Trash Talk

Basketball is as American as cheeseburgers, Donald Trump, baseball and Apple’s iPhone, right? Not exactly. Basketball is Canadian-invented.

James Naimsmith, born in Ontario, Canada in 1861, was the P.E. teacher who invented the game of basketball. Thus, it’s fitting that the NBA champions this year come from…

Canada? Why not. Out of the NBA’s 30 teams, all but one is not U.S.-based. And that one might be No. 1.

Given how the Toronto Raptors dominated the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 and given how Drake and his 37-million strong fellow Canadians are praying that Kevin Durant’s injury doesn’t completely heal this June, what seemed an impossibility is now possible.

Canada might win its first NBA title. Game 2 tomorrow is the most crucial 48 minutes of this series. If Klay and Steph combine for 70 and Draymond seeks revenge from Drake’s hurtful words and records another triple-double and Igoudala is free of his calf injury and contributes tomorrow for a Golden State win, then the basketball planets will be aligned and will rotate back to its original axis. The Warriors will win, 4-2.

But if Toronto rouses Kyle Lowry from his sleep (he only had seven points in Game 1) and Kawhi scores 35 (compared to the measly 23) and Justin Trudeau is up 2-0 versus Donald Trump, then it’s advantage Raptors.

“I don’t think we played our ‘A’ game,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr of Game 1. “I think that’s obvious.”

What we witnessed was a rusty Warriors. Maybe it was the nine-days-off from their last game (three days of which were taken off completely). Maybe it was the quickness of the Raptors. (“They definitely have a lot of speed,” said Draymond Green.) The Warriors’ 17 turnovers didn’t help.

Most of all, Durant’s presence was sorely missed, despite them previously scoring a 5-0 record without him.

More on KD’s injury: I experienced the same pain while playing basketball five years ago. I was my fellow Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) members in Bright Academy and, as I turned to sprint to the opposite court, I felt a sharp kick in my calf. Someone had kicked me! I looked around and nobody did. I hobbled. Good thing that I was able to see Dr. Tony San Juan, our top sports doctor, within hours after I writhed in pain. I had to stop running for months.

It’s been one month since Durant’s calf strain and the final outcome of this series might depend on KD’s return. (Sources have said that he’ll probably be back in time for Game 4.)

As for all this “trash talk,” the NBA and the Philippines have got something in common. While Canada’s trash — all 69 containers of garbage — were shipped back to Vancouver from Manila the other day, Drake and Draymond were having their own trash-talking. This verbal tussle did not start during the NBA Finals. It began last year when, as host of the NBA Finals, the Toronto-born Drake roasted Draymond Green’s attire when the latter won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Check out the YouTube video.

Rafael Nadal: King of Clay

(Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP)

 

Here in Cebu, majority of our tennis courts are clay courts. Unlike volleyball or golf or basketball where, anywhere you play around the world, the court surface hardly varies, in tennis, it’s different.

Grass. Hard court. Shell. Artificial turf. Clay. Tennis offers a variety of surfaces. But here in the Queen City of the South, our predominant surface is clay. The reason: clay (hardened “anapog”) is softer on our knees and you’re less prone to leg injuries.

On clay, there is one human being who is the undisputed heavyweight champion.

He turns 33 on June 3, hails from the resort island of Mallorca, and is scheduled to get married to his long-time girlfriend Xisca Perello this October.

Rafa. That simple nickname will evoke despair and anxiety among his ATP counterparts when the only Grand Slam event played on clay begins today.

The 6-foot-1, 187-lb. Spaniard owns an unbelievable 86 wins out of 88 matches at the French Open. That’s a 97.72 percent winning clip.

On his first attempt to play on Paris’ red clay back in 2005, he hoisted the trophy. Same on his second try. And on the third and fourth. Of the multiple trips that he’s ventured inside Stade Roland Garros, he’s only lost twice: to Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2016). Rafael Nadal owns 11 Roland Garros trophies.

Last week, after he won the Italian Open in Rome (Nadal’s first 2019 title), the overwhelming favorite in France is the Spaniard. But there are two others that I consider as strong contenders.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three majors (Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open). In that last slam in Melbourne, he humiliated Nadal in a quick 3-setter that lasted a mere 124 minutes. Djokovic has extra motivation in Paris: he’ll be aiming for the “Djoker Slam” — winning four straight majors.

Dominic Thiem is the third contender. At the French Open, he reached the finals last year (handily losing to Nadal) and the semis in 2016 and 2017. He has also beaten Nadal (on clay) four times.

My pick in Paris? The answer is obvious. I’ve always been a huge Rafa fan. His relentless all-out effort on court coupled with his smiling and good-natured attitude off the court makes him a global sports ambassador. Much like Roger Federer — who’ll be making a comeback after skipping the red clay for the last three years.

Rafa and Roger can meet in the semis. They’re both in the lower half of the draw together with another rising star, the Greek 6-foot-4 with the style and one-handed prowess of Federer. He’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

At the upper half of the draw are Djokovic and Thiem plus a slew of strong (and tall, both 6-foot-6) players, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.

But the Spaniard aiming for his 12th title in Paris is the odds-on choice.

“I think Rafa Nadal is the huge favourite,” said Dominic Thiem, “and then after that, there are also five, six players who can win the tournament. So it’s gonna be very interesting two weeks.”

June Mar Fajardo

Two years ago during the 35th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, I had the privilege of sitting beside Fred Uytengsu, Jr. (the Sportsman of the Year awardee) and, to my right, the country’s most famous athlete not named Manny Pacquiao.

Standing 6-foot-11, is there a larger-than-life figure than June Mar Fajardo? That afternoon in SM City Cebu, the Pinamungajan-raised sports giant was quiet and almost shy, despite all eyes and cameras transfixed to his 250-lb. large frame.

Alongside Gabriel Elorde and Mon Fernandez, June Mar ranks among the greatest of Cebuano athletes. And with his PBA records that include being a five-time MVP, talks are circulating that he can be the all-time greatest Pinoy cager.

Last Wednesday, June Mar did it again. I watched most of Game 7 of the Philippine Cup between Magnolia and San Miguel and the colossal figure was unstoppable. He scored 17 points (only) but pulled down 31 rebounds, beating the previous record of 29 rebounds set by Marcelo Simbulan in 1975. Thirty one rebounds!

The game was a thriller. Down by as much as 17 points, the Beermen looked tentative and uptight — made worse when they scored a miserly five points in the 2nd quarter.

But SMB rebounded back — thanks to the rebounds of June Mar, erasing the lead and winning when the buzzer sounded, 72-71, for a fifth straight All-Filipino crown for Ramon Ang’s team.

“All the championships are hard,” said June Mar, “but this series ranks among the hardest.”

The game was not without controversy. There appeared to be several non-calls (fouls) that went against Magnolia. I thought that June Mar’s bump against Marc Barroca was an offensive foul — which could have reversed the outcome in favor of Magnolia. Even in the last play of Jio Jalalon, it looked like he was fouled and, with a couple of free throws, would have cost SMB the win.

“(The game) went down the wire, it was anybody’s ball game,” said Rafi Reavis of Magnolia. “But we all know who got the short end of the stick.”

I sympathize with Magnolia but also understand the referees; in those last few moments of a Game 7, the natural tendency is not to blow the whistle and decide the outcome by intervening.

Controversy or not, what’s unquestionable is the supremacy of June Mar, who picked up his third Finals MVP award. What’s also indisputable is how kind and humble June Mar has remained.

Recalling a chat that I had with Atty. Gus Go many years ago, the owner of the University of Cebu had this to say about his prized student:

“Before the PBA Rookie Draft, when he was selected by Petron as the top pick, he came to my office in UC. He was so thankful. But I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

Only 29 years old, June Mar will continue to dominate. He might pull down 40 rebounds and score 40. No human being who can stop him except…

Spider-Man. Ha? Confused? Google that crazy May 10 incident that almost injured The Kraken.

Warriors still golden

The NBA is composed of 30 teams. After the season tipped-off last October 16, a total of 1,230 regular season games were played in the U.S. and Canada (Toronto). From the original 30, a total of 14 teams were eliminated. Only the top 8 squads per conference qualified to join the playoffs, which began last April 13.

From the 16 teams that entered the NBA Playoffs, we’re down to 8. If this were another sport, it’s called the quarterfinals. What comments can we deduce so far?

One, the Golden State Warriors is Number One. Led by the unstoppable force named Kevin Durant, GSW is, by far, the team poised to collect their 4th NBA ring in five years. There are websites that provide real-time odds and, after their 2-0 lead against the Houston Rockets, the Warriors are now -200 favorites to win the title. (Your $200 bet will win you only $100.)

Durant. Curry. Thompson. Green. Igoudala. How can you bet against this formation? They’re the Avengers and, for everyone else, it’s an end game.

The Houston Rockets, we thought (and many hoped), would topple the Warriors, like they almost did last year. But that’s looking unlikely. Chances are, after extinguishing the team of James Harden and Chris Paul, the next challenge for GSW in the Western Finals will be easy prey.

Denver or Portland? What a scintillating 4OT game yesterday! But either team won’t pose a major Thanos-like problem for Golden State.

The East is more exciting. After stealing Game 1 in Milwaukee, we expected the Boston Celtics to sustain the momentum and overwhelm Giannis Antetokounmpo. Given the erratic wins and losses of the Celtics in the regular season, what we witnessed in the playoffs was the rejuvenated Celtics. They swept the Indiana Pacers and extinguished the Bucks in Game 1 for a 5-game winning streak.

Celtics all the way to the NBA Finals, right? Not so fast. They lost Game 2 and lost again at TD Garden yesterday. It’s back to the same erratic performances for Boston.

My choice in the East? The 76ers. Back in November, my wife Jasmin and I had the chance to watch Philadelphia play the Atlanta Hawks at the Wells Fargo Arena. The experience was electrifying. Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Ben Simmons were the stars. Then they added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Today, they’re much stronger and are leading the Toronto Raptors, 2-1.

My forecast? Warriors-Trail Blazers and Bucks-76ers; Warriors-76ers in the final with California winning again.

The side talk has been on the 2019-2020 season given the list of the upcoming free agents: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kristaps Porzingis, Kemba Walker and Jimmy Butler.

Imagine the scenario of Zion Williamson landing with the Knicks and Durant and Irving joining the rookie in New York? This will vault the lowest-performing team (17-65 this season) into the top spot.

For Lakers fans, how about Kawhi joining LeBron? Or is Kawhi flying to LA but the other LA team: the Clippers? The possibilities are irrestible.

Eliud Kipchoge

(Photo: Getty Images)

Have you heard of his name before? If you’re a marathoner and you’re updated on the news on running, the answer is yes.

Eliud Kipchoge is the world’s greatest ever long-distance runner. He has joined 12 marathon races in his lifetime and won 11 times. The 2016 Rio Olympics? He won marathon gold.

The 34-year-old’s greatest achievement happened in Sept. last year when he broke the world record in the Berlin Marathon. His time of 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds broke the previous record by a staggering 78 seconds. (That was the single largest improvement in marathon times in 50 years.) His 2:1:39 time also means that he is only 100 seconds away from recording the long-awaited “sub-2 marathon” (running 42.195 kms. in under two hours).

Eliud Kipchoge will once again run the 42K today in the London Marathon in what is billed as the best-ever assembly of runners.

Daniel Wanjiru and Wilson Kipsang are competing but Kipchoge’s biggest nemesis is Mo Farah, from the UK, who’ll be running in front of a hometown crowd. A 4-time Olympic gold medalist (in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races), Farah also won the 2018 Chicago Marathon.

Kipchoge vs. Farah. This is the mano-a-mano spectacle with the fighters running on Nike shoes and sleeveless shirts.

Kipchoge is the huge favorite. He is the 3-time London Marathon defending champion and the man who starred in the Breaking2 project of Nike where the Kenyan clocked 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy in 2017.

As physically-gifted as Kipchoge is (he stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 123 lbs.), he credits his mental strength as his greatest power.

“The mind is what drives a human being,” said Kipchoge. “If you have that belief – pure belief in your heart – that you want to be successful then you can talk to your mind and your mind will control you to be successful. My mind is always free. My mind is flexible. That is why I wear this band on my wrist. I want to show the world that you can go beyond your thoughts, you can break more than you think you can break.”

Because of his triumphs and the appearance fees that he collects plus his collection of corporate endorsements, Kipchoge is multi-millionaire rich. But he lives simply. For an estimated 300 days each year, he trains in a tiny village in Kenya (Kaptagat), far from his three children and wife Grace. He prefers the “living simply sets you free” mantra and even reportedly helps his running mates in cleaning the restroom.

“I enjoy the simplistic training and life in marathon,” Kipchoge said. “You run, eat, sleep, walk around – that’s how life is. You don’t get complicated. The moment you get complicated it distracts your mind.”

Can he break the world record or, incredibly, run sub-2 today? That is unlikely because London is not as fast a course as Berlin. But listening to Kipchoge is hearing a man in love with this sport.

“My dream is to make this world a running world,” he said. “A running world is a healthy world. A running world is a wealthy world. A running world is a peaceful world. A running world is a joyful world.”

Tiger and The Masters

(Getty Images)

When we had dinner a couple of Saturdays ago at the house of my neighbor Andre Borromeo, I posed this question to a group of Cebu’s top golfers. There was Atty. Jovi Neri, Marko Sarmiento and Bayani Garcia. All are former club champions of the Cebu Country Club.

Can Tiger Woods win another major?

The response was easy: Yes.

These diehard TW fans reminded me of his 2018 Tour Championship win. They were confident, despite knowing that Eldrick Tont Woods was already 43 years old, that Tiger would win someday.

Will “someday” be Sunday? As you read this, the third round of golf’s most illlustrous tournament has concluded. I don’t know how Tiger performed on Saturday but for the first two rounds of The Masters, he was as good as anyone.

He shot a 2-under 70 last Thursday and a 4-under 68 last Friday for a 6-under scorecard midway through the event held in Augusta, Georgia. He’s just one shot behind the leaders.

Unfortunately for Tiger, the leaderboard is littered with a who’s-who of former major champions: Scott, Oosthuizen, Molinari, Jason Day and one of the hottest players today, Brooks Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors that he’s played.

But the golf stage this weekend belongs to Tiger. One incident highlighted the second round: After his approach shot on the 14th hole, Tiger was nearly mobbed by the crowd as a security guard sprinted towards Tiger and slipped, hitting Tiger’s right foot and nearly injuring the golfer.

Can you imagine if Tiger sprained his ankle and had to retire because of an injury? Another injury! But, no, Tiger’s shot landed 20 feet from the hole and he calmly putted it for birdie.

“Accidents happen,” Tiger said. “I’ve had galleries run over me, it’s just, you know, when you play in front of a lot of people, things happen.”

The security officer had a more amusing response: “Well, he made birdie, so I guess it all worked out. Man, I am really glad he made birdie.”

If Tiger’s lucky out-of-the-woods escape and good fortunes continue this weekend and he wins the 85th Masters, it will be one of sport’s greatest combacks.

Consider this: Tiger is 43 years old. Although Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won The Masters exactly 33 years ago, very few 40-plus year-olds win major titles. The last time Tiger won a major was the 2008 US Open.

Injury after injury; scandal after scandal.. Tiger’s playing some of his best golf.

“If he wasn’t Tiger Woods and you didn’t know him, say he was a guy coming off the web.com Tour, you’d say: ‘This is a guy who is gonna win at any time,’” said Tommy Fleetwood. “So I wasn’t that surprised when he did but I think it’s an amazing comeback, from not being able to swing a club or even move. He showed at the Tour Championship that, once he gets it in play, he is the best iron player in the world. It’s sometimes easy to forget that he is the greatest golfer of all time, you just judge him as a competitor.”

Let’s hope Tiger’s someday is Sunday.

  

Mount Zion

(Getty Images)

On TV, I rarely watch live sports nowadays. Unless it’s a major spectacle like the upcoming Warriors-76ers NBA Finals or a La Salle-Ateneo UAAP game 3 or a Rafa-Roger contest in New York, I opt to visit one of the world’s most visited websites: YouTube.

Here’s what I do: I don’t scan the results and wait 40 minutes after any sporting event has finished and it’s right there, an 11-minute summary of the game. It has zero commercials and nobody misses! Every attempt on YouTube is a good shot.

Yesterday, that’s what I did. It was the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament between Duke University and Virginia Tech. I rarely followed the NCAA games in the past but this year is extra special.

Zion Lateef Williamson. If you’re a basketball fan, it’s a must that you watch Zion. (Google offers 4.6 million videos on the phenom.)

Zion is an 18-year-old Duke University freshman who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 285 lbs. But what separates him from the dozens of other college dribblers are his LeBron James-like physique, his jumping ability, his left-handed aggressive moves, his gravity-defying block shots and his rim-shattering dunks (including dunking from the free throw line).

Zion has the bulk and size of a power forward but he struts like a point guard.

“What strikes me?” LeBron James was asked. “His agility and his quickness. For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obviously, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves (with) at that size is very impressive.”

Against Virginia Tech yesterday, the No. 1 seed Duke triumphed 75-73. Zion scored 23 points, including an alley-oop dunk that’s ridiculous.. catching the ball at a ceiling-high elevation before slamming it home with both hands. The TV announcer then quipped, “How high can you go?”

How high can Zion go? He is surely going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The joke around the NBA is this: #NotTryinForZion. It means the worst-performing NBA teams are purposely losing so they’ll get a better chance of drafting him.

Duke and Zion are in the NCAA Last 8 and will play Michigan State tomorrow (Phil. time).

If Zion helps coach Mike Krzyzewski win his sixth NCAA title for the Blue Devils, it will elevate Zion to a stature as the best-ever collegiate player of his generation.

What makes Zion a potential global superstar is his type of game: he flies and dunks with the ferocity of a Darryl Dawkins. Of these alley-oops, of which he has recorded dozens this season, Zion said yesterday after the game: “I’m jumping not knowing where the rim is.”

Zion can shoot a good 3. And, the most controversial happening this season, he can also break open a Nike shoe, injuring his foot.. which was such bad publicity for Nike that the company’s shares dropped by $3 billion. That’s the power of Zion.

Women, not we, men

In majority of sporting endeavors, the majority of participants are men. This is understandable. Men are generally stronger, more muscular and athletic than the women

Not last night. Not last Friday as we celebrated the International Women’s Day and not this Women’s Month of March.

AWUM, it’s called, and the full spelling is All Women Ultra Marathon. It’s not a 5K, 35K or 15K; it’s much more. It’s 50,000 meters of running.

A total of 350 AWUM women braved the city streets of Lapu-Lapu, Cebu and Mandaue last night. They started at 10 p.m. The fastest runners to finish will be speedy (Lizane Abella set the course record last year, clocking 4 hours and 21 minutes). But majority will take a relaxed jogging pace, finishing around 6 a.m. The cutoff is at 8 a.m., giving the ladies 10 hours to complete 50K.

Unlike larger events like the Cebu Marathon or the 7-Eleven Run, the roads are not closed. The women will have to wear blinking lights gear and strap neon stickers and run on the roadside. They’re brave.

One of the participants is my beautiful wife Jasmin. I recall us visiting the starting line of AWUM several years ago at the Cebu City Hall and Jasmin declaring that she’ll run the event someday. That someday is today and she’s accompanied by her dear friend Jewel Co.

And, as if running 50 kms. is not challenging enough, the route is difficult. It will include four climbs: first is the climb up Busay all the way to the U-turn point in the Busay Barangay Hall; on the latter part of the race are three of Cebu’s bridges: Cansaga, Marcelo Fernan and the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge. These superwomen — running 50 kms. the entire night — are fearless.

What will help motivate the ladies is the presence of 28 volunteer running groups who will spread themselves every 1.5 kms. to feed, massage, hydrate, “retouch” and put on make up on the tired but lovely faces of the ladies.

I attended the Race Kit collection and Race Briefing last Friday night at the garden of Ayala Center Cebu (across Belo) and it was a celebration of womanhood.

Joel Garganera, the Cebu City councilor who is the founder of AWUM (together with race director Dr. Willie Estepa and the group ThinkTank), spoke to motivate the crowd.

Of the 350 AWUM runners this 2019, a whopping 40 percent are first-timers.

“AWUM virgins!” Garganera calls these bravehearts who’ll be running their first AWUM 50K.

Bravery? Toughness? Willingness to endure pain? Grace under agony and discomfort? Resilience? Grit? They all spell W-O-M-E-N.

As the Greek philosopher Socrates once said: “Once made equal to man, woman becomes superior.”

We, men, bow to the women.

At the finish: Annie Diano, Jewel Co, Jasmin Pages and Cindy Lumindas

  

CSA – Bulacan

Where is the best tennis facility in our 7,107 islands? If you answered Cebu (no way!), Rizal Memorial in Manila (not anymore), Subic (yes, but once upon a long time) or PCA in Manila (no), you guessed it all wrong.

The answer? Bulacan. Yes, the province in Central Luzon that’s a couple of hours travel from Metro Manila.

The Colegio San Agustin (CSA) – Bulacan, the sprawling 20-hectare school that was built just three years ago, houses the country’s best tennis courts.

The total budget — based on what I heard — was P1 billion. This amount includes a mix of world-class sports facilities. There’s an indoor basketball gymnasium that seats at least 3,000. An Olympic size swimming pool. There’s a standard football rectangle and track oval. Plus several other top-notch sports facilities.

All are housed in a gigantic structure that looks like a spaceship (or a giant mall) from afar. And, at the topmost floor of the multi-level building are 11 tennis courts. Five courts on each side complete with bleachers and, at the far end, a center court that’s surrounded by its own seats. The 11 courts are all indoor and hard-court and they carry specs that’s similar to international standards.

Last weekend, my wife Jasmin and I were in Bulacan. For the first time in the history of the UAAP (now on its 81st year), the tennis matches are being played in CSA-Bulacan. In years past, the games were held at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, right beside La Salle and several universities.

Last year, when the players and school officials first heard of the move to transfer the games to Bulacan, complaints reverberated. That’s too far away.. a two-hour-plus drive! they hollered.

But as the games started and the 10 simultaneous matches were played (instead of the six in Rizal) and the indoor roof shaded the already-tan-skinned players, the gripes turned to praises. (Our daughter Jana represents Ateneo and they’re carrying a 2-1 win-loss record.)

The CSA-Bulacan indoor tennis stadium opened only last year. And, as evidence of that, many of the sturdy plastic chairs in the bleachers were still covered with plastic. The whole school is huge. Since they opened the campus in 2015, there are a few students thus far.. only 110 students in the elementary and high school levels. But the long-term goal is to have a full-scale university that will include college courses. The campus houses a building with dormitory rooms and a sizable chapel that seats hundreds.

From what I heard, the property (located in the city of San Jose del Monte) was donated by the Araneta family to CSA and the school raised the funds for the multi-billion project. It is situated beside the Ayala Land Inc. 98-hectare project called Altaraza.

Build it and they’ll come. That’s the overriding message that strikes me when I think about the humongous sports school project. Even if it’s located far from Metro Manila, they built it. And my bet is that, in the long-term, with the growth spreading outside the metropolis and better transportation systems are in place, this CSA-Bulacan sporting heaven will thrive.

40 is the new 20

Manny Pacquiao is 40 years old. Roger Federer turns 38 this August. LeBron James missed 17 games for the first time in his 15-year career — a sign of his aging 34-year-old body. Tiger Woods is 43. He’s improving and my hunch is that he’s poised to win a major this 2019. One more example of the old-but-still-the-best athlete?

Tom Brady. It’s Super Bowl LIII tomorrow (Phil. time) in Atlanta, Georgia and the protagonists are the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. The leader of the Pats is, as we all know, their quarterback. A five-time Super Bowl champ, he is the Michael Jordan of the National Football League.

Tom Brady is 41 years old. For a sport that’s one of this planet’s most physical, Tom Brady’s endurance is phenomenal. The NFL is rough and ruthless. Imagine a 320-lb. linebacker sprinting 21-kph to smash an easy target? Tom Brady has faced that kind of assault since he started in 2000. And despite being 41, the 6-foot-4, 225 lb. Brady is still American football’s unparalled top dog.

Among us, the mortals and ordinary exercisers, the same pattern has emerged. If you survey the ages of those doing the Ironman 70.3 race, the average age isn’t 21 or 29. You see plenty of 40- and 50-year-olds. In the grueling 42K race called the 2019 Cebu Marathon, the 31 to 40 age bracket was a high 34 percent of all participants. For the 41 to 50 years old, the figure was 23 percent. In total, the ones aged 31 to 50 comprised 57 percent of all CCM runners.

Why is it possible for “old” athletes to excel?

First, the elite athletes are able to pace themselves better. Take the case of Roger Federer. Instead of playing every single ATP event, he chooses a handful of the most important and only joins those. He even skips the strenuous clay-court season (including the French Open) to rest his body for Wimbledon’s soft grass or the hard court of the US Open.

Two, better physical training. Given all the advances in physical therapy and conditioning, top athletes today are less likely to get injured. Or, if they do, the recovery is quicker. (Not the case, though, for LeBron or Andy Murray.)

Three, there are some people who are just one-in-a-billion. Take Pacquiao. At 40, he’s supposed to be long retired, having fought in 70 pro fights. (As comparison, Oscar de la Hoya retired after 45 fights.) But Pacquiao is still lightning-quick, lethal, high energy, and pocketing millions of dollars.

Four, attitude. Consider the remarkable story of Olga Kotelko. The Canadian began her athletics career at the age of … 77! She then amassed 30 world records and lived until the age of 95 (she passed away in 2014). We ought to memorize the lesson that Olga leaves all of us. She said:

“I think your age is just a number. It’s not your birthday, it’s how you age which makes the difference. It’s your attitude to all the things that happen in your life that plays the biggest part.”

Novak and Rafa

They’re No.1 and No. 2. One is Serbian and the other is Spaniard. One swats that forehand as a right-hander while the other is a muscular lefty. The two have met 52 times: Novak Djokovic with 27 wins vs. 25 from Rafael Nadal.

It’s the Australian Open final today at 4:30 p.m. (Phil. time).

Choosing one over the other is hard. In major finals, it’s Nadal with a 4-3 edge. But when you examine their outdoor hardcourt battles, Djokovic has a commanding 14-5 lead.

In Melbourne the past two weeks, the top seeds have been invincible. Rafa hasn’t lost a set while Novak steamrolled past Lucas Pouille in the semis. Said the Frenchman: “Novak is playing like really, really fast, really low. He’s close to the baseline. Always he has good placement in any situation. Even in defense, he’s going to put the ball really deep maybe 10, 20 centimeters from the baseline.”

Novak and Rafa are at the peak of their games and both are raring to fight for tennis’ heavyweight championship.

My pick? Unlike Dr. Rhoel Dejaño who idolizes Djokovic, I’m a Nadal fan. And with his improved serve and forehand, I hope the Mallorcan-native will win his 18th major. Not having played in a tournament since his US Open injury last September, he has resurfaced as a hungry Spanish bullfighter.

Stefanos Tsitsipas said of Nadal: “He has this, I don’t know, talent that no other player has. His game style has something that it kind of makes the other half of your brain work more than it usually does. I’m trying to understand, but I cannot find an explanation.”

I hope Rafa wins. But that’s far from certain. If we look at the odds, they favor his nemesis, who’s a -135 favorite (bet $135 to win $100).

But while the choice of winner (prize money: $2.9 million) is no guarantee, what’s guaranteed is a combat; a baseline warfare loaded with two-handed backhand bombs, delicate drop shots, volleys, slice shots, screams, fist pumps. 

The only time the two met in the Oz Open final was seven years ago. It lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes with Novak winning 7-5 in the fifth set. At Wimbledon last July, Novak won 10-8 in the fifth (five hours and 15 minutes).

Tonight, are we expecting another five-hour, five-set marathon? Maybe. It will be a Gladiator-like bloodbath with the Head and Babolat rackets as swords; an Ironman contest between a Lacoste-wearing 31-year-old vs. Nike’s 32-year-old star. It will be about longevity. It will be about dominance. Because while the likes of Tsitsipas, Zverev, Thiem and Khachanov want to triumph in the majors, they’re not welcome yet.

Including Roger Federer’s 20 majors and Nadal’s 17 and Djokovic’s 14, the Big Three have won 51 of the last 62 Grand Slam trophies since 2003. The rest of the world has won only 11 in the past 15 years. This is more than dominance. It’s a near-monopoly and dictatorship by Roger-Rafa-Novak. Today will be 52 of 62 major wins (with an 84% win ratio) for the Big 3.

Rafa in four sets. Vamos!

 

42.195

As you’re reading this, the Cebu Marathon is underway. Starting at 3 a.m., over 1,300 runners will start their long trek from the Cebu Business Park and run a crazy long distance with the aim of being called this: Marathoner.

The marathon is an enigma. It has transformed people’s lives. It has caused knee, foot and back injuries to almost every participant. It’s a dream. It’s a target in one’s “bucket list.”

42.195 is the exact number of kilometers for the marathon. (If you hear someone saying, “I’ll run a 5K marathon,” that’s incorrect.)

Its history dates back to 490 BC in the Battle of Marathon when, according to legend, a Greek soldier named Pheidippides ran to Athens to report the defeat of the Persians. Fast forward to 1896, when the Olympic Games were first held in Athens, the marathon was in the original roster of events.

Today, an estimated 800 marathon events are organized worldwide. This morning, it’s our very own Cebu City that’s hosting the 42K race. (There are also two other distances offered, the 21K and 5K, but the premier event is the 42K.)

What makes our Cebu race special is the Sinulog. It’s timed perfectly a week before the grand parade; thus, the drum beaters, banners and dancers all contributing to a festive, Pit Senyor occasion.

The Hydration Stations, over a dozen of them scattered throughout the route, are stops not only for drinking water or Pocari Sweat but also to get rejuvenated. Entertainment is a must among the water stops — giving a much-needed boost to the wearied runners.

If you’re a participant today, congratulations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sub-3 runner (like our Olympian Mary Joy Tabal) or it will take you the full 7 hours to complete the journey. What matters is that you joined and finished.

If you’re a friend or relative of a participant, applaud your marathon finisher. Commend him or her for all the months of waking up at 3 a.m. to run; for the discipline and determination. (In the U.S., it’s estimated that only 0.5 percent of the population has finished a marathon. This number will be much, much less in the Philippines.)

If you’re a regular Cebu resident like majority of the SunStar readers, why not “join” by going out early today (the event will conclude at 10 a.m) and cheering on the participants. Finally, if you’re driving and will encounter heavy traffic, be patient. Think less of your inconvenience (sitting down, possibly in an aircon car) and think more of the sacrifices and sweat endured by the marathoners on the road.

Khabib Nurmagomedov


(Photo: Getty Images)

Prior to his fight against Conor McGregor two weeks ago, I had never heard of the 30-year-old Russian.

Now, I’m a huge, huge fan. What he did seconds after he forced McGregor to tap and quit — climbing the Octagon and inciting a near-rumble — was absolutely bad. It was bad for UFC, bad for mixed-martial arts, and bad for himself.

But remove that post-fight brouhaha and you’ve got a wrestling and ground-and-pound champion our planet Earth has never seen.

Conor anticipated the plan of the 5-foot-10 Khabib. It was to fight horizontally, not vertically. Khabib’s goal was to trip him so Conor falls. But despite trying to avoid that scenario, Conor fell prey. The grappling prowess of Nurmagomedov is incredible.

Khabib’s grappling ability started at a very young age. Did you see him wrestle with a real-life bear when he was nine years old? You have to watch that YouTube clip. His father and coach, Abdulmanap, explains that crazy act that happened in 1997 in Dagestan, Russia.

“Firstly, a child always wants his father to see what his son is capable of,” his dad said. “It is a pity that there was nothing more interesting when he was younger. In the end, this was a test of character more than exercise.”

All his life, Khabib — who’s a devout Muslim and is happily married with two kids — trained to be a fighter. And that’s why he sports a 27-win, no-loss record. (His number of wins could have been more had he not succumbed to knee and rib injuries from 2014 to 2016.)

What’s next? It depends on the sure penalty and suspension that the Las Vegas authorities and the UFC will announce. The hearing is set this Wednesday, Oct. 24.

On the reported Floyd Mayweather, Jr. boxing gig, this is crazy. The Floyd-Khabib fight will net each person tens of millions. But no way that Khabib can win. His strength lies when he lies on the floor — not while punching.

“Teammate or no teammate, he’s getting beat up by Floyd Mayweather,” said his friend Daniel Cormier. “And he’s too tough to quit, so he’ll just get beat up for 12 rounds, and getting beat up for 12 rounds is not good.”

My guess is that he’ll fight the 5-foot-11 California resident next. 

“As a fight fan, you’ve got to go with Tony (Ferguson),” said UFC’s Dana White. “Tony had the belt, tweaked his knee, got stripped, this fight happens — Tony never lost the (interim) belt in a fight. Neither did Conor, but Conor got the opportunity to actually fight (Nurmagomedov). I think Tony deserves the next shot.”

Ferguson deserves a shot but he’s got no shot at beating Khabib. Which brings us to a rematch later next year with Conor, The Notorious. And if their UFC 229 encounter two weeks ago netted over 2.4 million PPV buys, this Part 2 will exceed 4 million.

The winner? Both. From a marketing and loud-mouth viewpoint, it’s the Irishman. But inside that 8-sided cage, it’s hard to grapple with “The Eagle” losing.

Asian Games

Like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, the Asian Games are held every 48 months. This sporting spectacle is significant. Of the planet’s 7 continents, Asia is the largest with 4.5 billion people covering 60 percent of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

The cities of Jakarta and Palembeng in Indonesia are co-hosting the 16-day meet that started with the Opening Ceremony last night and concluding on Sept. 2. A total of 45 nations representing 11,000 athletes are participating. Indonesia was not supposed to host; but in 2014, Vietnam backed out because of financial concerns and Indonesia stepped in.

The Asian Games — also referred to as the “Asiad” —  started in 1951 in New Delhi, India. Guess who hosted the 2nd Asian Games? Our very own Manila. Back in 1954 when Ramon Magsaysay was president, we hosted a small contingent of 970 athletes (from 19 countries) and our Philippines ended up 2nd place overall. The main venue in that Asiad 64 years ago remains our main venue today (this shows how much we have NOT progressed): Rizal Memorial, built in 1934. We have not hosted another Asiad since 1954.

For Team Philippines, we are sending a delegation of 281 athletes representing 31 sports in Indonesia. A total of 63 officials will be attending. Our flag bearer? You’ve heard the news: it’s Jordan Clarkson, the 6-foot-4 former teammate of LeBron James whose mom Annette Davis hails from Angeles, Pampanga.

Gilas Pilipinas is, in our basketball-crazy nation, the team to follow. It was a controversial “yes,” “no,” and finally “yes” decision to allow the team to participate. I’m glad Gilas joined. They humiliated Kazakhstan in the first game and, with Clarkson as leader, will play China this Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Sports 5, the media outfit of Manny Pangilinan-owned TV5 and ESPN, is broadcasting most of the Asian Games action through the TV channel and via their live-streaming YouTube channel. (Watching sports on YouTube has become an excellent option. You can watch anytime and there are plenty of shortened versions.)

Mary Joy Tabal, the pride and joy of Cebu, will be joining the 42K road race. The women’s marathon is scheduled seven days from today (August 26) while the Men’s Marathon will be the day before.

As a whole, Team Philippines is (unfortunately) not expected to perform well. Four years ago in Incheon, South Korea, we produced one of our worst-ever showings: only Daniel Caluag won gold (in BMX cycling). We ended up winning 15 medals (one gold, three silver, and 11 bronze) and hope to improve on this performance.

What’s interesting with this Asiad is the inclusion of eSports or electronic sports. Although it’s now a demonstration event, it will be a medal sport in 2022 in Hangzhou, China. Games like “StarCarft II,” “Arena of Valor” and four other video game titles will be played by 18 competing nations. What puzzles me — as an internet-savvy nation — is the exclusion of the Philippines in eSports at the Asiad.

 

Biking the Ironman

For the sixth time in seven years, I joined last weekend’s Ironman 70.3 race. I replaced Dr. Sander Ugalino as the cyclist to join famed triathlete Abet Biagan (our swimmer) and Dr. Mai Ugalino (runner).

While the 1.9-km. swim off the shores of Shangri-La Resort and the 21K run inside Punta Engaño have remained unchanged, the major question mark was the 90 km. bike route. Having used the SRP for the past six years, how was this route going to fare? Days after Sunrise Events’ top honcho Princess Galura made the announcement last month, murmurs of criticisms surfaced: Six bridge climbs? Three repetitive loops? Narrow roads in Mactan?

Having pedaled for 90K last Sunday, what’s my assessment? I loved it.

First, it was new. If you keep on traversing the same route (like the SRP portion), you know what to expect. Last Sunday, the thousands who biked were treated to a new journey. It wasn’t boring. It wasn’t endless kilometers of straight asphalted SRP roads towards Talisay. You slowed for turns, climbed, sprinted under shaded trees, overheard airplanes flying at the runway. It was fun.

Second, more people on the streets. I know that this is both good and bad. More spectators mean more chances of accidents. And I saw dogs crossing the road on multiple occasions. Once, somewhere near J Park Resort, about 200 meters ahead of me a biker crashed hard as a dog crossed. But generally, the more the cheerers, the more exciting and thrilling. And we got thousands upon thousands lining the streets of Lapu-Lapu City last Sunday. (On the what-to-improve portion: I’m sure better crowd control will be enforced next year to lessen the chances for spectator-related accidents.)

Three, less headwind. Sure, there’s still the strong force of that unseen gust that’s pushing you to go slow. But unlike the open air of the SRP when the sidewinds and headwinds can be brutal, the new route had smaller portions scattered around its 30-km. loop.  (Seven days ago, the participants were also blessed with the best weather of the past seven years: the day was cloudy with no strong rain.)

The old Mactan Bridge wasn’t as daunting as the Marcelo Fernan Bridge. It’s shorter and faster to climb. Yes, it’s a total of six climbs up the bridge but it added to the drama and design of the race.

Also, although this is unrelated to the bike route and is applicable only to those joining the relay, an improvement this year: the transition area had plenty of tents and chairs were available. (In previous years, we had to “pungko-pungko” on the rocks while Piolo Pascual had his cushioned seat and cordon of bodyguards.) Thanks to Jonel, Chipi and Andre Borromeo and their Motor Ace group, there was plenty of drinks and bananas and Leona cakes (courtesy of Jane-Jane Ong).

Would I recommend the continuance of this bike route for 2019? Absolutely. I’ve already heard from friends who did not join last weekend — and upon hearing of the positive feedback — wanting to join next year.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”

 

 

With Dr. Ronnie Medalle and Jourdan Polotan

 

With the BCBP brothers

World Cup

Like the Olympics and Asian Games, the FIFA World Cup happens only once every four years. Since it was founded in 1930, only eight countries have won sport’s most coveted trophy: Brazil (five times), Italy and Germany (four), Argentina and Uruguay (two), and — surprising — only one title apiece for France, Spain and England.

Russia is the 2018 host and the total of 64 matches are played in 11 cities. The games started last June 14 and will culminate with the final on July 15 in the 81,000-seater Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. How expensive is this month-long event? In Phil. pesos, it’s mind-boggling: P756 billion! Can you believe that? At $14.2 billion, it’s the most expensive WC in history.

Thirty two nations are joining, led by the defending champs (and world’s top-ranked team) Germany, who lost in the opener against Mexico and played Sweden at 2 a.m. (Phil. time) today.

Based on TV viewership, an estimated 3.2 billion watch each World Cup (versus 3.6 billion for the Olympics). But what makes the WC more prestigious is there’s only one nation-winner. And the World Cup trophy itself? Since 1930, only two trophies have been used and the current one is made of 18 carat gold.

With our local TV coverage, I’m glad that SkyCable has superb coverage. The past week, I was able to watch snippets of the matches shown at 8 p.m. Last week, thanks to Liga HD channel 757, we witnessed the 1-0 loss of South Korea to Sweden. I’m sure the thousands of Koreans residing in Cebu trooped to the bars to cheer for their countrymates. The games are shown at 8 p.m., 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

With the Philippines, now ranked (by FIFA) 115th in the world (we reached a historic best No. 111 last month), is there any way for us to join the World Cup? Yes. First, if we host it! The hosts automatically qualify. But given the normal qualification route, it’s very unlikely. But consider this: for the first time, five countries from Asia (the AFC) have qualified for the WC. These are Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea.

There are numerous superstars in Russia. But among the names that include Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, none have shown brighter than Cristiano Ronaldo. He has scored every one of Portugal’s goals. This is Ronaldo’s fourth WC appearance and, while he scored only once in Germany (2006), South Africa and Brazil, he has netted four goals thus far in Sochi, Russia.

Acting? Fake injuries? Ha-ha. There are so many players worthy of Oscars trophies in football. With multiple slow-motion angles and replays now available, you can’t hide the actual millisecond interaction. It starts with the fall. Then the anguish and crumbling in pain. It’s laughable.

Finally: VAR. Called Video Assistant Referee, it’s the first time for the WC to employ video review. It has become controversial with some arguing that it goes against tradition. But this is good for the game. In the low scoring format of football, all it takes is one mistake of the referee (wrongly awarding a free kick) to determine the game’s outcome. Technology has arrived in the land of Vladimir Putin.

Rafa’s 10 + 1

Tennis fanatic or not, you’ve got to watch the French Open men’s final tonight at 9. If you don’t have cable TV access, try live streaming. Just a few Google clicks will lead you to several real-time options.

With SkyCable, while I complained before when the NBA coverage was cutoff, this time with Grand Slam tennis, there’s much rejoicing. Thanks to the Fox Sports HD channels, we get two simultaneous matches (channels 758 and 759). One shows the Philippe-Chatrier (main) court and the other, in Suzanne-Lenglen. To those who’ve been watching the past 14 days, aren’t the games scheduled perfectly? They start at 5 p.m. and run throughout the night. The problem is, if you don’t sleep late (I normally sleep at 11), then your sleeping pattern is disturbed with the late night drama.

Roland Garros (the other name of the French Open) is the toughest among tennis’ four majors. It’s played on slow red clay where the ball bounces high and is softened by this dusty material — which means more rallies and shots executed before a point’s completion.

Marco Cecchinato is the biggest surprise. Prior to his defeat of Novak Djokovic and semifinal finish, he had never won a Grand Slam match. If you didn’t catch his game against Djokovic, find a YouTube clip and watch the exerpts. Drop shots. Slice backhands. Angled forehands. The match was not your boring bang-bang type — credit the Italian’s flair and creativity, like Fabio Fognini — it was exhilarating.

Diego Schwartzman? He’s named after his fellow Argentine, Mr. Maradona. Both are diminutive, standing the same at 5-foot-6. Diego The Tennis Player nearly concocted the mightiest upset in sporting history when he led Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 3-2 in the quarters. The rain poured, much to the Spaniard’s delight, and Diego’s upset try was doused in futility.

Which brings us to tonight: Dominic Thiem vs. Nadal.

“He’s a big favourite against everybody,” said Thiem, when asked about Rafa. “Still, I know how to play against him. I have a plan.”

Thiem is confident. Only 24, he’s ranked world no. 4. And, as pointed out by my best buddy Jourdan Polotan yesterday, the Austrian has defeated the Spaniard multiple times. While Nadal has won six of their matches, Thiem has won thrice — and all their previous matches were on clay. Thiem’s biggest morale booster? He beat Nadal last month in Madrid, 7-5, 6-3.

My prediction? I answered Jourdan this word yesterday: “Irrelevant.” Thiem’s latest win and his upbeat attitude are irrelevant. Paris is 3 out of 5 sets. There’s a reason why Nadal’s record is 10 trophies and only two losses (Soderling and Djokovic). He might call Mallorca his home but his heart and spirit reside in Stade Roland Garros.

Three years ago, I was fortunate to have watched three days of action in Paris. I watched in awe of Nadal’s every match. He sweats profusely, sprints like an unleashed dog, spins his strokes with that wicked wrist snap.

Expect Rafa to collect his 17th major.. drawing him closer to the 20 owned by his friend Roger Federer.