Tri-city marathon of Cebu

Back in the 1990s, the most celebrated footrace of our province was called the “Tri-city Marathon.” Though it wasn’t officially a marathon (whose strict definition involves a distance of 42.195 kms.), it was the most looked-forward-to and exciting race of its time.

Foreigners landed in Mactan to join. The elite long-distance stars from Manila arrived to compete in the 32K. Ordinary folks dressed to impress while wearing sneakers. Organized by Joy Augustus Young, then (and now) Cebu City Councilor, it was festive and encouraged the participants to dress in loud, colorful and fun costumes. It was a mardi gras and run merged into one carnival.

Come January 8, 2017, we hope to revive this “Tri-City Marathon” with our very own Cebu Marathon. Why tri-city? Because it will involve the three largest cities of our island: Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu.

The Cebu Marathon had always started and finished at the Cebu I.T. Park. Back in 2008 when it was the Sinulog Half-Marathon, runners started their trek and finished all-sweating in Lahug. Ten years later — for the 2017 version — we’re still in the Ayala-owned property but this time it’s at the Cebu Business Park (CBP). The space inside the Cebu I.T. Park is congested with high-rise buildings and restaurants. There’s no more room for a marathon event there. The new start/finish area will be along the Negros and Bantayan roads of CBP, near the gleaming and tall MSY Building.

MARCELO FERNAN BRIDGE. For the 21K and 42K participants, it will be a brand-new route. The half-marathoners will depart CBP and run towards the Mabolo Church and turn left at the SM City Cebu. From there, it’s a nonstop path along Ouano Avenue and Jose Briones St. until you turn right at the U.N. Avenue before climbing the bridge, descending into Mactan, and making a U-turn and running back to CBP. It’s an out-and-back 21K course.

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21K Route

With the 42K, we’ll ask the runners to meander along the main Cebu City streets first — to view the Sinulog lights and sights — before heading towards Mandaue and Mactan.

Why the change of route when the Cebu Marathon had always traversed the SRP and Talisay City? Well, as the slogan “Change is coming” is propagated all over our 7,107 islands, this event might as well join the mantra. Second: the smell. The headlines scream about the foul odor near the SRP and Talisay portions and we wouldn’t want our international visitors to inhale this air while huffing and puffing. The sport of running is difficult enough; imagine the extra suffering by breathing the foul smell? Most of all, the Marcelo Fernan Bridge is a symbol of Cebu; and what better destination to surmount and climb.

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42K Route

Since the Cebu Marathon falls under the Sinulog week, the usual loud music and drum-beaters and entertainment will uplift the runners. There will be at least 14 hydration stations for the marathon — complete with Gatorade drinks and Nature’s Spring water.

Registration starts today! Just visit the website www.cebumarathon.net and you’ll have your choices of four categories: 5K, 10K, 21K and 42K. For those who want to register in person, the onsite registration will commence on Oct. 10 at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu.

RUNRIO. For the thousands who joined the Milo Marathon race last Sunday, it was another very well-organized event. I ran alongside our Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC) president Steve Ferraren and, in terms of safety, hydration, entertainment and overall management, there is no better organizer of foot races in the Philippines than Rio de la Cruz. The RunRio team — who also organize the Condura Marathon and the Run United Trilogy, among others — is a big group of professionals that include Franco Bambico, JP Aranda, Rommel and Allan Balester and many more.

And, like the 14 or so Milo races all over the country, RunRio is once again helping organize the Cebu Marathon. In partnership with the CERC, which founded this event a decade ago, RunRio will put their experience and expertise to good use come January 8.

Peping and Buddy

I agree with Michael Jerome Limpag, our SunStar Cebu sports editor, in his piece last Friday, “It’s time for change, replace Peping in POC.”

Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. turned 82 years old last Tuesday. It’s time for him to relinquish his throne and turn-over the baton to somebody else.

It’s funny how people want to cling to power forever. Isn’t this being selfish? Instead of thinking of one’s self, isn’t the greater good — Philippine sports — more important than a solitary person’s quest to hang on for life… like Peping’s mission atop the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC)?

Peping hasn’t even accomplished much. It’s not like our 100-million-strong nation has produced gold medalists. If not for the silver medal achieved by Hidilyn Diaz last month, we were zero for zero in Sydney, in Athens, in Beijing and in London.

He has been POC president since 1994. It’s been a dozen years of despondent Olympic success and he wants another term?

The same I-want-to-cling-to-power scenario is happening in tennis.

Salvador “Buddy” Andrada, one of Peping’s closest buddies and who’s nearly the same age, also wants to return to head the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta). Andrada headed Philta from 1986 to 2006. That’s 20 very, very, very, very long years. He eventually stepped down as president of Philta and later because a commissioner at the Philippine Sports Commission.

Now 81, Andrada wants to return as Philta president.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but praises and love and respect for those who are older. My Lola Bebe Alcoseba is turning 96 next month and we still text each other and she still sports that infectious smile and laugh. Same with my dad’s mom, my lola Bing Pages, now 93. The grandma of my wife Jasmin (Corazon Gayanilo) is 105 years old! And I love them.

But, like the saying goes, there is a time for everything. And clinging on to power forever is unwise and awful.

With tennis, here’s what happened: It started last July when Edwin Olivarez, busy with his concurrent duties as mayor of Paranaque, asked to step down as Philta top honcho. Now, like in any organization, once a president steps down — and as stipulated in the Philta rules — the Vice-President takes over.

The VP is Randy Villanueva — the most active of tennis practitioners. (Randy heads the Davis Cup team as administrator and brought the Davis Cup sorties to Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu five times.)

But, no, like Peping, Mr. Andrada wouldn’t allow the 41-year-old Randy Villanueva to head Philta. Andrada supposedly called for a “special board meeting,” unanticipated to several board members, and had himself voted as president. It was a slick, dexterous and ludicrous move.

Here’s a funny but true story. Back in 1986, I was a newbie in tennis and I flew from Cebu to Manila to join my first tournament at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center. The Philta president then, when I was a 14-year-old? Buddy Andrada. Fast forward to today, I have a beautiful and bright 17-year-old daughter named Jana who joins national tournaments in Manila. The person who still wants to head Philta.. 30 years later? Same guy.

My guess is that Peping must have called his buddy to return to Philta so the latter can vote for him anew in the POC elections this November. (The National Sports Association or NSA heads vote for the POC president.)

Prior to our country’s presidential elections, wasn’t this country’s mantra: “Change is coming?” We have a new president. Manny Pacquiao is now a senator and brilliantly asks simple yet sharp questions. Win Gatchalian is in; so is Risa Hontiveros.

With Philippine tennis, three weeks ago I attended the first-ever Philippine Tennis Summit.

Jean Henri Lhuillier, the largest benefactor for tennis in the country and a Class A netter himself, was in attendance. So was Bobby Castro, the CEO of Palawan Pawnshop, which sponsors dozens of tournaments around the archipelago. Coaches, parents, sponsors (of all the major sporting brands), champions (like Christine Patrimonio) were all in attendance. Randy Villanueva presented a new vision for Philippine tennis that got the hundred or so in attendance very excited.

As for Peping and Buddy? It’s time to rest, go on vacation, spend time with their grandchildren, take hour-long naps and surrender their selfish desires to new sports blood.

Change isn’t coming. Change is here.

Who’s happier: the silver or bronze medalist?

The above question sounds preposterous. Of course, you’d say, second is much better than third! Well, that’s true. But as to who’s “happier,” the answer might surprise you.

During the Rio Olympics, plenty of post-race footages were snapped and, obviously, the gold medalist grinned the widest smile; but when they examined the faces of the 2nd and 3rd placers, oftentimes the one who took bronze beamed a more jubilant face.

“Winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games brings glory, but a bronze makes people happier,” wrote Stefan Klein in “The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy and What We Can Do to Get Happier.”

Mr. Klein continued: “While the runners-up imagine themselves on the top step and are upset, having missed their goal by a few tenths of a second, the bronze medal winners feel terrific, as the social psychologist Victoria Medcec discovered at the Barcelona games in 1992. Those in third place were happy that they won a medal at all and made it into the record books, whereas the silver winners were mainly aware of what they’d just missed.”

Makes sense? Yes. Back in 1995, a study was conducted by the psychologists Victoria Medvec and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University and Scott Madey of the University of Toledo. They asked their students to evaluate video footages of athletes who joined the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

From a score of 1-to-10 (“1” being “agony” and “10” being “ecstatic”), the students ranked the happiness level that they perceived the winning athletes scored. The result? Those who won silver scored 4.8 while those who got bronze scored 7.1.

Stunning result! Isn’t this why they often refer to the 2nd placer as “the first loser?” Based on psychology — a topic that I relish and enjoy reading a lot about — the term is called “counterfactual thinking.” In simple words, it means that people compare their achievements to “what might have been.”

A silver medalist thinks… sayang, I missed being No. 1. A bronze medalist realizes.. salamat, I won a medal!

This happened in the 100-meter race in Brazil. After crossing the finish line first, Usain Bolt exhibited the happiest of smiles. He then uncorked his “Lightning Bolt” pose. The third placer Andre de Grasse looked equally overjoyed. The sad one? Justin Gatlin, silver medalist.

William James, the philosopher, wrote these words in 1892 and they still hold true today: “So we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn’t do that nothing else counts.”

In Rio, this also happened in golf between Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. All the way to the 18th hole, Rose and Stenson were tied. But when Rose birdied the final hole to triumph, Stenson was downtrodden. He lost, Rose won Olympic gold and Kuchar celebrated his bronze.

“We are not suggesting, of course, that finishing second or coming close to a cherished outcome always leads to less satisfaction than a slightly more modest performance,” the study, led by the psychologist Medvec, continued. “Finishing second is truly a mixed blessing. Performing that well provides a number of direct benefits that increase our well-being: recognition from others, boosts to self-esteem, and so on. At the same time, it can indirectly lower satisfaction by the unfortunate contrast with what might have been.”

China has one such example: her name Fu Yuanhui. The Olympic swimmer is now world-famous not because of her achievement last month but because of her reaction after the 100-meter backstroke. Minutes after her Olympic swim — all captured in YouTube and with views exceeding a million — you can see Fu Yuanhui completely ecstatic and happy. The reason? She won bronze.

What’s the lesson for us non-Olympians and mere mortals? The meaning of success often depends on one’s expectations.

Golden boy of swimming

schooling-win(Photo: Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler)

Singapore is tiny. Based on land mass, it has an area of 719 sq. kms. — that’s one-sixth the size of Cebu province or a little over double the size of Cebu City. Singapore is diminutive — but in terms of economic prowess, it ranks third worldwide in per capita income!

In sports, because Singapore’s population is a measly 5.5 million (of which only 40 percent are permanent residents), they have not achieved as much glory as, say, Japan or South Korea. This is understandable because Japan, with its 130 million residents, is huge. Japan has accumulated 142 Olympic gold medals and 439 total Olympic medals. South Korea (population: 50+ million) is equally impressive; it has garnered 90 gold and 264 total medals in the Olympics.

Back to Singapore: Prior to the Brazil Games last month, our ASEAN neighbor had won a meager four medals: three in table tennis and one in weightlifting. Their four Olympic medals were nothing to brag about compared to the nine that our Philippines won and the six that its next-door neighbor Malaysia won (prior to Rio).

But what a difference one event makes. All it takes is 50.39 seconds to change everything. That’s because, last August 12 during the 100-meter butterfly finals, Joseph Schooling became its nation’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist.

Today in Singapore, Joseph is a national hero. If Brazil has Neymar and the U.K. has Andy Murray and Australia once boasted of Ian Thorpe (and we, obviously, have Manny Pacquiao), the Republic of Singapore has their hotshot.

What makes his achievement even more astounding were numerous things. He defeated Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever, handing the American his only loss in Rio. And his time of 50.39 was not only an Asian record but also an Olympic record.

Three days after his golden performance, he arrived in Singapore to a welcome never seen before. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took a selfie with him, saying “Usually people ask me for selfies, but today I felt so proud to ask Joseph for one!” He was exempted from the mandatory four-year military service. He received one million Singapore dollars (or P35 million) as monetary reward. 

Hundreds of fans waited for six hours at the airport last August 15 to welcome him. The TV screens at Changi Airport changed from showing flight schedules to announcing the words, “Thank you for making us proud.” Hundreds carried flags, signs and banners.

And Joseph Schooling is only 21.

Schooling was born and raised in Singapore. His amazing story started at the age of six when he was told about the story of his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg — who happens to be Singapore’s first Olympian (1948 London). Inspired by that revelation, he tells his dad Colin that he wanted to be in the Olympics.

He trained in Singapore. A life-changing moment in his life happened in 2008. That’s when the US Olympic team visited Singapore and he had an iconic picture — the then-13-year-old boy beside a shirtless, off-the-swim Michael Phelps.

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The next year, at the age of 14, he moved to the US for more extensive training. His high school: Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. (I have fond memories of that school because two Decembers ago, when I joined the Jacksonville Marathon, it was in that campus where we started and finished the 42K race.)

After Florida, the six-footer moved to the University of Texas, where he now studies college (incoming junior).

Speaking of college and prize money, there’s an NCAA ruling that prohibits their collegiate student/athletes from receiving prize money because of their amateur status. But there’s an exception for Olympic medalists: if the athlete’s country of origin rewards the prize. In this case, it’s one million (Singapore) dollars — the largest Olympic prize money offered by any nation.

Congratulations, Singapore. I can’t wait until our Philippines, an Olympic participant since 1924, wins its first Olympic gold.

Wow-rinka! Stan stuns Novak

Sep 5, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland hits a shot to Illya Marchenko of Ukraine on day eight of the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
(Source: Reuters)

In tennis, when you say “Swiss champion,” you refer to one and only one person. That’s Roger Federer. No male human being has accumulated more Grand Slam singles trophies (that’s 17 major titles) — and is as venerated and esteemed worldwide — as the Swiss Federer Express.

In summer of last year, my wife Jasmin, our daughter Jana and I had the privilege of traveling to one of the world’s richest nations that’s located at the heart of Europe. Thanks to the incredible hospitality of Fritz Strolz, we got to traverse most of Switzerland in three full-packed days.

As soon as Mr. Strolz — who’s now based in Cebu and is married to the dynamic and pretty Pearle — picked us up at the train station in Zurich (after treking by train from Milan), our activities ran non-stop.

We toured Geneva for a day and visited the IOC Museum. We ascended Mt. Rigi, watching from a distance the Swiss Alps capped with snow. We visited Lucerne and Lausanne and were able to see the headquarters of such giants as FIFA (football) and FIBA (basketball). Would you believe, a total of 45 international sporting associations house their headquarters in Switzerland.

A highlight of our Swiss trek: When I disembarked in the Tennis Club of Basel — the venue where Roger Federer practiced his backhands and volleys as a child. The club has multiple red clay courts and, inside the clubhouse, photos and memorabilia of Roger (signed by the tennis artist himself) adorned the walls.

You see, in this land famous for many things world-class — Rolex watches, Swiss chocolates, pharmaceutical companies, Swiss banks — when you mention tennis, the automatic response (much like Philippine boxing equals Manny Pacquiao) is Roger Federer.

Not yesterday. Not when RF is injured and is recuperating from a knee injury. Often relegated as the groomsman of Swiss tennis because he’s always overshadowed by the Swiss maestro, it was Stanislas Wawrinka who triumphed at the U.S. Open.

Thanks to the live, two-week-long telecast of the ABS-CBN Sports + Action HD channel 701, I arose before 6 a.m. yesterday to witness the men’s final.

How did Wawrinka defeat the almost-unbeatable world no. 1 Novak Djokovic?

First, he’s not afraid of Novak. While Roger and even Rafa Nadal seem to have a mental inferiority against Novak (of the last 12 times they’ve played, Nadal has lost 11), the same is not true with Stan. While he’s only won five of the 24 times they’ve played, those victories have come at the biggest of stages.

French Open 2016. Last year, Djokovic was set to win the only major title that has eluded him. Who stood in defiance to beat him? Wawrinka. At the 2014 Australian Open, it was Stan who not only upset Novak but also beat Nadal in the final to win his first major.

Second reason why Stan’s The Man: his backhand. That one-handed topspin is glorious. Even if he’s 12 feet behind the baseline, he can wallop that shot and hit a down-the-line winner. John McEnroe calls it “the best one-handed backhand in the game.” I agree. And so does, I’m sure, Novak.

Three: He serves big. Not a 6-foot-11 behemoth like Ivo Karlovic, this Swiss still has tremendous power, often exceeding 132-mph with his serve. In the final, he served nine aces to the six of Novak.

Four: He won the bigger points. In break point chances, Stan saved 14 of 17. That’s an incredible statistic (and Houdini-like escape) against the world’s top netter. At the opposite end, he converted on six of 10 break point chances. This contrast spelled the difference in the match. Had Novak converted on his chances.. he might have won his 13th slam.

Instead, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, a new champion was coronated in New York.

Milo Little Olympics and the Palarong Pambansa

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The world-famous brand Milo, owned by the largest food conglomerate in the world (Nestle, employing a staggering 339,00 people and grossing $91 billion a year), is sponsoring the 21st edition of the MLO.

I was there in the first meeting when the Nestle executives flew to Cebu to introduce this major sporting event for the youth. Councilor Joy Young, with Ricky Ballesteros and a host of other sporting enthusiasts (including Bidoy Aldeguer) were present. If my recollection is correct of that meeting long time ago, it was held at the Ecotech Center.

This weekend, over 4,000 girls and boys from the Visayas are gathered to compete in the elementary and high school divisions.

Milo? Yes, we know the name to be the energy drink but, after a quick research, I found out that it traces its roots from a 6th century BC wrestler named Milo of Croton. 

The encyclopedia Britannica says Milo was a “Greek athlete who was the most renowned wrestler in antiquity. His name is still proverbial for extraordinary strength.”

Milo was said to have joined six Olympic games and seven Pythian Games and won 32 times. “According to legend,” it continued, “Milo trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox. He is also said to have carried an ox on his shoulders through the stadium at Olympia.”

In this regard, Milo is literally putting its money where it’s drinking (Milo) mouth is by sponsoring these sporting events.

Two nights ago, I visited the SM Seaside City and the giant mall was the venue for multiple MLO events: gymnastics, karatedo, table tennis, chess, arnis, scrabble and taekwondo.

This is an excellent idea for several reasons. One, the comfort of the athletes and parents inside SM. Two, you’ve got seven events housed in one venue — perfect for officials and for the general public who want to watch. Three, you’ve got all the dining and recreational options after a stressful game for the athletes.

Which brings me to think: The mall can actually be an avenue not only for movies and restaurants and shopping — but also for even larger sporting events (think of the inclusion of the bowling alleys and the skating rink).

Looking ahead to the Palarong Pambansa in 2017, it’s a toss-up, I hear, between Bacolod and Cebu. I’d say the big advantage goes to the land where Lapu-Lapu killed Magellan.

First, Monico Puentevella — a major player in Philippine sports — lost in the elections for Bacolod City mayor to Bing Leonardia. Second, we last hosted the Palaro in 1994 while Bacolod hosted it in 1998. Which means that we ought to be given a slight edge for this, right?

Expect the SM Seaside City to be busy next summer if Cebu hosts the Palaro.

Brazil: spectacular victory or catastrophe?

Only 33 days remain before the August 5 to 21 contest in Rio de Janeiro that’s called the Olympics. Over 10,500 athletes representing 207 countries will be flying to Brazil for this once-every-four-years spectacle. The Olympics will feature only 28 sports — including golf and rugby sevens — with a total of 306 sets of medals.

Rio de Janeiro is the main stage with 33 venues but it’s not the only city to welcome the athletes; there will be five others, including Brasilia (the country’s capital) and Sao Paulo, the nation’s largest.

What makes Rio special? First, it’s the inaugural Summer Olympics to be held in South America. When the final decision was announced in October 2009, Rio bested three other world-renowned cities (Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid) for the prize.

Second, Brazil’s hosting means that it is organzing two of the world’s greatest tournaments one after the other. Back in 2014, the FIFA World Cup football games of 32 nations were played in 12 cities scattered around Brazil. Now, just 26 months later, it’s an even grander gymnasium: the Olympics.

Which brings me to ask this query: Is it too much-too soon for Brazil, the world’s fifth most-populated nation with 205 million residents?

Maybe. While the allure of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics just two years apart was appealing many years back, now, with so many issues involving their financial woes, the Zika and dengue virus, the political turmoil that suspended Pres. Dilma Rousseff, the security breaches, the unfinished Olympic venues — is Rio headed not for gold but for a stumble?

The problems just keep on rising. Days ago, CNN reported that human body parts were found on the shoreline fronting the Olympic Beach Volleyball Arena. The Zika virus has prompted Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to back out; this is sad because golf is making an Olympic comeback since its last showing in 1904.

Money problems? A mammoth headache. Brazil has been struggling with its worst recession since the 1930s. They rely on oil revenues and we know how this commodity’s price has plummeted. Their economy, Latin America’s largest, shrank 5.4 percent in the first quarter.

How much did the World Cup and the Olympics cost Brazil? Roughly $15 billion was spent for the WC while next month’s 16-day tournament is estimated to cost $10 billion — not including cost overruns (which, as any good builder will tell you, is sure to happen). They may have overspent. Remember Athens? They hosted the 2004 Games. Now look at Greece.

Worse, protests have sprouted. The police staged demonstrations over unpaid salaries and a banner read: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” Reports have surfaced that robberies increased by 43 percent in Rio because of the lack of security services.

Scary. This is the bad side. But, like what has happened in Beijing and in several other cities of major sporting events, at times, this negative press is exagerrated. Let’s hope this “low expectations, high aspirations” mantra of the Brazilian organizers unfolds.

As to our beloved Philippines in Rio? There’s Eric Shauwn Cray, the 27-year-old Fil-Am and SEAG gold medalist, who’s slated to hurdle the 400-meter hurdle event. In boxing, our best chance of pocketing that elusive gold medal, we have two entrants: Charly Suarez (lightweight) and Rogen Ladon (light flyweight).

We have Ian Lariba for women’s table tennis — the first time that we’ve entered a competitor for this game we call ping-pong. Kirstie Alora will fight for our nation in taekwondo. She’s entered in the formidable women’s heavyweight division. In weightlifting, our two representatives are Hidilyn Diaz (women’s -53 kg.) and Nestor Colonia (men’s -56 kg.)

Lastly, our pride and joy: Mary Joy Tabal, whom we hope will hurdle all obstacles so she can join the 42-km. race — to be held at 9:30 a.m. on August 21, the very last day of the Olympics.

We have eight athletes going to Rio. Do we add Gilas Pilinas? Let’s watch next week.

Happy Father’s Day

When I was a Grade 7 student in La Salle Bacolod, we were asked to inscribe a short message in our graduation book. My motto read: “To be like my father.”

Those five words, 32 years later, still hold true today.

Above all things, our dad Bunny has shown us — my siblings Charlie, Randy, Cheryl, Michael and I — how to love unconditionally. He spends time with us. He listens. If we have projects or concerns that need assistance, he’s there.

He’s present. And isn’t this the best present fathers can give their children? To be there always?

From as far back as I can remember, my dad was always present. During basketball or tennis games; in Sunday family dinners or birthdays — all we need to do is ask and he’d come.

My dad is generous. Both outside and especially inside, he is a good man. He is always looking at the other person’s viewpoint, not being selfish. His temperament mimics Barack Obama’s compared to Donald Trump’s. He is fair, honest and is a positive force who motivates others.

He is a lover of sports. And since I’m “obligated” to tackle this subject in these back pages, my dad Bunny has taught us to the importance of sports. To dribble; to swing that forehand; to exercise daily. I’ll never forget our trip to watch Serena Williams and Andre Agassi win the US Open. When Manny Pacquiao fought in Macau, we did the same. And ever the boxing fan, he flew to Las Vegas and witnessed the Manny vs. Money.

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person,” Jim Valvano, the late basketball coach, once said. “He believed in me.”

Dad believes in us. He believes in others.

We thank Our Father above for giving us a father like dad.

Sweep 16 for the Cavs and LeBron?

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(Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

Like Boston and LA, or Crispa versus Toyota, or the Red Sox against the Yankees in baseball, or La Salle-Ateneo, or the Spanish neighbors Barcelona and Real Madrid — we all crave for rivalries.

Are we en route to seeing another mega-clash when Cleveland meets Golden State in The Finals starting June 2? Yes. While the Game 1 shocker of OKC was an aberration that will be corrected this week, all hopes and bets point to a repeat of last year’s final.

Here’s the interesting narrative: While Golden State shattered the record of Michael Jordan & Co. by winning 73 this regular season, it’s not them but Cleveland who’s been spotless in the playoffs.

Ten-oh. Will be it 11-0 this morning when the super-confident Cavs play in Canada? I wouldn’t bet my dog Bolt against it.  All season long, we doubted the Cavs. Kyrie Irving was absent for the first 23 games, recovering from a fractured kneecap. They fired David Blatt in January — and it’s never a good omen when you terminate a head coach midway through the intramurals.

It turns out — possibly like our political scene — that change is good. Since Tyronn Lue assumed the coaching honors, the team from Ohio has become, like the Olympic motto… faster, higher, stronger. They’re obliterating the East with a winning margin of 13.4 points per game. Their 10-zero record is the third-longest ever to begin the playoffs.

One major reason, scribes have written, was because in the beginning of his stint, Lue confronted LeBron James to “STFU.” If you don’t know what that means, experiment with an expletive-laden line that begins with “Shut the…” The coach meant to set the tone early with the 4-time MVP, as if to tell him, “Hey, ‘Bron, you may be the orchestra’s star violinist, but I’m the conductor.”

With Kevin Love healthy and Kyrie’s injuries healed, the Cavaliers have transformed themselves not only as challengers but as true title-holder contenders (the latest odds by pollster Nate Silver still puts GSW on top with a 44 percent chance of winning the trophy against 30% for the Cavs).

Now 10-0, can the Cavs go all the way and win 16-0? There’s a funny story of how LeBron’s “prediction” is coming true. Six weeks ago, he was asked by ESPN if the Cavs are ready to do battle for 20 to 25 games in the playoffs.

LeBron turned to his seatmate.

“Tristan (Thompson), how many games do we need to win in the playoffs to win a championship?” James asked.

“Sixteen,” Thompson said.

“Exactly,” James told the reporter. “Sixteen.”

Ha-ha. Almost impossible to “Sweep 16” but it’s not improbable. (Just a far-fetched thought: If they win their next six, they’ll steal this record-breaking season from GSW. The best-ever playoff run belongs to the 2001 Lakers who went 15-1.)

The main question amidst all these queries is this: Can Stephen Curry stay healthy?

Everybody but the Ohioans hope so. It would be a pity if he’s hobbled and not 111 percent. Thus far, Curry has missed six of 12 playoff games. And, if the ankle injury and the MCL sprain weren’t enough, he jumped into the stands in Game 2 against OKC that resulted in a “tennis ball” knot on his right arm. Ouch.

SC’s painful response? He inflicted pain on OKC; the league’s first unanimous MVP scoring 15 points in two minutes. Curry has to stay healthy. In the same way that LeBron went solo 12 months ago when he dribbled without Love and Irving, the same thing can’t happen to GSW. To fans of both squads, the perfect scenario would be having both teams injury-free in the finals.

(If you think I’m getting ahead of myself by discounting the Thunder, yes, that’s what I’m predicting. Based on the most forecaster Nate Silver, the Warriors have a 59 percent chance of advancing to the NBA Finals.)

Back to our assumption… A Warriors-Cavaliers finale will be one of the most exciting sporting events (not limited to the NBA) this decade. With no offense meant to OKC, I hope Durant and Westbrook don’t silence Golden State’s thunder.

Will President Duterte be active in sports?

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I hope so. I think so. While the realm of sports would not even land in the Top 40 urgent things to do for our nation’s new leader, sport is important. It motivates a nation. It inspires us. It moves us — just like the Olympic motto — to go higher, faster, stronger. Are we going to witness a sports boom with the new administration?

“Mayor Duterte has always been a supporter of sports,” said his spokesman Pete Laviña. “You can expect him to be behind our athletes and their needs.”

The planet’s biggest sporting event arrives just a few months after Pres. Duterte moves to Malacañang. It’s the Rio Olympics and we hope to send a sizable contingent to Brazil.

One man that is crucial for Phil. sports is one of Duterte’s closest allies. He’s William “Butch” Ramirez. Does the name sound familiar? If you’ve followed the back sports pages, you’ve read his name before. He’s the former chairman of the nation’s highest sporting body: the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). From 2005 to 2009, under Pres. GMA, the tall and big man from Mindanao lorded over Phil. sports.

Ramirez hails from Davao and was instrumental in developing and uplifting sports in the city where Duterte stood as mayor for 22 years. In the recent elections, Ramirez was a key figure in the campaign of president-elect Digong.

Fellow writer and good friend Bill Velasco published a thorough article yesterday in the Phil. Star (“Strong sports under Duterte”). Bill expressed optimism with the new leadership.

“Duterte’s team alone is bursting with sportsmen.” wrote Bill. Apart from Butch Ramirez, he cited the former North Cotabato governor and boxing promoter Manny Piñol as one of those sports enthusiasts who backed Duterte.

“Other sportsmen with a range as diverse as a former chief executive, golf patrons, all the way down to past Ateneo Blue Eagles like Jobe Nkemakolam (a Duterte congressional candidate) each contributed mightily to the campaign in various capacities,” added Mr. Velasco. “And of course, Duterte’s running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is well known as a basketball enthusiast, and has supported other sports such as arnis at various stages of his political career. As you can see, his government will be loaded with heavy hitters from all fields of sports.”

In the legislative side, there are plenty who play and promote sports.

“At least six of the 12 incoming senators have a strong sports bent,” wrote Bill Velasco. He named Dick Gordon, who was a cheerleader in college and who promoted the idea of sports tourism when he was tourism head.

“Finishing sixth in the voting just behind Gordon is arnis patron Miguel Zubiri,” said Velasco. “Zubiri spent nine years as a congressman and senator refining and pushing the Arnis Law which was enacted by Pres. Gloria Arroyo at the end of 2010. The law rightfully made arnis the official sport and martial art of the country, and required that it be taught in all schools nationwide. One provision even mandates the changing of the PSC logo to symbolize arnis.”

Joel Villanueva was cited as being a former basketball player for UST. And, in congress, one of the key Party List winners was 1PACMAN. It is headed by Mikee Romero, the 45-year-old owner of the GlobalPort Batang Pier PBA team. Romero himself is a champion polo player.

And, of course, the most well-known Pinoy of them all, Manny Pacquiao. Now that he’s in the 24-person team of senators, expect him to stand out by focusing on sports. 

Back to the man at the very top — Pres. Digong — in an interview last February (by Snow Badua of Spin.ph), he bared a radical and consequential idea: “I-se-separate ko ‘yan. Parang dati na Department of Education, Culture and Sports, pero I am inclined to create another authority. I want sports and sports only sa opisina na yun.”

Department of Sports? Yes. Hopefully.

“Sports is something that will build the muscle of the nation,” he added. “Sports (instills) discipline. It’s part of growing a paradigm for young women or real men.”

Can Novak topple Rafa on clay?

For tennis fans, you can’t be more excited: Novak Djokovic is the undisputed world no. 1 but, when the game shifts to the slow and dusty surface, the greatest slugger in history is Rafael Nadal.

Who will triumph in their tussle this May? Three giant tournaments loom. First, this week, the smashes will boomerang at the Spanish capital and the 29-year-old Spaniard will try to stockpile his fifth Madrid Open trophy while the Serb will attempt to collect his second (after winning in 2011).

After Madrid they hop on a plane for the 2.5-hour ride to Rome for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Italian Open). Then, after these twin ATP 1000 events, all netters converge in the only Grand Slam sortie disputed on clay: the French Open.

Madrid. Rome. Paris. Ahhh, three enchanting cities.

Last year, together with Jasmin and Jana, I was fortunate to have visited Rome and Paris. While the schedule did not permit us to watch Italy’s biggest tennis party at the famed Foro Italico, we were blessed to have attended a service at St. Peter’s Square with His Holiness Pope Francis.

All over Europe, you see clay courts. Unlike in America where hard courts are predominant, it’s the dirty, sluggish, slippery and red-colored flooring that’s common in that continent.

At the French Open last year, Jana, Jasmin and I chuckled like small kids entering Disneyland. Stade Roland Garros, built in 1928, is the name of the 8.5-hectare complex that houses 20 courts, including its center stage, Court Philippe Chatrier.

We visited in the early rounds and got to see all the big names. The venue is not as humongous as the U.S. Open site in New York and you can trek from side courts to the bigger stadiums in a minute or two. This year, the French Open begins its two-week-long journey on May 22.

Question: Rafa or Novak? Their rivalry is the most prolific of any two players; they’ve challenged each other 48 times with Novak leading 25-23. In terms of Grand Slam trophies won, the Spaniard beats the Serb, 14 to 11. But when we tally their respective reigns as world no. 1, it’s Novak who leads, 193 weeks (and counting) versus 141 weeks for Rafa.

At Roland Garros, here’s where it gets interesting. Nadal has won this title a preposterous nine times (beginning in 2005 when he first joined it) while Djokovic has zero.

The 28-year-old right-hander from Belgrade who stands 6-foot-2 reached the finals in 2012 and 2014 but lost both times to Nadal. Last year, after he easily dispatched of Nadal in straight sets in the quarters, he was heavily-favored to beat Stanislas Wawrinka but lost to the Swiss in the final. That painful letdown was Djokovic’s only loss in all the Grand Slam tournaments in 2015. Which means he could have won the calendar Grand Slam (all four majors in one year) had he won RG.

That was last year. This 2016, Rafa is off to a terrific start, winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Of their expected showdown, Rafa says, “I just follow my path and I think that Djokovic follows his. I do the best to be at my top level, and I think I’m getting closer to it. I’m trying to manage it. For the moment, I’m happy with my level.”

In Madrid this week, the two won’t get to meet until they subdue all tormentors and reach the finals.

“I think Rafa is everybody’s main rival on clay courts because of his history on this surface and the results that he’s had throughout his career,” admits Djokovic. “This year, he’s already showing a much higher quality of tennis… He’s definitely the player to beat.”

Down-playing expectations. That’s a common tactic of players so they don’t add extra pressure.

My prediction? First, I’d want nothing more than multiple Rafa-Novak finals these next few weeks. And as big of a Rafa fan as I am (like Atty. Frank Malilong), I’d have to put my bet on Djokovic. He’s beaten Rafa in their last six matches (and 11 of the last 12) and he’s never won there — which makes him extremely hungry for that first Parisian croissant.

The S in SM can stand for Sports

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(Photo by Tony Pionilla/Manila Bulletin)

Did you read the news in the national papers? The SM Group plans to build a major structure in Calamba, Laguna. No, it’s not the Sy family’s usual business. It’s not a mall, cinema or grocery.

It’s a sports academy. Yes, the first of its kind in the country and SM is investing P1 billion to build a sprawling campus on a four hectare property.

I’ve had a chance on a few occasions to meet Hans Sy. He’s the fourth of six children of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Sy, who head the country’s richest family with an estimated net worth of over $14 billion.

I’ve seen Hans Sy on multiple occasions during SM mall openings in Cebu and Iloilo. I saw him in a different setting last February. It was the final weekend of the UAAP competition for tennis. My daughter Jana, representing Ateneo, was part of the collegiate meet.

The venue was the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center and Mr. Sy was invited to witness the championship matches of his family-owned National University (NU).

Since the Sy family bought majority ownership of NU in 2008, they have invested heavily in sports development. This focus has resulted into NU (founded in 1900) being a sports powerhouse. 

In basketball, the NU Bulldogs won the UAAP crown in 2014, besting FEU in its first championship in 60 years. In volleyball, the men’s squad won back-to-back trophies in 2013 and 2014. In cheerdance, they’re the three-time champions.

Tennis? The same golden result. Three months ago when Hans Sy watched, he witnessed the NU tennisters win the women’s and men’s crowns — the third straight year that NU won the two UAAP tennis divisions. The NU men’s netters were so dominant that they won their 44th straight tie — the second longest in UAAP history behind Adamson University’s 72-game winning streak in volleyball.

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Hans Sy did not stay for a mere 30 minutes. He stayed for over three hours the entire Saturday morning, clapping when the Patrominio sisters collected their singles wins and cheering for Leander Lazaro’s MVP performance. Mr. Sy joined both teams inside the tennis rectangle during the awarding.

Smiling, proud, and holding aloft the trophies, Mr. Sy has grown to enjoy taste of sports victory.

You see, the Sy family are major players not only in business but in sports. For where can we find the only ice skating rinks in the country but in SM, including our very own SM Seaside City.

Sports stadium? The country’s best today — the 16,000-seater SM MOA Arena — has hosted top international exhibitions like the UFC (Edgar vs. Faber), FIBA Asia Championships, the Intl. Premier Tennis League (Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal), among many others.

And, of course, here in Cebu, there’s the road race everyone looks forward to: the SM2SM Run. Plus, the entire Vis-Min is looking forward to the construction of the SM Seaside Arena. Finally, we will have a world-class facility to precede the 1962-founded Cebu Coliseum.

Back to that P1 billion investment in sports that’s soon to rise, here’s what Hans Sy had to say a few days ago in a press conference (from an article in The Standard written by Darwin Amojelar): “The whole study is there already. We are starting to get architects to finalize. We have foreign consultants. We want to have it international standards. In fact if we can invite even an NBA team to come over to have a training program here so we can make sure all the facilities are there.”

At first, the facilities will be for volleyball and basketball.

“I think tennis is there, too,” he said. “It comes in stages. But it’s just not really going to be sports itself. That we felt that is something we should go into because of course, we want to have sports development but at the same time, (care) about these athletes. What happens to them after their prime years. We want to be able to give them certain education.”

In behalf of the sports community, kudos to Hans and the Sy family.

Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry

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Even Hollywood, whose calls the Los Angeles Lakers as neighbor, could not have scripted a better ending.

Sixty points! 73-9!

Kobe Bryant, starting out as a lanky 17-year-old fresh off high school, played with one and only one of the NBA’s 32 teams. He’s loyal. But beyond his 100 percent allegiance to the gold-and-purple team, he’s produced numbers that will rank him among the greatest: 5-time NBA champ, 18-time All-Star, 1997 Slam Dunk winner, and 2-time Olympic gold medalist.

How about shooting 30,699 times? Yes. It’s incredible how the statisticians have kept score but they counted each one of No. 24’s shots and that’s how many he took in 20 years.

And how about that final game last Thursday morning? He rallied LA from a 15-point deficit and converted on six 3-pointers and 10 free throws. In all of sports, I don’t think there’s an ending that can rival that ending.

Of Kobe’s goodbye, the game was so in-demand that one fan reportedly paid $27,500 (P1.26 million) for a ticket. And guess how much worth of Kobe merchandise the Staples Center sold that day? $1.2 million. That’s a single-day record for any stadium in the world (besting Led Zeppelin’s $1 million at the O2 Arena in London in 2007).

Remember those moments watching Kobe, grinning ear to ear, hugging and kissing his wife, Vanessa, and daughters, Natalia Diamante and Gianna Maria? Very touching.

That was at the Staples Center. Northward, about 370 miles farther, was a game simultaneously being played at the Oracle Arena.

Which was better to watch? Steph throwing that ball almost carelessly but always finding the net, the MVP scoring 20 and six treys in the first quarter? Or Kobe scoring 23 points in the fourth quarter?

My answer: Both. I swapped channels every other minute. (But based on the TV ratings by Nielsen, the Lakers game scored more at its peak with 5.38 million viewers compared to 4.16 million for the Warriors.)

Was this the greatest day in NBA history? I think so. There are some Game 7 cliffhangers that are more thrilling — but where can you find one night (played at the same time) when the slithery Black Mamba retires with 60 and The Baby-Faced Assasin parlays an accummulated 402 three-pointers to lead the team from Oakland/San Francisco to 73 wins?

I cannot think of a day that’s more compelling and momentous. One legend retires; one team eclipses MJ and Chicago.

Speaking of the Bulls, in their 72-10 season 20 years ago, they did one thing that the Warriors have yet to achieve: win the season’s very last game. If, for some unfortunate scenario, GSW gets upset by Houston in the first round or the Clippers in the next or gets eclipsed by LeBron and the Cavs when the finals commence starting June 2, all the hoopla disappears. As high as the season unfolded, it will be recorded as a failure. And so the pressure is on; nothing less than a back-to-back trophy is needed by cast that includes Klay, Draymond and Andre.

With Mr. Curry, the overused word “Wow” is an understatement; he’s outshining the limits of greatness. As I’ve said in the past, he should win the league’s “Most Improved Player” award. This, apart from being the first in history to be a unanimous MVP.

In one word, he’s golden. Down by a percentage point (29.9 PPG average) heading towards the last game against Memphis, he scores 46 (and sat out the entire 4th quarter). The result? It pushed his regular season average to 30.1.

His jersey number? The same. Thirty. And how about the extra “1.” That’s the sign he makes, pointing a finger to the sky to acknowledge and thank God. For as the Philippians 4:13 passage that’s enscripted in his Under Armour shoe reads: “I can do all things… (through Christ who strengthens me).”

(john@pages.ph)

The state of the golden Warriors

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(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

Oh, no. Given an astronomical 85 percent chance by the oddsmakers of winning at least 73 games prior to their outing yesterday against the Boston Celtics, the Golden State Warriors lost. Now, the age-old saying, “Every game counts,” is more than consequential. It’s imperative.

GSW now stands at 68-8. The math is simple: Win the next five or six and they best the all-time record set by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in 1996. If they lose two out of six, they equal the record. Worse than that and it’s huge, huge disappointment for the defending champions.

Yesterday, when Steph Curry unleashed that 28-footer with 5.3 seconds left in the ballgame, we all believed it would land inside the hole. Wasn’t this the MVP who made six consecutive threes in the 3rd quarter?

Curry missed. He’s human. “Every one of them I think is going down,” said Curry. “But it didn’t.”

Golden State trailed most of the game. Although they converted on 20 three-point shots (imagine, that’s a total of 60 points), they committed too many errors (Curry alone made nine of the team’s 22 turnovers). Boston played well; they drove the lane often for uncontested lay-ups and played tough all throughout. They weren’t rattled, even if the Warriors had never lost at home the last 54 games (and 14 months).

The heartbreaking sequence involved Draymond Green: While he stole the ball from Amir Johnson with 30 seconds to go, in the next play (seven seconds later), it was his bad play that resulted in a steal by the same Amir Johnson.

You know the saying of marathon runners? The toughest part of the 42K is the last kilometer. It’s the same for this Californian squad. As the media questions intensify and as the world’s eyes zoom towards their history-shattering feat, the pressure rises. The opponents possess an I-have-nothing-to-lose mentality while the Warriors have everything to lose.

Six games remain and every one of those six meetings is crucial for GSW. What’s their schedule like? They play their next three at home (in Philippine time: against Portland on Monday, versus Minnesota on Wednesday, and against San Antonio on Friday) before a two-game road trip that takes them to Memphis (next Sunday) and San Antonio (next Monday) as they cap off the regular season with a final Oracle Arena game against Memphis.

The game against Portland tomorrow is all-important. Remember that the Blazers was one of a handful of teams to have defeated the Warriors. This was last Feb. 19 when GSW lost by 32 points. And, in that game, while Steph made 31, his nemesis Damian Lillard scored 51. The consolation for the Warriors: they lost that game not at home but at the Moda Center. Expect the Splash Brothers to avenge that defeat and their loss yesterday with a W tomorrow.

In GSW’s remaining six outings, we know which two are most pivotal: against the Spurs. And you know what the Warriors are hoping for? That coach Gregg Popovich will rest the starters. One player thinks this will happen.

“I think no one will play (against the Warriors),” said Tony Parker, in a recent French radio show. “To Pop, the most important thing is that the players are rested for the playoffs… We are sure we will be the second seed and we can all rest before the playoffs.”

If this happens (and given that they play four of the six at home), chances are that the Warriors will break the record. For sure, NBA fans worldwide will be glued to the internet or the TV to follow GSW’s finale.

What’s next? The playoffs, beginning April 16. For now, Steph Curry is compiling incredible numbers. One of those amazing stats is this: He’s averaging exactly 30.0 points per game. And you know his jersey number, right? What accuracy!

Here’s another inconceivable (but-who-knows-it-may-happen) theory: Curry will win a 2nd MVP award — plus the Most Improved Player trophy.

Why, Maria?

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(Photo by John Russo)

Like Manny Pacquiao, Nike ditched her. Porsche, the German sportscar maker who annointed her their first ever female ambassador, sped away and bid her goodbye. But it’s not about the money. Maria Sharapova has plenty. She is the highest-earning female athlete on this planet. On average, she pockets $30 million each year from prize money, endorsements and her myriad of businesses.

This is about humiliation. It’s about one’s name and reputation being painted red and tainted with the ugly taste of drugs. It’s also about wanting to continue playing tennis — kicking those serves, flattening those forehands and pumping those Russian-born fists inside the rectangle.

This is embarrassing. Her fellow players now wonder: In all those 10 years that Maria digested the now-banned drug called Meldonium, was she cheating on us?

Ms. Sharapova said that, in the past decade, her “family doctor” advised her to take the medicine to cure some heart-related problems (like when she broke up with Grigor Dimitrov?). But who will believe her? It now appears that dozens of champions systematically devoured meldonium. The list includes Semion Elistratov, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist in short track speed skating, and Abeba Aregawi, the 2013 world champion in the 1500-meter foot race.

“I’ve read 55 athletes have failed tests for that substance since January 1st,” said Andy Murray. “You just don’t expect high level athletes at the top of many different sports to have heart conditions. If you’re taking a prescription drug and you’re not using it for what that drug is meant for, then you don’t need it. You’re just using it for the performance enhancing benefits that drug is giving you and I don’t think that’s right.”

Andy’s right. “I’ve used protein shakes since I was 18 years old, energy gels on court, obviously sports drinks when I’m playing,” he said. “Earlier in my career I would sometimes takes vitamins. Now I don’t take any supplements. If you’re taking a prescription drug that you don’t actually need, that’s wrong.”

Agree. It’s clear that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) included this drug among those to be banned (effective Jan. 1) because it was being abused. I’m sure they conducted tests that revealed its effectiveness in increasing sports-related performance.

“Meldonium is added to the Class S4 (hormone and metabolic modulators) of the WADA Prohibited List 2016,” read the official letter of RUSADA, the anti-doping agency of Russia.

In fairness to Maria, prior to this year, her taking the substance wasn’t illegal. So why did she continue taking it during the Australian Open?

Negligence. I believe her when she says that she and her team did not properly read the literature. But given that she’s THE Maria Sharapova, the Golden Girl who employs a battalion of coaches and lawyers and PTs and more, syaro sad. What a blunder. Just last May at the French Open and during the 2014 WTA Championships in Singapore, I saw with my own eyes her team of hitting-partners and assistants and coaches. What an oversight and foulup.

Because of this “unforced error,” Maria risks being banned for the maximum four years. Ouch. Imagine, at the peak of your powers at the age of 28, being deprived of playing the sport that you love (where you’ve accummulated five Grand Slam singles titles) — for 48 long months?

Her press conference earlier this week, facing the world head-on, was a good move. Unlike the greatest swindler in the history of sports, Lance Armstrong, who camouflaged his injections and tricked all of us not to LiveStrong but to Cheat Strong, Ms. Sharapova has been fortright. Let’s hope the ban gets reduced to two years.

While waiting a return to Wimbledon in 2018, Maria can do plenty. She’ll recuperate from her nagging shoulder and leg injuries. And to alleviate the drug penalty’s bitter taste, she can savor and taste her sweet candy Sugarpova.

La Salle vs. Ateneo

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(Photo by Sherwin Vardeleon/CNN Phils.)

Like the Crispa Redmanizers and the Toyota Tamaraws of the 1970s, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics of the ‘80s, like Barcelona and Real Madrid in soccer — there’s no rivalry in Philippine sports that rivals the one between La Salle and Ateneo.

One is green; the other is blue. One holds fort at Taft Ave. in Manila while the other is along Katipunan Ave. in faraway Quezon City. And while La Salle features a Green Archer as its symbol, who better to target the bow and arrow than the Blue Eagle?

Since their first meeting as founding members of the NCAA, the two private Catholic institutions have spiked and dribbled and swam against each other since 1924. Would you believe, that’s a 92-year-long tug-of-war.

I witnessed one such clash the other Saturday. And it featured the most popular women’s sport in the country today; the one featuring lady athletes who are celebrities. Women’s volleyball. And it was the first meeting this UAAP Season 78 between the Ateneo Lady Eagles and the La Salle Lady Spikers.

The Smart Araneta Coliseum was divided into two. In one half of the Big Dome, which seats approximately 20,000, you can see one blue color. In the opposite side are cheerers all wearing green. Drum beaters from both squads exchanged firepower. It can’t get more exciting than this.

With the help of my daughter Jana, who’s a first year ADMU student and who resides in the Loyola Heights campus dormitory named Eliazo, she and her tennis varsity teammate Jana Hernandez were able to secure tickets for their parents: for me and Jasmin and for Danny and Chu Fernandez.

DLSU vs. ADMU: Who was I cheering for? Although La Salle Bacolod was my school in elementary, I have since transformed into a blue-blooded parent, thanks to our only child. And so we were seated in some of the best seats in the Ateneo corner. Before the game started, I greeted Rene Almendras, who watched wearing blue.

Ateneo was expected to win. They won last season. They won the season before. In both of those final encounters, Ateneo defeated La Salle. In all, they carried a 24-match winning streak and La Salle was supposed to be an easy victim as the Lady Eagles closed the UAAP first round.

But, no. Alyssa Valdez was off. On multiple occasions, Ateneo would miss a serve and hand La Salle a free point. While Ateneo expected a quick victory, the result was reversed.

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(Photo by Sherwin Vardeleon/CNN Phils.)

First set went to DLSU, 25-22. In the second set, things got worse. La Salle scored the first eight or so points and steamed through the set, 25-14. Finally, in the third, it was the same, 25-18, in favor of the all-jumping and ecstatic La Salle.

I can’t wait for the playoffs, when these two squads hopefully meet again in the championships.

TENNIS. But this wasn’t our only La Salle-Ateneo experience the other Saturday. Earlier that morning, in the tennis courts of Rizal Memorial when the UAAP tennis season finished with the mighty National University Bulldogs winning both the men’s and women’s titles, another duel occured.

In the fight for 2nd Runner-up in the Women’s Division (NU was champion while UST was first runner-up), the scores were tabulated and you won’t believe what transpired.

Ateneo and La Salle were locked in a bout for the trophy. It was one meeting apiece (ADMU won in their first round while DLSU won in Round 2). It was five sets won per team. When the number of sets were computed, it was 10 sets per team. Finally, down to the last figure (the number of games won per team), it was 79-79. A tie!

During the awarding ceremony at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center, it was a beautiful sight. The DLSU ladies in green on the right and the ADMU ladies in blue on the left. Archrivals standing side by side as equals. One trophy shared by two teams.

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Can Manny win our first Olympic gold?

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Ever since the Philippines competed in this once-every-four-years intramurals called the Olympics (in 1924), we have failed. By “failed,” I mean we have not triumphed at claiming the ultimate prize: the gold medal.

Onyok Velasco reached the finals of the 1996 Games in Atlanta but lost in the men’s light flyweight division. Same with Anthony Villanueva in 1964. In totality, we have accumulated two silver medals and seven bronze medals.

Will this year be different? When, finally, after 92 years of wait, Senator Manny Pacquiao will raise his General Santos-bred arms in Rio de Janeiro, applauded by over 100 million of his fellow Pinoys?

If we look back eight years ago in Beijing, the flag bearer of our nation then was Pacquiao. But he didn’t compete. Will he participate this August?

Manny Pacquiao Beijing 2008

(Getty Images)

Maybe. A massive piece of news erupted just a few days ago. For the first time in Olympic history, boxing is considering the entry of professionals.

If we examine the other sports, they all include professionals in their rosters. Take basketball. It was in 1992 when the entry of the NBA stars was allowed. That’s when the “Dream Team” was formed and Michael, Charles, Larry and Magic annihilated the competition, besting all enemies by an average margin of 44 points per game.

Today, every sport invites both amateurs and professionals to compete in the Olympics. Remember Lionel Messi representing the team in blue-and-white stripes to win the gold for Argentina in 2008? For golf, which will be reinstated in the Olympics, the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will battle on the Rio links.

The only sport that excludes pros? Boxing. And so the International Boxing Association (AIBA) has proposed a radical move to include the pros in Brazil. This ruling is not final yet. An AIBA congress will be convened in the next few months and a final decision on this matter will be conducted.

But one man is pushing for its inclusion: the AIBA president Dr. Ching Kuo Wo.

“We want the best boxers to come to the Olympics,” said Dr. Wu in a recent Phil. Star article by Quinito Henson. “It is AIBA’s 70th birthday and we want something to change, not after four years but now. It is an IOC policy to have the best athletes in the Games and of the international federations, AIBA is probably the only one without professional athletes in the Olympics.”

Granted it gets approved, no less than Dr. Ching Kuo Wo himself has offered the 37-year-old Pacquiao a wild card (direct) entry — not having to pass through the tedious qualifying process — in the main draw of the Rio Olympics.

Will he compete? Maybe. Maybe not. But if he does, there appears to be two divisions that he can choose from: light welterweight (141 lbs.) or welterweight (152 lbs.).

Olympic boxing, as we’ve observed on TV in the past editions, is vastly different from pro boxing. During the tournament proper (to run from August 6 to 21), Olympic boxing does not involve rankings or seedings. The competitors are paired off at random and it’s a knockout system. You lose and you’re out. Each fight consists of three rounds and each round has the same three minutes.

Previously, the scoring involved five judges who would hold electronic buttons and they’d press each time a boxer connects with a hit. When three out of the five press the button, a score is counted on that boxer. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins.

Not anymore. Since 2013, it’s a 10-point must system (similar to pro boxing) and the scores of three of the five judges (randomly selected by a computer) will be chosen at the end of each round. Head guards, previously a must-wear item, will no longer be used. Is MP open to competing?

“OK naman,” he said, in a GMA News interview with Mav Gonzales two days ago. “Pinag-aaralan pa kung pwede tayo (We are still studying it if it’s possible).”

Now, just imagine with me for a moment: Imagine if Manny wins next month in Las Vegas, wins in May as one of the Lucky 12, and trains to join and wins gold in Rio.

All dunks and all 3-pointers among all stars

What an NBA All-Star Weekend! First, the 3-Point Shootout. Who would have bet that it wouldn’t come down to a Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother contest? It did. Steph Curry buried 23 points in the final and, with the pressure on the sweet-shooting hands of Klay Thompson, the 6-foot-7 son of former pro Mychal Thompson did not disappoint. Klay converted 19 of 25 in the final round for a record-tying 27 points. In all, he shot a whopping 74 percent. Incredible.

The Slam Dunk Contest? Wow. Have we seen a more electrifying mano-a-mano than the one we witnessed last Sunday morning? While defending champ Zach LaVine was the favorite, nobody expected Aaron Gordon to flutter his wings, drift on air and swoop down for those monstrous slams. (In an online survey which pitted LaVine/Gordon against the 1998 rivalry between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, the oldies got clobbered: they garnered 11,000+ votes while last Saturday’s high-flying skirmish scored over 30,000.)

I don’t know about you but I thought that the 6-foot-9, 20-year-old from the Orlando Magic won. One article penned it just right: “Aaron Gordon is the greatest dunk contest loser of all time.” That sums up my sentiments, too; and my wife Jasmin’s, who sat beside me in jaw-dropping awe at his acrobatics.

Gordon scored a perfect 50. That singular dunk — sprinting to steal the ball from the green magic dragon’s spinning hand, swirling to a 360-degree turn, holding his left hand at the back of his head and slamming the ball one-handed — that lone move has to rank as one the greatest of dunks since Larry Nance won the first Slam Dunk competition in 1984. But, no. Zach LaVine matched his 50. And, after several more make-shift, on-the-spot acrobats, LaVine defeated Gordon. Too bad.

ALL-STAR GAME. Finally, Valentine’s Day in North America, it was the most awaited game — possibly other than those played in the NBA Finals.

The setting was historic: Toronto, Canada. Although it was the first-ever All-Star hosting for a city outside the U.S., this I didn’t know until yesterday: Canada invented basketball. It was Dr. James Naismith, born in Canada, who invented the game of basketball in 1891. And this you probably also didn’t know: the first NBA game (on Nov. 1, 1946) wasn’t played on U.S. soil but in Toronto. And so the 65th staging of the All-Star Game was a homecoming.

What a scoring exhibition! You thought the Slam Dunk and 3-Point Shootout contests were conducted Saturday night? No, it was Sunday night. Dunks reverberated inside the Air Canada Centre as Chris Paul lobbed balls to Anthony Davis for the slam, as Dwayne Wade flew on air for a millisecond before tossing the ball to a soaring LeBron James for a ring-destroying boom.

Fifteen-footers were disallowed. All shots had to be dunks and three-pointers. From beyond the arc, what a shooting display by these best of the world’s best. By game’s end, the East converted 20 three-pointers while the West made 31. For the West, can you imagine scoring 93 points in a game — just on 3-pointers? Curry shot six, James Harden shot seven, Chris Paul made four, Paul George made nine and Russell Westbrook coverted on seven — and these are just 3-pointers.

On Westbrook, this guy is buaya. He attempted 40 times. (By comparison, Kobe Bryant only attempted 16 shots.) Sure, Westbrook topscored with 31 — but he’s too much of a one-man act. He wanted to repeat as MVP and he got it. My choice? Although the East lost, I’d have chosen Paul George, who scored 41.

The game was so fast-paced that when I switched to the next TV channel — Solar Sports showing a replay of the Gilas vs. Kuwait game — it felt like slow-motion. The All-Star Game was fast-forward, all offense and no defense. Another statistic that’s unbelievable: The East shot only 3-of-5 from the free throw while the West made 1-of-2. Nobody was fouling; nobody wanted to get hurt. Overall, it was pure basketball entertainment. My only regret? The East not scoring 200.