys were playing. The day before, Jeson Patrombon and AJ Lim played in the semis but lost. It was an all-Vietnamese men’s final that was won by Ly Hoang Nam.

The second match was more exciting: Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales were playing the men’s doubles semifinals. For the Cebuano tennis fans, you’ve probably seen these two Fil-Ams. They came to Cebu to play Davis Cup at Plantation Bay. 

Treat (pronounced as “Tret”) is not only one of Asia’s best but one of the world’s best in doubles. Three years ago, he ranked as high as world no. 18. A left-hander, his serve tops 130 mph. His volleys are Federer-like. Ruben Gonzales, who stands 6-foot-1, possesses an equally booming serve. The duo easily dispatched of their Vietnamese foes in straight sets.

Niño Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon were next to play the semis. Both Bisaya hailing from Mindanao, this pair is spitfire-quick. They sprint to the net and pound on the volleys with precision. The pair won in two easy sets. 

The following day, it was an all-Pinoy doubles final (which I was unable to watch) and the underdogs, Niño and Jeson, won the gold, 7-6, 7-5. 

The two gold medalists are in Cebu now — they joined the Palawan Pawnshop event in the bailiwick of Naga City (tennis-playing) mayor Val Chiong.

Back to SEAG tennis, the venue was Rizal Memorial. This sprawling complex, which opened in 1934, is an iconic sports ground. With tennis, the surface is hard-court and, for the 2019 SEAG, brand-new chairs were installed in the bleachers. 

VOLLEYBALL. Together with my daughter Jana, I also watched women’s volleyball. The atmosphere was as festive as the Sinulog and as loud as the U2 concert. Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, Mika Reyes and Aby Marano are some of the most famous players — not just for volleyball but for all of Philippine sports.

We played Indonesia. After losing to Thailand and Vietnam, this was our chance for redemption. Our lady spikers won the first set and led nearing the end of the 2nd set. But we played bad after that. We lost the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sets. (Two days later, we played Indonesia again for the bronze but lost once more.)

The volleyball games were played in PhilSports Arena. Formerly called ULTRA, this was the venue of the PBA games in the 1980s and ‘90s. With a seating capacity of 10,000, the PhilSports Arena was intimate — which resulted in a louder, more festive sports atmosphere.

The most popular among all the 530 events in the SEA Games? No, it’s not basketball or badminton or boxing. It’s women’s volleyball. 

 

AddedSport Scholars Program

I got an email from Niquie Angelo. As the Business Development Officer of AddedSport Scholars Program, Niquie is helping young top-notch athletes fulfill their dream of playing in a U.S. university. 

Niquie is the daughter of my good friend Robert Angelo, who, many years back, was the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player in the Philippines.

Below is the email that Niquie sent entitled “AddedSport Scholars Program: Changing Lives Through Sports.”

LeBron James, Maria Sharapova, and Cristiano Ronaldo – world-famous legends in their own sport. But what do they all have in common? A disciplined attitude, the heart to commit, and a humble background.

Sports have the capacity to completely transform people’s lives. From pursuing a professional career to getting recruited into a good school abroad, opportunities abound for young athletes, especially in the US where the world of sport is taken so seriously. Their generous financial aid, intensive training, and high grade sporting facilities have produced some of the world’s top athletes in recent years. US college sports has definitely established itself as a stepping stone to the professional world and has become a privilege that many high school athletes aspire for today.

AddedSport, one of the leading sports management firms in Asia, consists of a team of ex-collegiate athletes who are passionate about opening opportunities and guiding junior athletes to achieve the same dreams of studying in the US and playing for some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

While US University coaches have concentrated most of their efforts recruiting in their own backyard and neighboring continents, a handful of Asian junior athletes have caught the eyes of these coaches from competitive programs. But the number remains insignificant because these are mostly composed of players that are top-ranked and are well-supported to get enough international exposure. For the past 5 years, AddedSport has sent hundreds of top athletes to the US for college sports. 

This year, the company seeks to go beyond Asia’s creme de la creme and discover gems that are hidden in more remote areas. We are delighted to launch the AddedSport Scholars Program. This initiative aims to develop the next wave of professional athletes from Asia through US college recruitment, focused on uncovering the hidden brilliance of the athletes who persevere despite their difficult socio-economic circumstances. The program applicants will go through a screening process which includes an assessment by a panel of expert sportspersons who are recognized for their contribution to their field.

Athletes chosen to be a part of the AddedSport Scholars Program will undergo an intense mentoring process involving both the academic and athletic aspects of their future careers. They will be guided by some of the most experienced professionals who are former national and/or ex-collegiate athletes themselves. The goal is to mould these participants to become highly sought after student-athletes who receive the best possible financial offers from US Universities, which will allow them to pursue their dreams.

We are looking for talented, hard-working, young athletes who are willing to commit to this program to start their journey towards a better future. If you think you have what it takes and will qualify, or know someone who would fit the requirements, please send us an email: niquie.angelo@addedsport.com.

#DreamBig with AddedSport!

 

2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup

Thirty two teams joined the FIBA World Cup and the Philippines placed 32nd. How worse could it have gotten? Well, as dejected as we’re feeling, there’s one other nation that’s more heartbroken: the United States.

With the U.S., anything less than gold is a failure. After back-to-back losses to France and Serbia, the Americans placed 7th. This is the worst international showing they’ve ever had. I repeat: Worst in history. 

But as Michael Jordan once said, “Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”

Which brings me to the excellent Facebook post last week of our new SunStar teammate Jonas Panerio: “The good news for basketball? There’ll be a new World Cup champion. The bad? Team USA’s VERY BEST will be at the 2020 Olympics.

Agree. Given this painful and embarrassing loss, the U.S. will assemble an All-Star cast and they’ll be unbeatable in Tokyo.

With Gilas Pilipinas, apologies have been given, starting with head coach Yeng Guiao, who resigned after the tournament.

Manny V. Pangilinan, the SBP chairman emeritus, said this upon his arrival from China: “We express our apology to the Filipinos because SBP is one with the national team. It’s our duty to apologize.” 

This is humbling. It’s also a reality check for our Pinoy players and fans. Prior to the event, we were given false hopes on how we’ll be competitive and maybe even score an upset (against Italy). In the end, Pres. Duterte was correct when he said that we have no chance against the Italians.

Despite our last place finish, the coming years will be exciting. Because even if we end up among the worst-performing teams again in the 32-squad line-up in 2023, what matters most is that we’re hosting. 

“We need to supply spectators and guests an experience like never before and demonstrate Filipino hospitality,” said the 73-year-old Pangilinan, who received the FIBA flag from Yao Ming (with Kobe Bryant nearby) in the turnover ceremony last Sunday. “Much pressure on our Gilas team though – which is good. Ergo, let’s do better.” 

The 2023 FIBA World Cup will be the second time that we’re hosting. The first was in 1978 when Yugoslavia defeated the Soviet Union. We had two venues then: Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Araneta Coliseum.

Four years from now, it’s back to the Smart Araneta Coliseum plus three more locations (MOA Arena, Philsports Arena and the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena, which will host the Final).

Officially, there are three host countries. But the main hosts will be the Philippines as Japan will only have one venue, a 10,000-seater in Okinawa, while Indonesia will have a small 7,000-seater in Jakarta.

Come 2023, we’re assured to win… thanks to our unrivaled Filipino hospitality.

19

This 2019, the significant number for tennis is 19. That’s the age of the US Open women’s champion Bianca Andreescu. And that’s the number of grand slam titles compiled by Rafael Nadal.

19. This ‘19.

Bianca Andreescu, to the non-tennis follower, is a new name. That’s because she’s only a teenager. And would you believe this: the US Open trophy that she won the other weekend? That was momentous because it was the first time ever for Andreescu to join the US Open. Imagine setting foot to play at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time — and beating Serena Williams in the final!

This 2019 is also the Year of Canada. No Canadian male or female has ever won a grand slam title ever since Wimbledon started it all in 1877 — that’s 142 years ago. And lest we forget, the reigning NBA champions are the Raptors of Toronto. Hail, Canada!

With Andreescu, she started 2019 with a ranking of only 178 and now she’s world No. 5. 

As for Serena Williams, what a devastating loss. Of her last four appearances in a major final, she lost all four. 

A personal story on Serena: Twenty years ago last weekend, my dad Bunny and I were in New York City to watch her win her first major trophy. That was in 1999 and Serena was only 17. Since that moment two decades ago, she has won 23 majors. But the record-tying 24th (Margaret Court has 24 majors) will have to wait. Because of the 19-year-old Bianca.

That 1999 US Open is similar to 2019. Then-teenager Serena upset Martina Hingis to win her first major. Two decades later, teenager Bianca returns the favor and beats Serena. 

RAFA. 19 also refers to the man from Spain. What a final. Just when everybody thought that it would be an easy 3-sets victory for the lefty, the 6-foot-6 Daniil Medvedev resurrected from the NYC abyss to nearly score a major upset. 

I rank that championship as one of the most special for Nadal. When the 5th set started and Medvedev led 1-0 and had those break points, Rafa was at the precipice of losing. Fatigued and downtrodden by Medvedev’s net play and aggressive moves — and being pressured by the umpire with the shot clock — Rafa was so close to defeat. 

But the gladiator that he is, Rafa persevered and triumphed.

Had Nadal lost, it would have been devastating. As desolating as the loss of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, when he squandered two championship points and lost to Novak Djokovic. 

Viva, España! Speaking of Spain, it’s the FIBA World Cup final tonight and we’ll know if Nadal’s countrymen will be victorious against Argentina.

Spain vs. Argentina? FIBA or FIFA (football) World Cup? Ha-ha. Can be either. The final is set at 8 p.m. tonight. I know that Anton Perdices, the honorary consul of Spain, will be cheering for Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

USA vs. Turkey

The Americans lost! After a 54-game winning streak in international competition (involving NBA players) dating back to 2006, the Americans lost!

Wait. They won. Ha? What happened two nights ago when USA played Turkey in the FIBA World Cup was one of the most incredible games that I’ve seen.

As time expired at the end of the game, Turkey led, 81-79. But Jayson Tatum was fouled beyond the arc at the buzzer. He converted two of three free throws. The game enters OT. At the end of overtime, Turkey was leading 92-91. They had ball possession and, in a sequence of events, had four attempts at the free throw line. They missed all four. Team USA had ball possession and with two seconds left, Khris Middleton was fouled, converted both free throws, and they escaped with a 93-92 win. 

A sure USA loss (everyone watching it was sure of the outcome) turned into a Harry Houdini-like escape and victory for the Americans.

“It really hurts,” said Turkey’s Furkan Korkmaz. “I think it was in our hands – not their hands.”

Turkey coach Ufuk Sarica added: “I need mental strength to overcome this.”

His facial expressions said it all. He was jumping and smiling in the final seconds when Turkey was about to score the incredible upset. So were most of the pro-Turkey crowd of 18,000 in Shanghai. But when Middleton converted those free throws to reverse the outcome, Sarica was heartbroken.

For Donald Trump’s team, this is good. But it’s also very bad. Because now the world knows how vulnerable this team is. If the world’s 17th-ranked team should have won that game against the world’s best, then noboby’s afraid of the US anymore.

“At the end of the day we won and that’s the biggest thing we can take away, said USA’s Joe Harris. “We can’t look too far ahead. We have to take care of business and see where things stack up.”

True. But the game revealed the inadequacies of this squad. They lack the sheer talent of previous US teams. And when Turkey defended them with a zone defense, they had difficulty scoring. Can you imagine the US facing Serbia, who are even bigger and more talented? 

As a side note, it was good to see a Pinoy in the midst of the game. Filipino referee Bong Pascual, who also officiated during the 2016 Rio Olympics, was one of the referees manning the game.

GILAS. After losing by 46 points against Italy and 59 against Serbia, the critics pounded on our Philippine team.

“What does it serve to the Philippine team to lose by this difference?” said Serbia’s coach Sasha Djordjevic. That’s an embarrassing statement, questioning our right to be part of this 32-nation World Cup. 

How we wished Jordan Clarkson was part of this team. Or Jayson Castro, the 5-foot-10 guard named one of Asia’s best when he led Gilas for seven years. Castro’s speed and three-point shooting are missing. 

On the positive side, what a performance by CJ Perez.

2020 Cebu Marathon

The date is “January 12, 2020.” That’s 133 days from today — the first day of the ‘Ber months. That’s also seven days before the grand Sinulog festival on Jan. 19, 2020. And it’s the morning when over 4,000 runners will pound the streets of Cebu City.

42K. 21K. 5K. Take your kilometer pick. Those are the distances that spell Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5-km. Fun Run.

Next weekend, from September 6 to 8, the registration of the 2020 Cebu Marathon will begin. It’s called “Race to Register.” It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis and the first 500 registrants will receive limited edition “In Training” Cebu Marathon shirts. The next 500 registrants will receive free movie passes from Ayala Center Cebu. This is all happening next weekend at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu.

Registration fees are P1,400 for the half-marathon and P1,800 for the marathon. More details can be viewed at the Facebook page of the Cebu Marathon.

Only those who line-up and register onsite (at the Active Zone) will be eligible to receive the free items. (To make sure that the correct sizes are distributed to the early-bird registrants, the shirts will be ready for pick-up next month, in October.)

What’s new for 2020? The route is both new and old. For those who joined the inaugural 2010 marathon dubbed “01-10-10,” you may recall that the route included the iconic sights of the Magellan’s Cross and Plaza Independencia. The marathoners also descended into the tunnel and ran along the South Road Properties. The SRP was the main route in 2010 and for a good number of years until a few years ago when it was disallowed.

For 2020, the SRP is back. The full details will be announced soon but the planned route will be exciting. Let me reserve the surprise of the “old and new” course when this is formally announced in the coming weeks.

The Sinulog-themed entertainment will once again motivate the runners. Dancers will dance. Loud music will pump the ears and hearts. Drinks will overflow.

Why run the marathon? I am blessed to have completed six of these 42K runs (Singapore, Quezon City, Jacksonville, Cebu, New York, and Hong Kong) and they are some of the most painful yet fulfilling experiences of my life. Ask a friend who has finished the 42.195-km. distance and they’ll share with you their own memorable experiences.

The 42K run is an outrageous goal to accomplish; one that you’ll be proud to tell your grandkids in the future.

But I also caution: it’s not for everyone. First, have yourself thoroughly examined; the best is an Executive Check with a treadmill stress test. Second, if you don’t have the mileage, don’t do it. Not yet. Unless you’ve completed multiple 21Ks, you might not be ready for January. But if you’ve been a regular runner, then make sure to register this Friday.

As the runner Susan Sidoriak aptly put it: “I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.”

FIBA World Cup

Like the Olympics, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is held every four years. This Saturday (Aug. 31), the 16-day tournament begins in eight cities around China.

A total of 32 countries will contest this event which started in Argentina in 1950. The qualified nations include 7 from the Americas, 5 from Africa, 12 from Europe, and 8 from Asia and Oceania, including our Philippines.

The FIBA World Cup is important to our nation not only because we’re participating but because we’ll be co-hosting in 2023. Together with Indonesia and Japan, the 19th edition will come to our shores in four venues: Philippine Arena, MOA Arena, Philsports Arena, and Araneta Coliseum. (Had Cebu started construction of the SM Seaside Arena a few years ago, we’d be one of the hosts. Sayang!)

For China 2019, this is the first time that the world’s most populous nation is hosting. There will be 92 games played and this event also serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Games, with seven nations gaining direct entry to next year’s Olympics.

With our own Gilas Pilipinas, who will be flying to China today, it’s our second straight trip to the World Cup (last time was in Spain). We are in Group D together with Serbia, Italy and Angola and we’re playing in the city of Foshan in Guangdong. The format is round-robin and the top two teams of each group will advance.

This Saturday when the FIBA World Cup commences, we play our first game against Italy. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Phil. time) and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is expected to watch.

“We feel that’s our most important game – the Italy game,” said Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao. “So all our resources in terms of scouting, in terms of time has been focused on that.”

To qualify for Round 2 — given that Serbia will be too difficult for us — Gilas needs to beat Italy, who’ll be led by Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari and Luigi Datome.

USA. The biggest sporting news erupted last week when Team USA lost to Australia, 98-94. Although it was non-bearing, nobody wants to lose, and the Americans had not lost an official or exhibition game (involving NBA players) since Sept. 2006.

How dominant are (or were) the Americans in basketball? In the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they won their nine games by an average margin of 33 points. Of course, that squad included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.

This 2019, Team USA has.. Myles Turner, Joe Harris, and Derrick White. Who? This is obviously the most star-lacking US team in recent history.

Which will make China 2019 exciting and competitive. There’s Nikola Jokic of Serbia (whom the Philippines will be facing on Sept. 2). There are the Antetokounmpo brothers Giannis and Thanasis of Greece. Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio are representing Spain. More than 50 NBA players are competing.

“We’ve learned,” said the USA’s Donovan Mitchell, “that this is going to be a dogfight.”

Let the China games begin.