Coral Tee and a rainful of blessings

Cebu Country Club hosts dozens of tournaments each year; but nothing compares to the Coral Tee — a member-guest invitational held every Sinulog week (Wednesday to Saturday) that’s now on its 36th year.

Atty. Jovi Neri, one of CCC’s top golfers, said that the 36th Coral Invitational, next to Manila Golf’s Golden Tee, is the second oldest member-guest invitational in the country.

But last week may have been one of the most challenging.

“While we assumed that we would have a wet Coral Tee as early as two months ago, we did not expect it to be this wet,” said CCC board director and golf chairman Julius “Jayjay” Neri, Jr. “We were very nervous on opening day (Wednesday) as it was raining most of the morning. Thursday had the least rain and gave us hope that conditions would improve.”

After the 430 participants completed the first two days, it poured heavily again on Friday and the forecast on Saturday was more rain.

“It was crucial that the tournament would not be stopped due to the weather or the Calcutta bets as well as the ‘Palusotan’ would have to be cancelled because these were based on the 2nd day scores,” said Jayjay. “And half of the field were playing on that rainy Saturday.”

To make things more problematic, there was no mobile signal. “I got to the club at 9:30 a.m. and did not leave until after the awarding ceremony,” said Jayjay. “Twice on Saturday morning, I was on the verge of declaring the course unplayable. But just as I was about to do so, the rain would slow down.”

Jayjay Neri, who is also the general manager of SunStar, considers being able to finish the 36th Coral Tee despite the torrential rain (and having no major accidents apart from a few who slipped due to the muddy conditions) as a major blessing.

Talking of blessing, two others received major surprises. The first was Rolando Casing of Cagayan de Oro. Last Friday on the 3rd hole of CCC, he used a 7 Iron Titleist 762 club and swung. The ball flew high above the Banilad trees, bounced on the green, rolled and disappeared for a hole in one. Witnessing the rare occurence were Richard Hong, Benedict Uy and Hisashi Miyashita. As reward, Mr. Casing took home a Jeep Wrangler. 

Another blessing happened to my good friend Alvin Alazas, a former CCC club champion. At the conclusion of the Coral Tee, the most awaited moment is the grand raffle.

“In the past, I always bought the tickets numbered 118 and 318,” said Alvin, in our phone conversation yesterday. “The number 118 is my civil wedding date (Jan. 18) and 318 is our church wedding date (March 18).”

But as fate would have it, these numbers were taken. Alvin had to choose another raffle number and picked “018.”

“The first number called was ‘0,’” he said. “In our table were Jiji Gullas, Manolet Heredia, Hector Almario, Armando Serafin and Peter Mancao. We have one ticket, they said, referring to our consortium (we bought tickets as a group). When the next number ‘1’ was called, the others, said, sorry, we didn’t win.”

It turns out, Alvin bought his own ticket. Finally, when the number “8” was called and Alvin’s name was announced, all his friends jumped.

“It was exactly 25 years ago that I first joined Coral Tee,” said Alvin. “That was in 1992 and I’ll never forget that tournament because the first day was my wedding day!”

Tomorrow, Alvin and Mimi celebrate their silver anniversary.  And as gift, a brandnew 3.6-liter V6 Jeep Wrangler.

Australian Open experience

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As we Cebuanos celebrate Sinulog today, fireworks will brighten the Down Under sky tomorrow as the year’s first tennis Grand Slam begins. It’s the Australian Open.

Last June, we had a chance to visit Melbourne  — adjudged by The Economist as “the most liveable city in the world” for six straight years. Is this “world’s best” distinction, based on my trip, valid and true? Absolutely.

My wife, daughter and I cycled along the Yarra River for two glorious hours. We parked our rented bike and smelled the flowers inside the Royal Botanic Gardens. We boarded the tram service and toured  — for free. (Yes, free city-wide transport.) We sojourned to Queen Victoria Market, disembarked at Flinders Street Station and strolled along their beautiful parks. No wonder it’s often called “Australia’s garden city.”

Best of all? If you’re a tennis fanatic… we got to play tennis inside the Australian Open court.

As soon as we landed in Tullamarine Airport from Sydney, our first objective was to hike the sanctum that I’ve long wanted to visit for years. Melbourne Park was nearly empty when we arrived past 5 p.m. The gift shop was still open and we bought a few souvenirs. Then, we made a reservation for our most important activity in the city: to play tennis.

Forty hours later, we entered Show Court No. 3 — their largest stadium after Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and Margaret Court Arena. After renting Head and Wilson rackets (not our preferred Babolat brand) and borrowing six balls, our hearts pounded. We were ready. The stadium lights illuminated the stadium like it were 12 noon. Three thousand empty seats surrounded us with Jasmin as ballgirl and me and my daughter Jana swatting backhands. Our rubber shoes squeaked as we danced on the blue Plexicushion surface. Each smashing topspin reverberated upon impact. In my 30+ years of tennis-playing, that was one father-and-daughter experience that I’ll forever cherish.

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I revisit that memory because starting tomorrow until two Sundays from today, all tennis eyes will be transfixed on Melbourne. It might be Andy or Novak, although I’m praying for Rafa or Roger; it might be Angelique or Serena — regardless of the victor, the sport of tennis will be victorious because of the Oz Open.

An estimated 720,000 spectators will flood Melbourne Park — a venue that’s part of a 40-hectare greenland named Melbourne and Olympic Parks (the city hosted the 1956 Olympics).

With tennis, what makes the Australian Open different? Wimbledon is formal and classy, with the attendees wearing suits and dresses and snacking on strawberries in cream. The U.S. Open in New York is humongous. I recall the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium. Fabby Borromeo and I sat at the uppermost seats watching Andre Agassi and it’s like looking down from the 7th floor of a building. Roland Garros in Paris is played on brown red clay.

Melbourne is hot. Literally. The sizzling heat in January — an oddity because the rest of the planet experiences winter — is often unbearable for the players. Imagine playing for five sets with 40C temperature? Spectators arrive wearing shorts and sleeveless tops. Melbourne is laid-back, unhurried and friendly.

Aldeguer looks ahead to 2017 and beyond

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Michael Aldeguer (center) receiving the award in the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards with (from left) Jun Migallen, John Pages, Manny Pacquiao, Jingo Quijano and Raffy Osumo

Pinoy Pride has become too big a show for the true boxing fans in the provinces, said Michael Pastrano Aldeguer, the president and CEO of ALA Promotions.

That’s quite a revelation. Having concluded its 39th edition last November, the “Pinoy Pride” brand has become synonymous with tremendous success. Why mess with it?

But Michael Aldeguer — the first Asian promoter to organize boxing events in the U.S. — is realistic and forthright.

“Pinoy Pride will be for the bigger fights in the bigger cities around the world,” he said.

Ever since the ALA gym was founded by Antonio Lopez Aldeguer in 1985 — whose mission then and now continues to be training aspiring boxers, including the out-of-school youth, to become the best that they can be (including becoming world champions) — the ALA group has continued to evolve and prosper.

NEW FOR 2017. “We are looking to launch different events all over the country and abroad,” Michael Aldeguer said. “We will continue to provide an avenue for prospects all over Philippines and the world as we are working on bringing back the smaller events to connect more to the fans.”

There’ll expand a new feature called “Fists of the Future,” which they launched in San Mateo, California last July. It will continue under the “ALA Stars on Tour” brand.

“It will be smaller than Pinoy Pride and will be held in smaller cities around the Philippines and the U.S.,” he said. “We saw the potential of growing our U.S. events in the coming years; but the plan for 2017 is to go more to the provinces around the Philippines as there are a lot of talents that need to be showcased.”

ALA Boxing’s “IDOL” will also remain. “IDOL will be our grassroots program that will provide young fighters an avenue to fight and develop their potential,” Aldeguer said. “The TV show Pinoy Pride is consistently one of the top Sunday shows. This proves that our market is growing. Filipinos will always have a healthy appetite for boxing. As long as ALA Promotions and ABS-CBN continue to do its part, Phil. boxing will soar.”

To Michael Aldeguer, today is the best era for boxing.

“Manny (Pacquiao) is back as world champion and looking great,” he said. “Philippine boxing has four world champions and one interim world champion. It could have been six if Donnie Nietes didn’t vacate his title to move up in weight but he will be fighting for a world title this year.”

MMA FOR ALA? “ALA Promotions is officially ALA Sports Promotions International, Inc. (ASPI),” Aldeguer said. “We’re not an exclusive promoter of boxing, however focused we are to the sport. It will always be our top priority but this does not mean we are not open to expanding and supporting other fields. I believe the upsurge of MMA helps people appreciate the athletes and sports, in general, including boxing, therefore raising awareness leading to the respect that these unique professionals deserve.”

INSPIRATION. “Boxing is a part of the life of every Filipino since the time of Pancho Villa to Flash Elorde to Manny Pacquiao,” he said. “From the beginning, it has been ALA Boxing’s commitment to help sustain and grow the sport as a means of helping underprivileged kids achieve their dreams. While it’s true that not all who go into boxing succeed the way Pacquiao and Nietes have, ALA Boxing believes that there is a future for the sport.”

Aldeguer spoke about the beginnings of both Pacman and Ahas.

“We can draw inspiration from their stories. Boxing has helped improve their lives and their families. Pacquiao left home and turned to boxing at the young age of 14 because of poverty. Nietes came to Cebu to work as a janitor for ALA Gym before he turned to boxing,” he said.

“We hope to continue working towards supporting the stability and growth of boxing. We can do this by creating more avenues for both the new and experienced fighters; this will bring their dreams closer to reality and build a stronger future for Philippine boxing.”

Michael Aldeguer looks back at 2016

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Of the three sons of Antonio and Lou Aldeguer, it’s the middle child Michael who took after his dad in pursuing a life that’s dedicated to sports.

As president of ALA Promotions, Michael has been an aggressor. If he were a boxer, he’s not a counterpuncher but one who’s offense-minded, always moving forward, jabbing and attacking. To date, ALA Promotions is now on its 39th edition of the Pinoy Pride series.

I’ve known Michael since we were in high school. He studied in Sacred Heart and I dribbled as CIS point guard and we faced each other many times on the parquet floor. As the year ended last week, I asked Michael to revisit 2016 and to look forward to 2017 (Part 2 will appear on Sunday).

“The year 2016 was a successful year for ALA Promotions,” said Michael. “We partnered with the biggest promoters in the industry, Top Rank and Mexico’s Zanfer, and worked with a new sponsor, Tecate.”

While tracing its roots in Cebu and contuining their tradition of holding promotions at home (in April, it was an overflowing crowd at the Cebu City Sports Center and, last Nov., at the Cebu Coliseum), the ALA brand has gone international. Michael is proudest of the impact the fighters have accomplished in America.

“We staged more shows that our fellow Filipinos, especially those abroad, could be proud of,” he said, citing the partnership with TV giant ABS-CBN and TFC (including their top-rated Sunday show) as essential to the growth of Phil. boxing.

I asked Michael about his appraisal of the ALA fighters.

“In boxing, it’s always difficult to assess a fighter,” he said. “Evaluating the opponent’s caliber is just as important as looking at each fight’s outcome.”

That’s true. In any sport, it’s easy to look good when your opponent is weak; but when you’re up against the best in the world, the scorecard changes.

The best example is Albert Pagara. Prior to fighting Cesar Juarez, the WBO #1, he was undefeated in 26 fights and could have continued this no-loss streak by taking the easier route.

“He could have fought a lower level opponent but you will never know if a fighter is ready or not until they are tested,” said Michael, of Pagara’s 8th round KO loss in California last July. “It was a good performance for Albert but he got hit. It’s all part of a learning process, to see if a fighter can come back after a knock out loss.”

The ALA boxing gym has dozens of fighters. Michael talked about two of the most promising.

Jeo Santisima, only 20, hails from Masbate. He entered the ring four times in 2016 and knocked-out every one of this opponents, including former Phil. super bantamweight champ Jerry Nardo and former Phil. superfly and bantamweight champ Marco Demecillo.

“Santisima concluded this year’s performance with yet another sensational win over multi-international champion Rex Wao last Nov. in Pinoy Pride 39,” said Michael. 

“Santino” is his nickname and Michael says that he has shown two of the most important factors in becoming a star and a world champion — “great power and heart” — and believes Santisima is one of the hardest punchers in Philippine boxing today.

He also cited the undefeated WBO International Featherweight champ Mark “Magnifico” Magsayo. Against veteran and world title challenger Chris “The Hitman” Avalos last April at the CCSC, the 21-year-old from Bohol wowed the 25,000 fans in attendance.

“Magsayo’s performance this year secured him the No. 1 spot in Mark Butcher’s ‘Five rising Asia stars of boxing to watch in 2017,’ released online via Asia Times,” said Michael. “Butcher called the fight a ‘bona fide Fight of The Year contender’ and stated that Magsayo ‘gatecrashed the world rankings with that stirring victory and illustrated he has the heart and spirit to overcome adversity.’”

Santino and Magnifico will have a busy 2017, said Michael, adding, “We will build them up and will work with different fighters from other stables all over the Philippines and abroad to support the steadfast growth of Philippine boxing.”

2020 vision

This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)
This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)

TOKYO — Akemashite omedetou! Happy New Year. When you visit sporting goods shops here like Asics or stroll along the corridors of the Metro Subway, the ever-present sign reads: Tokyo 2020. Exactly 1,300 days from today — from July 24 to August 9, 2020 — all of the world’s YouTube and Sony TV eyes will be transfixed on the capital city of Japan.

Back in Sept. 2013, when the rigorous Olympic bidding process ended and Tokyo subdued of the two other finalists (Istanbul and Madrid), preparations started.

Tracing back history, the first Olympics in Tokyo was scheduled in 1940. But we know our history class. During that time, Japan invaded China and helped usher the horrendous moment called World War II. The Games were moved to Helsinki. After the dust cleared from war, including the rehabilitation of Hiroshimi and Nagasaki, this nation bidded again.

In October 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were played. Then, only 93 nations and 5,000 athletes participated. Three years from now, an estimated 207 countries and 12,000 Olympians will join.

Jana, Jasmin and I got the chance to get a glimpse of the National Olympic Stadium. When we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Bldg. last Wednesday, we climbed the 45th floor. From that vantage point and with perfect visibility, we saw the country’s tallest peak, Fujisan. And, set amidst the Meiji Jingu Gaien park in Shinjuku, we saw portions of the stadium construction.

The Olympic coliseum is located in the same spot where the original stadium of the 1964 games was held. They demolished the old structure in 2015 and built a new one with a seating capacity of 80,000. This structure has been controversial. The design was awarded to British architect Zaha Hadid, who envisioned a futuristic stadium; but the estimated costs spiraled beyond $2 billion — and the design was scrapped. In the end, they went nationalistic and voted for Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The Tokyo Games are expected to be the most high-tech in history. They’ll include the use of hydrogen-powered buses and self-driving taxis. Instant language translation will aid foreigners. And they’ll utilize facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. But as computerized as Tokyo will be, for the Olympic Stadium, the architect has gone natural.

“I want to express a new, 21st century Japan,” the architect Kuma said. “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Japan of the 20th century, an industrializing society, and it was a great symbol of that. But we are now in a post-industrial society and I want to symbolize the new era.”

Kuma will use wood, saying: “In the industrial society of the 20th century they used concrete and metal. In the post-industrial era we make use of natural materials. Even though you are using wood, techniques in that field have advanced. It’s not the case that using wood means it won’t last for a long time. In fact it’s precisely because you are using wood that it does last for a long time.”

I agree. We got to visit the city of Nara (40 minutes from Osaka) and found the Daibutsuden — the world’s largest wooden building — built many, many centuries ago.

COST. How expensive is it to host the Olympics? When Beijing organized China’s first ever Games, they spent $40 billion. That’s an enormous pile of money; in pesos, that’s P2 trillion. But that’s not the most exorbitant. The title goes to Sochi, Russia, who hosted the Winter Games in 2014 and spent $50 billion.

With Tokyo, they’re targeting “only” $13 to $15 billion. The original estimate was $30 billion but the organizers were able to substantially trim down the figure. This budget includes $5.5 billion for the venues and facilities (including the $1.5 billion Olympic stadium).

How did they cut the budget? Originally, they wanted a compact games (meaning, all the sites were nearby). That has been scrapped. My two favorite sports have been moved faraway: cycling will be in Izu (two hours from Tokyo) and basketball, an hour away in Saitama.

Adto ta!

The genius of the Japanese

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TOKYO — I’ve been blessed to have visited many countries but there’s something so extraordinarily brilliant and efficient about our East Asian neighbor. From our 10-day stay here, I’ve listed several astonishing innovations:

There’s the taxi whose doors automatically open. When I boarded one in Kyoto, I shut the door myself, only for it to remain open as the driver, with the press of a button, slammed it shut. (This helps when your hands are full of bags and it’s raining outside.) Plus, this was charming: our driver was female and she wore formal wear with accompanying white gloves.

How about those vending machines (thousands of them found in every street corner) that’s color-coded: blue labels for cold drinks and red for warm (coffee/tea) beverages. And they sell ramen, electronics, umbrellas, ties and underwear!

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Robots? In this land where English is not very well spoken, when we visited the Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, a robot stood at the storefront, nodding left and right, waving his hands, smiling and welcoming guests.

Or that see-through umbrella so that you can (literally) see-through traffic and buildings overhead as you navigate yourself in the world’s busiest crossing called Shibuya in Tokyo (where as many as 2,500 cross the street at the same time).

Hungry? How about ordering via touchscreen menu? As you enter the restaurant, you choose from a variety of pictures; you pre-pay, take your seat and, 15 minutes later, your steaming hot bowl of Sukiyaki is delivered to your table (by a waiter, not a robot — that will come in 10 years).

Ta-Q-Bin. This is clever. Prior to leaving Cebu, my sister-in-law Atty. Michelle Mendez Palmares and our “Japanese consultant” Jourdan Polotan introduced this idea. I dismissed it. Ta-Q-Bin is a delivery service where your luggages are shipped the next day anywhere. Why spend extra when we can carry our own luggage? I said. It turns out, Ta-Q-Bin is amazing. The day before we left Osaka for Kyoto, we shipped two large suitcases to Tokyo (our third destination). Total cost: only P800 for both items. It’s not expensive and it saved us a lot of hassle of having to drag the luggages from Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo. We dropped off the items in a Family Mart (or they can be picked up in your hotel) and, voila, the day after, it’s inside your hotel room.

Shinkansen. We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo. The distance spans 513 kms. but it took the Shinkansen Nozomi train only two hours and 20 minutes, reaching a topspeed of 300 kph. It’s expensive (P7,400/person) but is a convenient hop-on, hop-off way to travel. A bonus midway through the trip: we caught a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. The coolest part? As the train leaves, the conductor at the end of the train leans out of the window and salutes everyone on the platform.

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But I save the best for last: the toilet bowl. Seriously. For the first time in my 22-year sportswriting career, I’m writing about the toilet bowl. To us, there’s nothing to be celebrated about this bathroom fixture; but not to the Japanese.

It starts with the heated seat. Then, you hear water rumbling — it’s background noise to cover any sounds of the user. Then, after you’re done with “business,” there’s a washlet. It’s a bidet-type washing mechanism. Like all things amazing-Japanese, it spews out soothing warm water. After, there’s a dryer from underneath. Finally, when you’re done, there’s a built-in water-saving sink at the top that pours into the tank to conserve water as you wash your hands. Incredible. This, from the nation that has produced brands like Toyota, Sony, Uniqlo, Asics, Epson, Ajinomoto, Mazda, Nintendo and Yakult.

Finally, lest this column get transferred to the Travel Section, a dose of sports: Tokyo 2020 promises to be the most high-tech Olympics ever. Some examples: Hydrogen-powered buses. Instant language translation. The use of facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. Driverless taxis. Amazing. Only in Japan.

Merikurisumasu from Japan

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KYOTO — Merry Christmas! We arrived in the “Land of the Rising Sun” over a week ago and Jasmin, Jana and I are loving every hour of our Japanese sojourn.

Our first stop was in Osaka. What words would I describe the nation’s second largest city (with a populatin of over 19 million)? Bustling with people. Lights-filled. Progressive. Heavenly food.

Japan is a country whose Christian population stands at only two percent. And so, unlike the Philippines with our myriad of activities as Dec. 25 nears, they obviously don’t practice our traditional Misa de Gallo and noche buena. But the highly-nationalistic Japanese have been infiltrated with Western culture. In particular, the playing of Christmas tunes everywhere and the displaying of Christmas lights and decors — all exhibited to excite the shoppers. So, yes, Jingle Bells songs and twinkling lights are all-present in Osaka.

The best example is the Winter Illumination. The 3-kilometer stretch of the main avenue Midosuji Street dazzles with lights — making it one of the world’s longest Christmas-lighted streets. Gingko trees sparkle and historic buildings splash with color at night. As highlight, an extravagant lights show is projected at the Osaka City Hall.

Osaka’s main shopping street is along Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi. Among the tens of thousands of people crowding the alley, I saw a few from Cebu: Dave Lim, one of our best amateur basketball players, tapped me in the back while we were inside the Uniqlo-operated GU store. While walking near the Glico billboard, I saw a tall man — and realized he wasn’t a tourist; he was James Co (who came with his wife Jewel and their children). A many-time Osaka visitor, James quickly pulled me to recommend what he calls “the best sukiyaki restaurant I’ve tried.” The following night, we dined there and yes, the beef was steaming-delicious. A few nights before Christmas, we spotted a familiar and beautiful face: Nia Aldeguer (who came with Chris and their kids and the Durano family). Frederic and Millete Chiongbian and their triathlon champion-boys Justin and Yuan also savored the 10C cold of Osaka.

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From our weeklong stay here, this we can conclude about our Japanese neighbors: they are the most polite and courteous we’ve met. In their culture, it’s called omotenashi, which means “Japanese hospitality.” It’s a combination of exquisite politeness with the goal of maintaining harmony and avoiding conflict. In our first day here, we got lost. As we huddled to check on Google Maps, a lady approached to ask if we needed help. She walked us to our destination and did the tradional bow with accompanying smile. She was a university student from Tokyo.

Our tour guide, Mrs. Kumiko Nakame, who escorted us for a full-day visit of the Osaka Castle, the Santa Maria Cruise, the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel and Umeda Sky Bldg., was extremely gracious and amiable. When you visit shops or dine in restaurants, they always welcome you with “irasshaimase.”

From Osaka, we took a day trip (upon the advise of Dr. Ronnie Medalle, who visited here two Decembers ago) to visit Nara. Less than an hour away, Nara was Japan’s capital from the years 710 to 794. While strolling inside Nara Park, you’ll see hundreds of deer (and can feed them by hand) and your eyes will feast on the Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest wooden building that houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.

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On December 24th, we moved to our next destination, beautiful Kyoto, this nation’s capital for over a thousand years. Highly-recommended by our Cebu-based Japan consultant, Jourdan Polotan, who was here last month and who’s visited with wife Jingle multiple times, we spent Christmas in Kyoto. Right across our hotel, in this city of very few Catholics, was the best sanctum to behold: the Kawaramachi Catholic Church, the cathedral of Kyoto. We heard mass at noon, singing Mary, Did You Know?, celebrating the birth of Christ in beautiful Japan.

Edward Hayco, in his own words

As chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission (CCSC) since 2010, Ed Hayco has accomplished plenty. In his own words, Ed shares with us his thoughts:

ON CULTURE: Instead of accomplishments, we prefer to call it our contributions. At the top of our list is Culture and Believing in one’s self. Confidence would have been an easier word but believing in one’s self has a deeper meaning.

Let me tell you a touching story. The father of an archery athlete named Niño approached me in a gathering. I didn’t know him. He explained how happy he was that his son was helping out as a volunteer coach in Guadalupe public elementary. Their family was supposed to go on a 3-week vacation but he pleaded with his father to cancel the vacation because he was assigned to give lessons in archery. The father recounted to us the story with so much pride in his son for how responsible he has become.

Another story was during the Batang Pinoy in Tagum. A father approached me during badminton competition. He wanted to say thank you and explained that his daughter was very shy. But as a volunteer coach during summer, her daughter was able to learn 3 things: 1) Overcome her shyness; 2) Develop leadership through coaching; and the most meaningful and the exact words of the father, 3): “My daughter developed “a heart for others!”

The Guinness records in archery, chess, arnis, and winning the overall title in Batang Pinoy, the summer grassroots, the volunteer coaching, etc. were all tools to achieve this culture. The success of any nation or business is its culture.

Our theme, “Transforming our youth thru sports,” is about character-building. Sports can either bring out the best or worst in an athlete.. the gold medal is just part of the journey, not the end.

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Ed Hayco (2nd from right) with Mars Alison, Mike Limpag, Girlie Garces, Hidelito Pascual and John Pages

2017 PLANS. To work closely with DepEd. 1) We have plans to implement a school for sports where all athletes will be in one classroom. They will have different class schedules. 2) An assistant principal for sports in the schools for sports. 3) Develop incentives for public school teacher-coaches and school principals so that the athletes and coaches will be better attended to. 4) Assign high level coaches to train public school teacher-coaches to raise the level of coaching competence. 5) Institutionalize strength and conditioning programs into public school sports programs. 6) Assign 25 volunteer high-level coaches to offer free coaching thrice-a-week, year-round in the Abellana sports center catering to Abellana high school and city central elementary. That’s a potential source of athletes having a population of 9,000 students. If this succeeds, we’ll do similar programs with other schools.

Why are our focus in public schools? Because the students have the least opportunities and resources and yet, they are our richest sources of athletes. Most of these kids cannot afford a P300/session coach. But these kids have the heart of an athlete — they thrive in adversity. We provide them with a hope for a better future.

ON BUTCH RAMIREZ. The PSC Chairman is supportive of Cebu because he has been closely watching our programs when he was chairman in 2005. Since then, we’ve been in touch and have always appraised him of our grassroots program which now covers 25 sports, and also our Guinness records.

Thru volunteerism, we develop the passion and dedication of the athlete for the sports, instead of being obsessed and entitled. This culture has a rippling effect. Winning medals now has a deeper meaning and a gold medal weighs heavier in a different way. When an athlete who has volunteered wins a medal, he wears it with a deeper sense of pride.

ON DEPED. I’ve been trying to lobby this idea, still a hard sell, that the PSC chairman needs to be the undersecretary of DepEd for Sports. As long as PSC is not part of or not an insider of DepEd, the sports programs policies of PSC cannot be implemented effectively, especially the grassroots program.

Just like CCSC. We have a sports program but who do we implement it with? There is no single unit in Phil. govt. that has the command of warm bodies. Only DepEd can make a memo, require and produce the number of kids. That’s why CCSC works closely with DepEd. All our programs are thru DepEd. Once we realize this organizational “flaw,” we can be an effective conductor of the orchestra.

FINAL WORDS. I’m not really a sports person. During the Los Angeles Olympics, the stadium was in front of our hotel. I didn’t even watch! It doesn’t excite me to be in a competition. I’d rather watch Broadway! What an irony? In short, sports to me is a tool. A social screwdriver or pliers to pry open the potential of the underprivileged kids and “make them believe in themselves.” As businessmen, we approach the sports program like a social entrepreneur: we see coaches as managers, athletes as employees, the product as medals and the grassroots training pool. Right culture plus motivated employees equals productivity!

Sports in Taiwan

TAIPEI — Taiwan is small. If you open Google Maps and compare the Philippines with our neighbor up north, it’s smaller than Mindanao. Taiwan is only 12 percent the land area of our country. Population-wise, their 24 million people is one-fourth our overpopulated nation. But if we compare economies, their GDP of US$1.147 trillion is sizable versus our $793 billion.

Sports? If we base the analysis on the Olympics, they beat us. Since they joined in 1956 in Melbourne (while we started earlier at the 1924 Paris Games), they’ve accummulated 24 medals versus our 10. Plus, they’ve gained the shiniest of precious metals: two gold medals for taekwondo in Athens and, just last August in Rio, another gold medal for women’s weightlifting.

Last Sunday, I spoke about the Taipei Marathon and discussed the moniker, “The Bicycle Kingdom,” conferred to this nation that manufactures millions of bicycles each year.

Biking and running are popular in Taiwan. Their streets are wide and planted with biking and jogging lanes — unlike our roads where the joggers and bikers have to negotiate the traffic with tricycles, private vehicles, jeepneys, pedicabs and, worse, motorbikes who “counter-flow.”

But as beloved as biking and running are in Taiwan, they’re not the most celebrated sport. This mantle belongs to baseball. If the Philippines has basketball, Taiwan has baseball. First introduced during the Japanese rule — which ran from 1895 until the end of WW2 in 1945 — baseball is Taiwan’s national sport. And if we cheer for the PBA, theirs is the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The Taiwanese have produced world-class players and have sent a few to America to play in Major League Baseball. These include Wei-Yin Chen (Orioles) and Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees and Nationals).

How good are the Taiwanese? According to the International Baseball Federation, Chinese-Taipei is ranked world no. 3, behind only the U.S. and Japan. They won silver at the Barcelona Olympics and bronze in 1994 at the Los Angeles Olympics.

With baseball, it’s the No.1 sport that they follow. But it’s not the top game that the Taiwanese themselves play. That honor goes to basketball and their top league is the Super Basketball League (SBL).

In tennis, their star netter is Lu Yen-hsun. He was ranked as high as world no. 33 (in 2010) and he currently sits at no. 64. I recall an interesting story involving this 33-year-old, 5-foot-11 player who resides in Taipei. Back in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, my wife Jasmin and I watched Andy Murray in singles. As he was ahead in the first set and was playing an unknown opponent, we moved to the other courts knowing that he’ll easily advance. An hour or so later, we saw the score flash: Murray lost! Minutes after the Briton’s shocking defeat, we saw his mom Judy walk in front of us, downtrodden and shocked. The man who beat Murray? Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan.

More on tennis: the Chinese-Taipei team has played Davis Cup in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. For those who visited the five-star resort in Marigondon in 2011, you were treated to smashing tennis action which ended up with the Taiwanese winning, 3-2.

Among the women, it’s Hsieh Su-wei who has achieved the highest of goals. Two years ago competing in doubles, she was ranked No. 1 in the world.

29th UNIVERSIADE. One major sporting event that this nation is looking forward to will run from August 19 to 30 next year. It’s the 2017 Taipei Summer Universiade and over 12,000 athletes from 150 countries are scheduled to converge for these biennial games.

Dubbed “the largest multi-sport event in the world apart from the Olympics,” the Universiade is organized purely for university athletes. Last year, South Korea hosted and next year, it’s Taiwan’s turn to organize this event which consists of 14 compulsory sports, seven optional sports and one demonstration sport.

In summary, sports-fan or not, Taiwan (especially with the direct EVA Air flights from Cebu) should be part of your travel list in 2017.

Running and biking in Taiwan

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My mom Allen running the streets of Taipei

TAIPEI — This city is teeming with people. If you visit Ximending at night or Taipei Main Station by day, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of fast-moving, on-the-go Taiwanese.

We’ve been here since Wednesday and took the direct EVA Air flight from Cebu. The airline is high-recommended. It’s clean, the leg-room on the Economy Class is spacious (like the Premium Economy seats at Cathay Pacific), and the 3-hour direct flight is speedy. After a quick lunch meal, a few Spotify playlists to listen to and a short nap, you’ve already landed at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. We left at 11 a.m and landed at 2. At the airport, we were met by a local carrying a placard bearing my printed name. Assuming he was Taiwanese, I spoke in English. He answered in Bisaya! It turns out, he’s Wilbert Tan, a former Sacred Hearter who’s the batchmate of my neighbor on this page, Atty. Jingo Quijano, and of Bernard “Ironman-Bionic Man” Sia.

What we like in Taiwan is the weather. With no offense meant for places like Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, what sets this nation of 23.5 million apart from the tropical countries is the cool, Hong Kong-like temperature. When we arrived last Wednesday, it was 19C. The next two days, it dropped to 14C.

Perfect conditions for running. Of this sport that has invigorated millions, you won’t believe what we discovered. While our Pages family — 21 of us, led by our parents, Bunny and Allen, and my siblings Charlie, Randy, Cheryl and Michael, plus the children — strolled towards Taipei 101 (acclaimed the world’s tallest building in 2004), guess what sight had my heart pumping double its speed?

The Taipei International Marathon, happening today. Of all the times that our family visited, it was marathon weekend. With Jasmin and Jana, I quickly entered the Race Expo site hoping to join the half-marathon.

“Sorry, registration has long closed,” the staff member said. Unlike Hong Kong (or our very own Cebu Marathon, which kicks off this January 8), Taipei doesn’t offer on-site registration. Too bad. This event is quite huge: they limit the entries to 7,000 runners for the 42K and 18,000 for the 21K. The cutoff time for the marathon is 5:30 and three hours for half that distance.

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Nice running form, Mom! Crossing the finish line a day before the marathon

Running is popular in Taiwan. One example is the Nike Running store near Taipei 101 that spans three gigantic floors of nothing but running shoes, running clothing, running gear.

Cycling? It’s absolutely big here. Taiwan is known as “The Bicycle Kingdom” and a huge number of bicycle components are stamped, “Made in Taiwan.” They’re led by Giant, the world’s largest bike company, which grosses over $2 billion and churns out an estimated 6.6 million bicycles per year (compared to the 3,800 they sold on their first year in 1972).

Apart from bike manufacturing, bike-riding is also popular in Taiwan. Giant helped launch the YouBike sharing format. Aside from Taipei, it’s found in 10 other cities here, including Taichung — the city that Jasmin and I visited a few times before (and we love even more than Taipei).

YouBike’s concept is simple: You visit one of many stations, you hop on a bike and drop it off in the nearest station of your destination.

Biking is good for the health of a nation’s citizens and it’s good for Mother Earth. Their website reads: “In the hope that by equipping a urban bike lane network with a bike station service, encouraging citizens to use low-pollution and low-energy-consumption Bike Sharing as short-distance transit vehicles and reducing and replacing personal possession and use of motor vehicles, traffic congestion, environmental pollution and energy loss in the city will be improved.”

How I wish we can do this. Our problem is the lack of bike-lanes. Here in Taipei, like in many parts of the world where pedaling is encouraged (especially in Europe), there are dedicated bike lanes. In Cebu, how can we adopt this bike-sharing concept when we don’t even have proper pedestrian lanes?

Can a human being run a sub-2 marathon?

It’s audacious. It’s unimaginable and absurd. I’m talking about the quest to break one of humankind’s most enduring and seemingly-unbreakable of feats: running 42.195 kms. in under 120 minutes.

The marathon world record today stands at 2:02:57. That was set three Septembers ago at the 2014 Berlin Marathon. The current record holder is from Kenya and his name is Dennis Kimetto.

I’ve joined a few marathons myself and running 42K is backbreaking, toilsome and you can’t sprint fullspeed the entire stretch because it’s too far. How lengthy is a marathon? It’s the distance from the Provincial Capitol to Carcar. That’s a long, long, long, long, long way to travel using only your God-given feet.

How fast is the WR time of 2:02:57? It’s sprinting at a pace of 2 minutes and 54 seconds per kilometer. It’s like stepping on a treadmill and setting the speed beyond 20 kph! (A 10 kph speed is fast enough; imagine running at twice that pace — for two hours nonstop.)

Now, the question: Is it difficult to cut three minutes off that world record mark? Absolutely. Through the years, the WR has been broken repeatedly, but only by increments of a few seconds. Consider that in 1999, the fastest marathon was clocked at 2:05:38 by Khalid Khannouchi. This means that with the present record, only 2 minutes and 41 seconds was reduced in the last 17 years. That’s an average yearly reduction of only 9.5 seconds.

Which brings me to the Nike Project dubbed Breaking2. In a Runner’s World article entitled, “Nike’s Audacious Plan: Break the 2-Hour Marathon Barrier in 2017,” the sporting footwear giant wants to break the record next year.

“After more than two years of research, preparation and testing, three top distance runners—Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea—have officially started their Nike-backed build-up toward a sub-two-hour attempt sometime in the spring, the exact timing and location of which have yet to be finalized,” wrote Alex Hutchison in the Dec. 12 article from www.runnersworld.com. “Their goal is to run 1:59:59 or faster, a pace of 4:34 per mile for 26.2 miles.”

This goal is bold and stunning. “Nike’s announcement will undoubtedly raise eyebrows,” said the article. “Just two years ago, in a data-driven investigation of what it would take to run a marathon in less than two hours, I concluded that the barrier would be broken in 2075. That admittedly pessimistic prediction was based on the assumption that the record would continue to be shaved down by small margins, in keeping with previous trends.”

Nike is undaunted by this long-term prediction. They’re in a hurry and they plan to break the record very soon. Percentage-wise, the goal to carve three minutes doesn’t seem much, until you compute that it’s 2.5 percent. That’s substantial in a race where every second counts.

There are five key areas that Nike is focusing on. First, the athlete selection. From a pool that started with hundreds of runners, they selected three of the world’s best, testing each athlete to find out if they had what it takes for the record attempt.

Two, course and environment. Nike plans to control the course (not to be done in a regular road race), the time of the year and the conditions. “As our sub-two-hour feature noted, just getting the drafting right could shave 100 seconds off an elite marathon time, according to wind-tunnel estimates,” Hutchinson said. The final three areas: training, nutrition/hydration and equipment. (I strongly recommend you read the full article at www.runnersworld.com.)

“‘The sub-two-hour marathon is one of those epic barriers that people bust through,’ Nike’s VP of Footwear Innovation, Tony Bignell, told us. ‘It’s like breaking 10 seconds for the 100 meters or 4 minutes for the mile. At the end of the day, we just want to show it can be done. We want to show that it’s within the capability of human physiology.’”

Can it be done? As Nike says: Just do it.

In hosting mega-events, “apiki ra kaayo”

Decades from today, when the history of Cebu sports is written and immortalized, the name “Edward Hayco” will be one that’s most prominent. As head of the Cebu City Sports Commission for many, many years now, he has produced too-many-to-count accomplishments. World records. International dance meets. Grass-roots programs. No less than the top bigwigs of the Phil. Sports Commission pay homage to the creative strategies of Cebu.

The latest challenge for Ed Hayco and Atty. Ramil Abing, who leads the Cebu Province Sports Commission, is the hosting of the 2017 Phil. National Games or PNG. This is a major effort. Thousands of our archipelago’s best of the best will land in Mactan, kick in Mandaue, bowl at SM, swim in Abellana. The PNG is scheduled this April. This is a highly laudable hosting of the city and province bearing the name of Cebu.

By my question — and this is addressed to the top honchos at the PSC, POC and Dept. of Education (DepEd) — is this: Why such late announcements? Why not give potential hosts three years notice so ample time can be allocated for preparation?

Let’s talk about the Palarong Pambansa. Organized by DepEd, the Palaro started in 1948. That’s 68 years ago. Thanks to my daughter Jana’s participation in tennis, I’ve witnessed two Games: the first in Dipolog and Dapitan when she was in elementary and the second in Laguna when she helped Central Visayas (Region VII) win a couple of medals.

The Palaro is huge. It’s only one week long but every region of this 100-million-strong nation is represented. (Prior to this national meet are the local eliminations: the Unit, City, Provincial and Regional meets. Ours is called the CVIRAA.)

The Palaro, held every summer, involves thousands upon thousands of athletes, volunteers, officials, parents, coaches and government personnel.

Here’s my point: For next year’s 60th edition of the Palarong Pambansa — slated to be held in Antique Province of Panay — you know when the announcement was made?

The Palaro Selection Committee revealed the winning host last November 18. And when will the Palaro be held? This April or May.

This means that, from the time it was announced to the time of the actual event, only five to six months are appropriated for the hosts to prepare. (The exact Palaro date hasn’t even been announced yet!) Unbelievable.

The Palaro selection committee, if my research is correct, received the formal bids only last August, they announced the winning city last month and, voila, 170 days later you get the organize the country’s largest tournament.

In my simple analysis, the host city or province should be given at least three years to prepare. Apart from organizing all the manpower and volunteers, all the billeting requirements, the food catering systems, transportation and logistical needs, the biggest task and the one requiring the longest time is infrastructure. How can one host properly if you don’t give them enough time to plan, design and build? A rubberized oval can’t be constructed by a magician.

Take the Olympics. For the 2020 Tokyo Games, the announcement was made in 2013 — seven years prior to the planet’s largest sports party.

With the 2017 Palaro, three major cities initially joined the bidding: Iloilo, Bacolod and Cebu. One after the other, each Visayan city backed out.

I’m not privy to the reasons why our very own Cebu City opted not to join. I was one of many who voiced support because the only times we hosted were in 1954 and in 1994. You bet, it’s about time!

Maybe the lack of time and preparation (“apiki ra kaayo”) were reasons? And there’s always the unwritten dictum among city mayors that says: Give chance to others. This is not a way to demean the smaller cities but a way for them to receive substantial funds for infrastructure projects (many of which won’t be constructed if not for a large event like the Palaro).

This “apiki” practice has to stop. Let’s hope Manila listens.

Green Archers shoot down the Blue Eagles

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(Photo: ABS-CBN News)

At 6:15 p.m. yesterday, white confetti rained inside the Araneta Coliseum as green jerseys swarmed the court all-smiling. 

Too strong. Winner of 15 of their 16 games this season, the DLSU Green Archers added one more last night as they swept the Ateneo Blue Eagles to win the school’s ninth UAAP title.

Big Ben Mbala and Jeron Teng were unstoppable. The regular season MVP Mbala and the Finals MVP Teng combined for 46 points in Game 2 to win, 79-72.

I watched the last three quarters and Mbala doesn’t play college ball — he’s a pro-caliber star. Standing 6-foot-8, two moments stood out tallest. As seconds ticked to end the 2nd quarter, a charging Ateneo player drove down the lane.. only for his shot to be blocked (no make that, hammered) by Mbala. On the play-of-the-game and with 4:13 left in the 4th, Teng drove for a layup, missed the shot as Mbala, with both muscular arms outstretched, slammed the ball for an alley-hoop dunk.

Rosberg quits

Days after he was crowned F1 champion, Nico Rosberg called it quits. Shocking! For the Mercedes-Benz team managers, just when they experienced the high of a one-two (Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton) sweep, it’s a brisk goodbye. It’s like Leonardo de Caprio bagging an Oscar then saying adios. Or Adele topping the Billboards chart then never singing again. Or Bjorn Borg, age 26, walking away from tennis.

Wait, the last sentence came true. But before we talk about the Swede, let’s analyze the German’s move. Only 31, why would anyone want to retire this young?

“Lewis Hamilton lost the battle but won the war,” Kevin Eason of The Times wrote. “He dominated Nico Rosberg from karting to the ultimate in Formula 1 and when the German finally won his world championship, the strain was so great that he had to walk away from the sport.”

Rosberg admits to the overbearing pressure, saying: “It was unbelievably intense. It is indescribable the last four races. It was my championship to lose and the last race was the toughest thing I have ever done – except from watching my wife suffer through the birth of our daughter. That was a whole another level!”

He’s also reached the Mt. Summit of motor-racing and, once you ascend the world’s tallest peak, there’s nothing higher to climb.

“Since I was six years old when I started out the dream was very clear – that was becoming a Formula 1 world champion. That is what I pursued all along, and it is mission accomplished for me. I’ve done it,” Rosberg said. “It is a dream come true – and now I move on to other things. Let’s see what the future holds – I will follow my heart.”

Rosberg is not the first athlete to retire young and at his peak. Magic Johnson was 32 when he left the NBA. His, of course, was a different story as he was diagnosed with HIV. Rocky Marciano was another. After winning 49 of 49 fights (with 43 knockouts), he stopped at the age of 32. Sadly, 13 years later, he died from a plane crash. Isiah Thomas also quit at 32 after leading the Detroit Pistons to NBA crowns. Yao Ming, plagued with injury, quit at 30. But to me the most bizarre was Bjorn Borg’s stoppage at 26. Imagine how many more majors he would have added (to his 11) had he played for, say, 10 more years. He’d handily be the greatest netter in history.

With Rosberg, I’m sure he’ll be back. After the gloss of the F1 trophy has faded and his competitive juices start revving his heart and blood stream, he’ll return. This time, for sure, not paired with Lewis.

Green and blue clash in UAAP 79

No rivalry in Philippine sports rivals the confrontation between La Salle and Ateneo.

In academics, they wage mental warfare. In business, one school brags that Danding Cojuangco started kindergarted in 1940 and finished high school in a green-colored campus; the other school boasts of Manny Pangilinan graduating cum laude (Economics). In the halls of power, Michael Dino and Bong Go finished management courses from DLSU while Carlos Dominguez III and Silvestre Bello III received diplomas whose leather covers are colored blue. But above all, the tug-of-war is best exemplified in the arena called sports.

Yesterday at 3:30 p.m., the dream finale that both campuses envisioned became real. (I did not have time to write this piece chronicling Game 1 but will focus on their history.)

The first La Salle-Ateneo skirmish happened in 1939. In the final of the NCAA men’s championship, La Salle won, 27-23. Yes, no wrong typing there; the score in that contest 77 years ago was that low. Since then, the duel has flourished.

Since 1939, the two schools have taken turns winning. The next time they met in the NCAA finals was in 1958; on this occasion, the game was high scoring (105-103) with Ateneo claiming victory. In 1974 (the last time they’ll meet in the NCAA Finals), it was La Salle’s turn, 90-80.

When the battle shifted to the UAAP, they met four times in the championship. In 1988, ADMU bested DLSU in only one game because they held the twice-to-beat advantage. Three years later, La Salle recovered the trophy, winning the Game 3 decider, 93-88. The following year (2002), it was another third-game thriller but with Ateneo victorious, 77-70. And finally, in 2008, it was a clean two-game sweep as the Chris Tiu-led Blue Eagles (with Rabeh Al-Hissaini, Nonoy Baclao and Ryan Buenafe) won with Norman Black as head coach. It would be the start of an incredible five-year winning streak for the Blue Eagles.

The next year, in 2013, who would dethrone the champs to claim bragging rights? Who else but the Green Archers. In all, both squads have won eight UAAP men’s collegiate basketball crowns. How closer can this rivalry get?

With the 2016 season, La Salle dominated. Led by the MVP (and former Cebu cager) Ben Mbala, the green team were unbeatable. In the first round, they not only demolished all their opponents but embarrassed the blue squad, 97-81. That was in Oct. 2. Then, it looked like La Salle was en route to a clean sweep of the eliminations… before one team slapped their daydream and woke them up. It was, of course, Ateneo who scored the lone upset (83-71).

Who’s favored to win the trophy? Ateneo has the momentum. They won the last time they met and have won their last six elimination games and, including the escape over FEU last Wednesday, they’ve won six of their last seven. Plus, maybe the Archers are rusty after a 10-day gap before yesterday’s Game 1.

La Salle? Heavy favorites. Prior to the Final Four, they finished with a 13-1 slate. Ben Mbala is unstoppable, playing with these regular-season averages: 20.6 PPG, 16 RPG and 2.4 BPG — all first in the league. When you study the team statistics, La Salle leads in all but one of the nine departments, including points per game (88.1 average) and rebounds (52.3 per game).

My pick? It’s hard to bet against the university located along Taft Avenue. Plus, I’m biased. I studied eight years in La Salle Bacolod and suited the green jersey as we won the city-wide elementary title. Also, my uncle Rey Pages, my dad’s younger brother, played for the Green Archers in the 1970s before he turned pro with Crispa and Utex.

My head (analysis) and history (past schooling) go with La Salle. But times have changed… since our only child Jana Marie has enrolled in the campus along Katipunan Avenue, my green mind has turned blue-blooded.

The return of golf’s almost-greatest

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tiger, who? It’s funny how, back in 2008 after Eldrick Tont Woods won his 14th major crown at the U.S. Open in Torrey Pines, the sporting world was sure that he’d break the all-time record of Jack Nicklaus.

Nobody saw his demise. Nobody saw that club-smashing wallop from Elin. Nobody predicted, eight years forward as he returns to competitive golf after a 15-month absence, that Tiger Woods is forgotten, balding, winless in 40 months, irrelevant.

Today at the Hero World Challenge tournament in the Bahamas, TW returns to swing his TaylorMade M2 driver and to caress that Bridgestone ball using his Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter. Tiger’s back. But he’s not supposed to join. Ranked a lowly 898th in the world (if my research is correct, our top-ranked Pinoy golfer Miguel Tabuena sits at 156), Tiger is playing in a field who’s lowest ranked player is No. 38. And when he last joined two years ago, guess how he placed? Last place. But, hey, he’s Tiger Woods — and so he’s playing.

How bad are Tiger’s injuries? Hobbled by a back injury that required two operations, he hasn’t competed since August last year. Prior to that, his physical maladies were unfathomable. Here are excerpts of a piece I wrote entitled, “Tiger Woods, diagnosed by Dr. Tony San Juan:”

“Golf isn’t like MMA. It’s not like football or basketball where injuries abound. It’s not Pacquiao punching Bradley. Golf is a gentleman’s game. It’s a sport of leisurely walks, effortless 9-iron swings, soft putts, gingerly handshakes. Golf is not a sport of injuries. That’s what I thought. But Tiger Woods has suffered repeated injuries. Consider these afflictions: Surgery on left knee to remove fluid inside and outside the ACL. Arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage damage. Two stress fractures of the left tibia. Surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee by using a tendon from his right thigh. MCL sprain. Lower back spasms. And, just last March 31, surgery for a pinched nerve.”

That article was dated April 2014. After that, Tiger’s physical woes did not improve. When asked if the possibility of retirement loomed, he said recently: “Not being able to get out of bed, not being able to move, how can I expect to come out here and swing a golf club at 120 miles an hour and be ballistic when I can’t even get out of bed? So, yeah, there was a lot of trepidation and times where I thought… was it realistic?”

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JACK NICKLAUS. Yesterday, Nicklaus was interviewed by BBC Sport and asked about Tiger’s comeback.

Ever the optimist, he believes that Tiger has at least 10 more years of competitive golf ahead of him. What’s troubling Tiger, he was asked, apart from his injuries?

“That probably is the five inches between his ears that is the part that he’s having trouble with,” Nicklaus said. “(Tiger) has got to re-evaluate… and find out what’s going to happen to him and how can he mentally get himself back into the idea of playing golf again.”

Golf is mental. Most of sport is mental. But golf is the most mentally-challenging of ballgames. Steve Elkington once said, “The mind is your greatest weapon. It’s the greatest club in your bag. It’s also your Achilles’ heel.”

How about the possibility of Tiger breaking Jack’s record? Nicklaus won his 18th major at the age of 46. (He won his 16th and 17th at 40 years old.) Tiger turns 41 on Dec. 30 and he has amassed 14. Can he win five more at this late stage to surpass The Golden Bear? The two-letter answer is No. If he does triumph in one more major or accumulates a few more, it will be akin to Donald Trump’s improbable upset over Hillary. But if there’s one human being who can do it, it’s TW.

“I don’t think anything is safe,” Nicklaus said, of his record. But first, the 76-year-old Nicklaus said, he’s got to prove it.

“I think Tiger has got the physical and the mental ability to be able to handle that but then he has got to go out and do it,” he said. “We’ll see. I wish him well.”

A sportsman who is unsportsmanlike

And the winner is… ?

Lewis Hamilton. Yes, the 31-year-old British Formula One rider won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race last Sunday. It was his fourth straight pole-to-win triumph (including Texas, Mexico City and Sao Paulo) and he amassed 10 victories this 2016.

So, Lewis Hamilton is the champion, right? Wrong. To me, he’s a selfish, me-alone person who’s engrossed only with himself.

Here’s the story: Nico Rosberg and Hamilton are teammates in the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team. In the March 20 until November 27 season, there are 11 Formula One teams. How many members are allowed per squad?

Only two. And these teammates are expected to be friends, partners and should collaborate, right? No. In fact, if you secretly ask Lewis who he despises the most, chances are he’ll whisper the name of someone who’s just five months younger than him and someone with whome he’s raced with in go-karting since they were teenagers. That’s Nico. On paper, Hamilton and Rosberg are allies under Mercedes; in reality, they’re villains.

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The 2016 Formula One season has 21 races. Entering the last event in Abu Dhabi, Rosberg was leading his teammate by a measly 12 points. The only way for Hamilton to win this third consecutive F1 World Champion title was to finish first (and get 25 points) and for Rosberg to finish in fourth place or worse.

I don’t have space to elaborate on the blow-by-blow drama that I saw on TV two nights ago but here’s the summary: Towards the end, Hamilton purposely slowed down not because he wanted the second-place running Rosberg to overtake him, but to draw Seb Vettel, Max Verstappen and the others closer with the hope that they’d overtake Rosberg so he’ll drop to fourth place. It wasn’t meant to be.

Rosberg, criticized in the past for being a perennial runner-up to Hamilton and for succumbing to pressure and losing, placed 2nd. In the end, Hamilton won the fight but Rosberg won the war.

“It was a tricky situation at the end with Lewis playing dirty tricks,” Vettel said over the radio as he finished third.

During the race, Hamilton was repeatedly instructed to speed up. Instead, he slowed down to defy team orders — including a final-lap dilly-dallying move where he was 9-seconds-slower (than his pole lap).

“Right now, I’m losing the world championship,” Hamilton said. “So I’m not bothered if I’m going to lose the race.”

Now, I understand this is sport. It’s a winner-take-all arena where all the accolades never go to the “first loser.” As Bobby Unser, another race car driver, once said: “Nobody remembers who finished second but the guy who finished second.”

And the ultra-competitive 3-time world champ that he is, losing does not run in Hamilton’s blood-thirsty veins. And this is F1, a venue that has witnessed countless dirty antics played since its first season in 1950.

Still, what an act of defiance. Even the Mercedes chief Toto Wolff was disappointed.

“I need to form an opinion, which I haven’t yet,” Wolff said. “Undermining a structure in public means you are putting yourself before the team.”

Hamiton’s actions were ugly. Yet, despite his colleague’s self-centered actions, what did the new 2016 world champ say after?

“You can understand the team’s perspective, and you can understand Lewis’s perspective — so that’s it,” Rosberg said, ending the controversy and refusing to say bad things about Hamilton. What a classy act, Nico.

Reminds me of someone who watched live the Abu Dhabi race last Sunday.

That’s Roger Federer. Of all the great athletes that have sweated on this planet, Roger would rank high up in the “Best and Most Humble Sportsman” award. (The 35-year-old was voted by his colleagues to receive the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for a 12th time!)

One of my all-time favorite quotes — and one that I hope Lewis Hamilton will heed — were these words uttered by Roger: “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.”

NBA Power Rankings: Who’s on top?

If you think the two finalists from last season — the Cavs and Warriors — are tops after three weeks, you’re slightly wrong. Cleveland, no thanks to LeBron sitting out in their defeat to Indiana, lost twice and won 10 times. Golden State sports a similar record. Impressive.

But not as remarkable as the Los Angeles Clippers. Is the team owned by billionaire Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO, for real? En route to their 11-2 record, they obliterated the Trailblazers, 111-80, humiliated the Spurs by 24 points and against the hapless Kings yesterday, the Sacramento squad was hopeless.

Wrapping up Week 4 of the season’s 82 weeks, it’s the Clippers at the No. 1 spot followed jointly by Kevin Durant’s team and Kyrie Irving’s group. Sitting in No. 4 is the Spurs, winner of their last five and sporting a 10-3 scorecard. Fifth spot is handed to the Atlanta Hawks (9-3). No surprises in the Top 5.

With the Clippers, you may ask, what’s different and better this season, other than the triumvirate excellence of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan? The addition of Marreese Speights. Wrote Andrew Sharp and Rohan Nadkarni for SI.com: “Mo Buckets is a solid 98% responsible for the Clippers’ hot start. Who else can give you such a perfect combination of mean mugs and line-drive threes off the bench? … Seriously, I have no clue why Golden State let Speights walk, especially considering he signed for the minimum.”

As hot as the Clippers are, we know that they are less glittery and popular compared to the other Los Angeles squad. This belongs to the “over-performing” Lakers.

Who’d have expected that the Lakers would win three of their first four games, including a 20-point drubbing of their California neighbors, the Warriors? While they lost yesterday to the Spurs (mainly because D’Angelo Russell, with his 16.8 PPG average, was out with a sore knee), the Lakers are still carrying a surprising 7-win, 6-loss clip.

Kudos to our Filipino-American star Jordan Clarkson. The 6-foot-5 guard whose mom Annette is half-Filipina is averaging 15 points per game. Without Kobe Bryant in the spotlight, this youthful team has blossomed.

“We’ve kind of moved on,” Clarkson said of the post-Kobe era. “It’s almost like breaking up with your girlfriend. It’s kind of weird without them around and stuff. But it’s just us. We’re in our own space now. We’re creating something new.”

DEROZAN. Moving to the individual statistics, who have performed best?

For points, it’s the Raptors’ shooting guard DeMar DeRozan with 33.3 PPG, followed by Russell Westbrook (31.8) and Anthony Davis (30.5).

With DeRozan, what’s fascinating is that he’s accumulating points (including two 40-point games) minus the use of 3-pointers. Beyond the arc, he’s only made six shots in 11 games! So unlike last year’s top-scorer, Mr. Curry.

“I don’t shoot 3s because I choose not to shoot 3s,” DeRozan said. “If I shoot them, I know I can make them. I feel like every time I get the ball I can get to the rim or I can get fouled. That’s just what my mindset is.”

Paul Flannery of SBNation.com added: “DeRozan is one of my favorite players because he’s A) a really nice guy and B) he makes everyone so damn mad with his style of play. It’s like they take it personally when he pulls up from mid-range. How dare he!”

With Anthony Davis, while his Pelicans are the second-to-the-lowest team in the West (3-10), he’s tops with 2.91 blocks per game. And while you’d consider Russell Westbrook as a ball hogger and selfish I-can-do-it-all player, his 31.8 PPG average is complemented by a league second-best in assists, 9.8 APG. Not bad, especially after somebody said this of him earlier this week: “I am truly a fan of his. If you can ever say – being as we’re so many years apart – that when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball, the way I played the game of basketball.”

The man complimenting Westbrook? Michael Jordan.

Like Duterte and Trump, change in tennis

As shocking as incoming Pres. Donald John Trump’s victory yesterday is this fact in men’s tennis: Roger Federer is out of the Top 10 — the first time it’s happened since 2002.

R. Federer is acknowledged as history’s greatest men’s tennis player. He’s won 17 grand slam singles trophies, ranked world No.1 for a record 302 weeks, has pocketed $100 million in prize money and, on a personal note, is such a sharpshooter that he is the father to two sets of twins with wife Mirka (Myla Rose and Charlene Riva then two boys named Leo and Lennart).

Federer is ranked 16. That’s astonishingly low. Same with Rafael Nadal, the 14-major winner, who’s ranked eighth. For those who follow the sport, the Swiss and the Spaniard ruled tennis for 211 nonstop weeks from July 2005 to August 2009 — the duo taking turns at the No. 1 spot.

Federer is out; so is Nadal. Same with the 29-year-old from Belgrade, Serbia named Novak Djokovic. While we had grown accustomed to one of the Big Three standing at Tennis’ Mt. Everest, now they’ve been supplanted. For the first time since Feb. 1, 2004 — that’s 666 weeks — not Roger nor Rafa nor Novak is No.1.

It’s Andy Murray. Thanks to an incredible run — seven trophies in eight finals out of nine tournaments — Murray has overtaken his childhood friend Djokovic. This is shocking. First, because of Novak’s collapse. After he won the year’s first two majors — the Australian and French Opens — his game collapsed, losing both Wimbledon and the Olympics.

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For Novak, who’s been so consistent the past years, this might be a case of “What more can I achieve?” After the career grand slam (in Paris), he may have lost his invincibility and motivation.

With Murray, the combination of Djokovic’s defeats and his triumphs have elevated the Scot. How elusive is that top spot? Since 1973 when the ATP rankings were developed, the 29-year-old has become only the 26th player to achieve that feat.

“To get to No. 1 isn’t about today, but it’s about 12 months of tournaments to get to this stage,” Murray said last week.

The No. 1 ranking has been Murray’s ultimate goal. He’s been No. 2 and hovered among the top four since August 2009. You can say he’s been the perrenial groomsman, winning only three grand slam titles after being in the finals 11 times. (This, too, is a double family celebration because his brother, Jamie, held the top spot in doubles earlier this year.)

But Murray can’t rest for more long. This Sunday, the year-ending Top 8-only event commences and if Djokovic goes undefeated, he’ll reclaim the top ranking.

“It might only be for one week, so I might as well try and enjoy it,” Murray said, “because I could lose it at the (ATP World) Tour Finals and never be there again.”

KERBER. On the women’s side, there’s a similar transformation. Serena Williams has been dislodged as the top female netter. In Wimbledon last July, Ms. Williams won her 22nd singles major— tying her with Steffi Graf for the most majors in the Open Era.

But like her co-No. 1 Djokovic, after that accomplishment, her game dipped. She lost in the Olympics and the in U.S. Open. Already 35 years of age, Serena has suffered knee and shoulder problems and decided to rest after New York. Two weeks ago at the WTA Championships in Singapore, she skipped the year-ending tourney.

Angelique Kerber is tennis’ new No. 1. And what a 2016. She reached the finals at the Olympics, in Wimbledon, and in Singapore last month and won the three majors of the year: in Melbourne, Paris, and New York. Ms. Kerber, a muscular and ultra-fit left-hander, hails from the same country as the wife of Andre Agassi.

“For sure, when I was growing up, Steffi was my idol,” Kerber said, “and this is also special that she is German.”

Talking about change, like our Pres. Rodrigo Duterte and the newly-crowned Mr. Trump for the nation that Duterte despises, tennis has its own change-has-come version: Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber.

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SuperMan Pacquiao

Scanning the headline news just five hours after Manny Pacquiao’s victory, you’d think it was somebody else the Philippine senator faced on Saturday night. Of the two dozen articles that emerged from Philboxing.com, at least 10 of them plastered the words “Floyd Mayweather.” Sporting a 49-0 record that has matched the great Rocky Marciano’s spotless number, is there any boxing fan who believes that Mayweather won’t emerge out of retirement and target Fifty-Oh? Why would he salivate at ringside if not to pique our interest and titilate the bloggers with his comeback?

“Not bad,” said Mayweather post-fight, flashing a thumbs-up on the Pinoy’s performance.

Who gave Floyd tickets? “I invited him to be here tonight,” Pacquiao admitted, smiling and waving a fist at the American just moments before the bout as if to tease him and say, “Watch me.”

Will he or will he not do PacMay 2? This question is as unpredictable as that organ which serves as the center of the nervous system called Mayweather’s brain. As brash and loudmouth as he is, he’s reclusive; only he knows which gambit he’ll conjure. But forget Mayweather (who’ll turn 40 this February) because this fact is undeniable: Pacquiao is still our real-life superhero named SuperManny.

“His speed surprised me at the beginning, and that knockdown woke me up,” Jessie Vargas said. “He has tremendous speed, and sometimes you get caught with those quick shots you don’t see and it knocks you down.”

Haven’t we heard those words uttered by MP’s swollen-faced, battered and defaced opponents right after their skirmish? Think about these facts: Pacquiao will turn 38 on Dec. 17. He has five children. He is the playing coach of the PBA team Mahindra Floodbusters. Professionally in boxing, starting with his first bout against Edmund Inting Ignacio in Jan. 22, 1995, he has climbed the square arena, been punched in the jaw and abdomen and nose 1,001 times — and 22 years after his pro debut, he’s still the same restless, energetic and indefatigable human being.

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(Isaac Brekken/AP)

“I thought Manny performed extraordinarily well,” Arum said. “When he’s moving and punching like that, disappears around a guy and comes out on the other side throwing punches — that’s great craftsmanship.”

Watching from the beautiful home of Mario and Emma Siao and together with our close friends from the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP), the man we saw two mornings ago was possessed.

In the 11th and 12th rounds, when Vargas’ long legs wobbled and his smile turned sour and his shoulders dropped, Pacquiao was the same spitfire that he was in Round 1. He didn’t tire (he never does, not in the dozen or so times that I recall). It was the youthful champ 10 years his junior who got tired. Pacquiao’s footwork, dancing and hopping endlessly with those brick-wall legs; his head, weaving and bobbing like an unhitabble target; his arms, protecting that face and insulating that chest while pummeling and jabbing.

Who wants to see this guy retire? Not me. While we all believed his “I’ll retire once I’m a senator” talk and wished that he’d quit this game called the “Sweet Science,” now I’m convinced otherwise.

Who else will entertain us? Anyway, we know that there’s no better juggler than Pacquiao. Remember his old sinful days, when he’d gamble and womanize at night, sweat in the morning at the gym, pet his fighting cocks at 3 p.m., sing the Karaoke before dinner, play basketball, court Ara, shoot billiards, flick his wrist at darts and sign documents as Sarangani congressman?

Manny is a multi-tasker and he can jockey the work as One of the 24 and as Welterweight Number One.

“He was really busy with the senate and all of that, but he was training really hard every day,” Freddie Roach said. “We are going to have to get used to this because he’s going to be a senator for the next six years and he’s not done fighting yet.”