Manny Pacquiao City

When Dr. Ronald Eullaran invited us to his hometown of Gen. Santos City last April, we said yes. Who can say no to one of the nicest and funniest (and best) doctors in Cebu?

With Dr. Ron and his wife Raycia (and their son, Ryane), our group included James and Jewel Co, their son, Alex, plus me and Jasmin. It was a three-day getaway loaded with plenty of eating (fresh tuna, steak at the Dole clubhouse, and the best-tasting crabs in Gusteau’s).

We also made sure to allocate most of the mornings to an activity we love best: biking. On our first day, we woke up before 5 a.m. and pedaled the western portion of Sarangani Bay. We biked for over 40 kms., a trek that included several uphill battles as we passed through Tambler and reached Maasim. Our wives (Raycia, Jewel and Jasmin) would not be outdone. They ran the streets of the city formerly known as Dadiangas.

Our hosts for that weekend were Dr. Ron’s mom — Mrs. Dhel Eullaran — and Ron’s sister, Atty. Elvie Albano. Her husband, a top lawyer and businessman, Josemar Albano, ran a 60K race that Sunday. As Josemar finished in Susan’s Beach in Maasim, we converged in the same area to congratulate the ultramarathoner (a week later, Josemar would run the Great Wall of China Marathon).

While on the bike, the view was stunning. The road snaked beside the water (Sarangani Bay) and there were few cars and trucks. Biking with us was Elvie’s son, Aries, who does triathlon; we ascended a few hills and stopped to smell the fresh air and to absorb the calm blue water that overlooked.

The following morning, we did the opposite route of Sarangani Bay. We started in Greenleaf Hotel and biked for over 60 kms. As we reached the town of Glan, we stopped at the high point of the Glan Monument and took a photo: James, Ron and me. All-sweating, all-smiling with Mount Matutum in our background and Sarangani Bay beneath us, it was a photo and an experience to cherish.

PACMAN. What else did we see in Gensan, which also happens to be the hometown of my editor, Mike Limpag? Plenty of buildings labeled “JMP.” Those are the initials of my wife but they’re not her buildings. They stand for Jinkee & Manny Pacquiao. They are plenty in number and they’re numbered: JMP 1, JMP 2… and you see them, large and small, everywhere. In the JMP 2 buiding, for example. there’s one shop that’s handled by the queen: Jinkee’s Fashion World.

Right beside the Greenleaf Hotel was the Pacman Wildcard Gym. I was unable to take a peek inside but was told that Pacman visits to train and box. It’s a fitness center that offers other types of workouts: dancing, stationary cycling, Zumba and yoga. The building where his gym was located? JMP Arcade.

We passed by the house of the Senator. Surrounded by high walls, it was a massive house and was near the home of Atty. Josemar and Elvie Albano, close friends of Manny.

One more structure that Pacquiao is building is a church. In an Inquirer story dated Nov. 27, 2014, Pacquiao was said to have appropriated P295 million to build the massive church. It sits on a five hectare property (that cost P95 million) and the cost of construction is reportedly P200 million. We did not get a chance to tour “The Word for Everyone” church but the two-story building is said to include, apart from the worship arena, a bible school, a bible study room and a pastor’s lounge.

“I owe to God everything that I have right now – wealth, health, fame, success, a dutiful and beautiful wife and my wonderful children,” said Sen. Pacquiao. “I have to give it back to Him. The amount is nothing compared to what God has done to my life.”

Down Under, it’s uphill for Jeff Horn

He’s a Physical Education school teacher turned boxer. Imagine if he shocks the world next Sunday by defeating Manny Pacquiao? Though that scenario is as unlikely as Golden State relinquishing the trophy next year — what a fairytale story for the Australian.

Jeff Horn’s story is inspiring. When he was a young kid in Brisbane, he walked out of school one day only to be told to drop on his knees and say sorry.

“Get on your knees and say sorry to my mate,” the big kids said to Horn’s friend. He took a knee and got whacked. “Now you,” they told Jeff. “No,” he replied. “I didn’t do anything wrong.” They slapped Jeff’s face. “Then I just walked away,” he said. “I couldn’t fight anyone let alone fight 30 of them. I remember walking back to my mate’s place that day. I felt so annoyed and so belittled.”

That story came from the Sydney Morning Herald. Soon after that traumatic experience, Jeff entered a martial arts gym. He then slipped on a pair of boxing gloves and won the amateur state trophy. Next, the Australian title in 2009. After that, he competed in the London Olympics where, as a light welterweight, he won twice before losing in the quarters.

And now, this: the biggest fight of his life and the most consequential boxing fight in Australia. For the 29-year-old who stands 5-foot-9 and carries a 16-win, one-draw (undefeated) record, this story is remarkable. This bout wasn’t supposed to happen, remember? Pacquiao’s first choice was Amir Khan, with event in the U.A. E.

The fight next Sunday will be held in the Suncorp Stadium, a venue mainly for soccer and rugby (it hosted the 2008 Rugby League World Cup final), and the promoters are hoping for a full capacity crowd of 55,000. They’ve also priced the tickets reasonably: 27,000 seats are sold at A$100 (Php3,800) and they’ve allocated 6,000 general admission tickets at only $39 (only Php1,500).

In June of last year, I got the chance to visit Australia for the first time and, I must declare, of the numerous places that I’ve visited, Australia ranks at the very top. The weather at this time is perfect (9 to 22C). The Aussies are so relaxed and friendly. There is so much open space for bike lanes and jogging paths; lakes for kayaking and rowing; tennis courts littered everywhere; it’s an outdoor, all fresh air, let’s-go-out-and-sweat continent. Jana, Jasmin and I loved the visits to Syndey and Melbourne.

The fight will be in Brisbane and it’s scheduled at 1:30 p.m. That’s quite an awkward time for a sporting event. But they have to conform with the U.S. Saturday night schedule. So, to us here at home, it’s the same 11:30 a.m. schedule.

The odds are obviously tilted in favor of MP. But this has only given the Aussie camp more impetus in that we’re-the-underdog inspiration.

“We want Manny overconfident and dismissive of Jeff’s chances,’’ said Horn’s trainer Glenn Rushton. “Jeff’s a heavy puncher but the legs are the key to this fight. His legs are 29, Manny’s are 38. Jeff will be giving Manny all kinds of angles and controlling the distance between them. Manny’s legs aren’t as fast as they were 10 years ago. If he’s cut corners in his preparation Jeff will make him pay hard for every one of those 38 years.’’

Prize money? Pacquiao is guaranteed $10 million while Horn will receive $500,000. Computing the disparity, the Pinoy will get 20 times more than the Aussie. As lopsided as this is, Jeff Horn won’t mind. It’s his biggest paycheck ever. Not bad for a bullied kid turned PE teacher turned boxer. Reminds me of Rocky Balboa.

Jonel Borromeo and Joy Tabal

Mary Joy Tabal (speaking) with Jonel Borromeo (center) and Coach Philip Dueñas (SunStar/Alan Tangcawan)

If there’s one individual to thank for the continued excellence of Mary Joy Tabal, it’s the eldest son of Maxcy and Marivic Borromeo.

Jonel Borromeo was my high school classmate. He’s also the CEO of several Borromeo-owned companies. The Ironman 70.3 races? He’s completed that multiple times.

I asked Jonel for an update on Joy Tabal and here’s what he said: “All is good. I’m glad the ordeal of getting Joy to run in the SEA Games is over.”

We, too, are happy that Cebu’s pride and joy will be competing this August in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Thanks to the negotiating skills of Mr. Borromeo, he was able to convince the PATAFA officials to include the marathon queen in the SEAG roster.

But why did PATAFA give Joy such a difficult time? Wasn’t her inclusion supposedly obvious? Are we not to send our best? Joy is the four-time reigning champion of our nation’s most prestigious road race, the Milo Marathon (champion in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016). Last year, she became the only Filipino marathoner to join the Olympics. And just last month, she won the 21K race in the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon — clocking 1:16:27 to break the Philippine record.

Are these results not good enough for PATAFA? Track and field is one discipline where the results are measurable. You know who’s the fastest. Unlike volleyball or ping-pong or badminton or football where the choice of representative is often subjective, track and field is objective. It’s time-based.

I asked Jonel, whose family and Motorace company sponsors Ms. Tabal, why PATAFA insisted on their way (training and coaching).

“I agree with your thoughts on PATAFA encouraging all athletes to find better ways to improve,” said Jonel. “I think what has to be recognized is that there is not only one way to train an athlete to improve. I believe it is a trial and error process. Once the formula is found then stick with it and build from it.

“In the case of Joy, her training format which suits her is different from other athletes who are under any NSA. And the results of the recent 21K in Ottawa will prove that. Let’s not forget she did bring home the silver in the SEA Games held in Singapore.”

This training program of Joy included a stint in Japan. There, she was introduced to new coaches and new methods of training and she was pushed to her limits. Now, she’s in Tuscany, Italy. She trained there for two months and will train for several more weeks. Part of her intense regimen includes high altitude training in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Joy is also at home (literally and figuratively) in Cebu and she thrives here. Why force her to train in Manila? And with the case of Jonel and Motorace spending hundreds of thousands of pesos for Joy’s training, isn’t the government lucky? PATAFA doesn’t have to spend but in return they reap the benefits of the international training of Joy. No expenses. No usage of their coaches and facilities. And in exchange, they have Joy Tabal and her possible gold, silver or bronze medal? Being a businessman, I’d conclude that this is an irresistable deal. PATAFA should be thankful.

The good news si: Cebuanos and running aficionados are relieved that our country’s top marathoner is included in the Southeast Asian Games roster for the Kuala Lumpur event in August.

With her training schedule, I asked Jonel Borromeo, who has supported Joy in her training and international competition, for updates. Here’s Jonel:

“Joy Tabal has been training in Tuscany, Italy for the last 2 months and will be there for another 2 months with the last 3 weeks focused on high altitude training in St. Moritz, Switzerland. If I’m not mistaken, it’s 2500 meters elevation and super dry air. According to her, the current training is quite different from that of Japan.

“In Japan, programs were focused on her ability to push her limits to her full capacity. In Italy, she is pegged with runners who run much faster than her; the result of that is she realizes she can actually do more. She understands her potential.”

With her training staff, they’re a complete group. “Her support team consists of a head coach, strengthening coach, nutritionist, physiotherapist, psychologist and a doctor who specializes in high level athletes. All are present from start to finish of training.. yes, impressive,” said Jonel Borromeo.

One more person to thank for Joy’s success: her coach Philip Dueñas.

3×3 Basketball

YouTube Preview Image

Kobe Paras, Jeron Teng, J. R. Quiñahan. Kiefer Ravena. They comprise our Philippine squad for the 3-on-3 World Championships in Nantes, France.

What’s 3×3? It’s fast. It’s quick shooting and rebounding. It’s a half-court game played in 10 minutes with the first team to score 21 points the winners.

In our first game against Romania, Team PHI won, 21-15. Our best player? The 6-foot-6 son of Benjie Paras who’s the namesake of Mr. Bryant. Kobe Paras is good. He’s tall. He can shoot from beyond the 2-point line. He can dribble behind-the-back and sprint towards the goal for a layup. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can watch all the basketball action. In Game 2, we faced the host nation France. While we competed strongly in the early minutes, our defense was weak and it allowed the tall Frenchmen to score uncontested shots. They were also terrific from beyond the arc. The final score? An easy 22-11 victory for the hosts.

Next, we play Slovenia. Seeded No. 2, they’re strong. And it’s a must-win scenario for us because only the top two teams in Group B (of five teams) advance. France and Slovenia are the favorites. (After Slovenia, we play El Salvador.)

This sport is gaining popularity, thanks to this announcement: 3-on-3 will be a new sport in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This is an outstanding decision by the IOC. Not only is basketball one of the planet’s most followed of games, but 3-on-3 is exciting. I’m 101 percent sure that it will be one of the most popular events when the Olympics begin in July 24, 2020.

Are professionals allowed? Absolutely. Can you imagine if the U.S. will pick its best to join? I did a little online research and some have suggested this team: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. (As to why there are four players, there’s a substitute: three on the court and one on the bench.) Can you imagine these four playing in Tokyo?

“Your ideal 3-on-3 player is really a guard-skilled big,” said Troy Justice, the NBA’s senior director of international basketball. “Kevin Durant would translate very well. A 3-point shot is worth two points, and inside the arc is worth one point. So the teams I’ve watched — I’ve done a lot of scouting globally with 3-on-3 and watched some of the best players and teams and the strategies they implement. It’s a lot of 3-point shooting and getting to the rim. The one other thing you need is a good rim protector, a strong big that can rebound and defend. Then you need three knock-down great shooters. But because there’s so much space on the floor, everyone needs to have the ability to put the ball on floor and create their own shot.”

Matt Santangelo, the executive director of Hoopfest, the world’s biggest 3-on-3 event, added: “The game of 3-on-3 basketball is all about spacing, passing angles, screening, motion without the ball and strategy, because you’re in such a confined space. Each player in 3-on-3 needs to have a hybrid skill set, because everyone has to do everything—score, rebound and pass.”

Another thrilling announcement is the news of the 2018 FIBA 3×3 World Cup hosting. It will be in Manila! No venue selected yet but it will be held in May 2018. Like the WC in France now, there will be 20 teams each for the men and women and there will be individual events that will include a men’s dunk contest, a women’s skills event and a mixed shoot-out.

This is a triple celebration: We get to watch the WC now (on YouTube); Manila hosts next year; and it’s an official Olympic event this 2020.

Rafa

(Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Dominance. That’s the one word to best describe the past two weeks of Rafael Nadal. It started at the Australian Open. Leading 3-1 in the fifth set against Roger Federer, he was at the brink of winning his 15th major. But the Swiss reeled off five straight games to steal the match. Still, that impressive showing from Rafa would continue. He won a 10th title at Monte Carlo and Barcelona. And now, this, “La Decima.” He has played 81 times at the French Open and won 79. How amazing is that record? On his first event as a 19-year-old in 2005, he won in Paris. He won four straight before losing to Robin Soderling. After that loss, he won another five straight before a defeat to Novak Djokovic in 2015. Will this be another five year streak? No less than past champion Gustavo Kuerten has declared: “Rafa could potentially win up to 15 times.” I agree. If you saw any of his seven matches the past 14 days, you’d nod your head in agreement.

Rafa lost only 35 games in seven matches. That’s an average of five games surrendered per match — and these are best-of-five setters. He now moves to world No. 2 and, given his tremendous start and because he has few points to defend in the year’s second half, there is a good chance that he’ll end the year at No.1.

Nadal this 2017 has been the best I’ve seen. He steps forward to strike that crosscourt backhand early. He serves wide or down the T with unpredictable variety. His forehand is so dangerous and offensive that even if he’s in a defensive position, he can hit an outright winner. He also has a new coach in the former Roland Garros winner Carlos Moya, who hails from the same island of Majorca. Best of all, Rafa is healthy. Last year, he had to quit in the third round because of a wrist injury. Today, the only injury inflicted is upon his opponents who have to run side to side and suffer in defeat.

My dad Bunny watched the Madrid Open last month and, watching up close, he noted what we know well: Rafa plays a physical game. Famous in Spain, he’s a bull-fighter; always charging, attacking and aggressive. On the tennis court, what differentiates Rafa is his spin: Unlike a Roger or Sampras who play with flatter shots (thus, less margin for error), the groundstrokes of Rafa clear the net high. They land deeper in the court and kick upon landing. The spin rate exceeds 4,000 rpm.

Humility. That’s the another astonishing word to describe Rafa. (Lucky for us tennis followers, it’s also a fitting word to describe Roger.) In a serious of post-match interviews, Rafa was never cocky or boastful; he credits his success to hard work and dedication. He’s the man who once said, “I think the tennis is only a game. You can lose. You can win. After that? In life, there are much more important things than tennis.”

Rafa now has 15 majors. Roger has 18. Come July 3, the winner of the year’s first two majors will meet in Wimbledon. This early on, I’m hoping for another final between the two. Roger is all-confident; so is the winner two days ago.

Rafa’s 10th crown isn’t the only major story in Paris. There’s also a player who turned 20 just a few days ago and had never won a WTA tournament before. Employing a very aggressive game, her average forehand shot is clocked at 76 mph — faster than Andy Murray’s 73 mph. She scores 50 or more winners per match and she’s the Roland Garros champion. Will write a story soon on Jelena Ostapenko.

  

Sure NBA champion

Let’s talk business. Regardless of the Final Four outcome (my heart goes for the Cavs as repeat champs but my mind says it’s the Warriors), there’s one sure winner in the NBA.

Founded 53 years ago by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, the company was originally named “Blue Ribbon Sports” until it was changed to “Nike” in 1971. It is the No. 1 most valuable sports brand on Earth and, last year, it grossed a colossal $32.4 billion. It’s logo — the swoosh, patterned after the wing of Nike, the goddess of victory — is the world’s most iconic, defeating Coca-Cola, Apple and McDonald’s. Chances are, when you look down at your feet or you open your closet or you attend a game of volleyball or football, a pair of shoes designed with a “check mark” is being worn.

With the NBA, the undisputed winner is Nike. Because while Steph Curry wears Under Armour, James Harden dons Adidas, Rajon Rondo and Klay Thompson wear the lesser-known brand Anta (from China), all the other superstars wear Nike.

KD, ‘Bron, Kyrie, Isiah “King of the Fourth” Thomas, Kevin Love, soon-to-be-announced MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Blake Griffin, CP3 (Chris Paul), and Jimmy Butler all wear Nike or Nike/Jordan-branded footwear. Even three names (John Wall, Draymond Green, and J.R. Smith) who don’t have shoe endorsements wear the same Oregon-based brand.

In the Forbes article, “Nike Will Come Out On Top After The NBA Finals, Regardless Of Who Wins” by Daniel Kleinman published last May 17, the winning moves of Nike were explained.

Why, you ask, does Nike pay Durant an incredible $300 million for 10 years? It’s because of all those KD-labeled high-cuts that Nike will be selling in a decade. (Also, because of the fear of losing out to Under Armour, who was ready to $265M.) It’s also about the millions of eyeballs from Beijing to Bacolod to Berlin to Bangkok who’ll be watching the Warriors as Durant shoots a 3-pointer while wearing Nike.

The largest Nike deal of any kind appropriately belongs to LeBron James. In 2015, Nike awarded him with a sponsorship for life, the first time ever that they’ve agreed to such a lifelong deal. The cost: P25 billion. In dollars, that’s $500M that they’re paying LeBron, for him to never wear the Three Stripes or UA.

Expensive? Who says the best player is cheap? As the cliche goes, “You get what you play for.” And look at the dividends — I can imagine the thousands and thousands of $200 LeBron James 14 shoes that will sell this month.

So here’s the conclusion: Warriors or Cavs, Durant or James, the company named after the goodess of victory will claim victory.

Cavaliers and the King

Incredible. Stunning. Unimaginable. Are there better adjectives to describe yesterday’s colossal wipeout, when J.R. Smith spun for a reverse jumpshot to end the half, and when Isiah Thomas was 0-8 in field goal attempts and only scored two free throw points?

How about Murphy’s Law? If anything could go wrong for the Celtics, it did, including an injury to I.T. As for the Cavs, it was the reverse: if anything could go right, it did, increasing their lead by double digits per quarter and LeBron James playing possessed: 12 of 18 for an easy 30 while icing his knees as the City of Boston perspired.

I don’t recall watching a game that lopsided. Boston’s the top seed? It’s like Gilas trampling over Malaysia in SEABA last week. Like Game 1, once again we’ve seen the rise of Kevin Love. He’s pushing his 6-foot-10 body towards the hoop against smaller defenders; he’s detonating those long-range bombs, 4 of 9 yesterday and 6 of 9 in Game 1.

The Cavs defense. Outstanding. They’re sprinting side to side, front to back; scurrying with arms outstretched and legs dancing; LeBron’s flying for blocks; they’re tirelss and relentless — thanks to the restful days when their batteries have been 100 percent fully-charged.

How about that passing? Led by one of the all-time best passers (King James), they toss the ball three, four, six times, all in rapid succession before finding the open Three or an alley-hoop jam. There’s no buaya like a Kobe or Westbrook; they’re having fun, they’re like a serious Harlem Globetrotters.

10-0. This was the same position they had last year. In 2016, they swept past Detroit, 4-0, manhandled Atlanta, then won their first two games against Toronto before losing the next two. Those twin losses to the Raptors were caused by their playing in Canada. Not this year. Games 3 and 4 are in Ohio and we expect a clean 12-0 slate before they face the Warriors.

All these post-season sorties are tune-up games for Part 3. Some people are happy with this; others are not. The NBA has 30 teams and only two dominate. Good or bad?

Blame it on Kevin and Kevin. When Love joined Kyrie and LeBron, plenty cried foul: they’re too strong. When Durant joined Klay and Steph, many shouted unfair. Bad for the league? If you’re an OKC or San Antonio follower, you’re frowning. Otherwise, this is terrific. Like the era of the Celtics-Lakers in the ‘80s or La Salle-Ateneo in Manila or Borg/McEnroe or Nadal and Federer or Senna/Prost or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, a strong rivalry is riveting. The only problem: our patience is required. We need to endure these lopsided Rounds 1, 2 and 3 before the championship bell rings on June 1.

1:59:59 marathon time

Among running aficionados here in Cebu, when you say “Sub-2,” you’re referring to running a 21K race in under two hours. It’s nowhere near the world record time of 58 minutes and 23 seconds but it’s not an easy feat. You’ve got to own speedy feet and run at a pace of 5:43 for 21 kms.

There’s another meaning of “sub-2” and it’s a crazy proposition: Running a FULL marathon (42.195 kms.) in under two hours. This means that for those who are happy to record a sub-2 half-marathon, you’ve got finish the same time — at twice the distance!

For decades now, millions of runners around the globe have thought that this achievement would be nearly impossible. But as each year passed, the marathon WR time got faster and faster. The current record, set by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya in 2014 at the Berlin Marathon, stands at 2:02:57. (The last six maraton WR records were recorded in Berlin.. so here’s a tip for those who want to PR: run in the capital city of Germany.)

You might say: shaving off two minutes and 57 seconds isn’t that long. Doesn’t it take us a longer time to shower or do our morning grooming? Yes. But in running, 177 seconds is a lenthy time. Running a sub-2 marathon means that you’ll have to run at a pace of over 21-kph nonstop for two hours. Try stepping on a treadmill and pressing 13-kph speed for several minutes. Only the fastest among us — including Dr. Yong Larrazabal, who did a speedy 3:14 at the Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon — can maintain that speed for 42 kms.

So, the sub-2 marathon will take decades of incremental improvements to achieve, right?

Enter Adidas and Nike. The two sporting giants are attempting to break this target this 2017. For Adidas, they have a shoe named “Adizero Sub2” and later this year, they plan to break this barrier. (There’s a “sub2hrs.com” website that reads: Countdown to the first subhr marathon: No longer a matter of IF but rather WHEN.)

For Nike, you must have read the news. In an event in Italy the other Saturday, the Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge has ran the fastest ever 42K: two hours and 25 seconds. Yup, that’s 2:33 faster than the world record and a mere 26 seconds from recording that most incredible of numbers: 1:59:59.

Eliud Kipchoge is a human being unlike any other. Quite possibly, he will end his career as the greatest long-distance runner in history. He is not only the Olympic (Brazil) gold medalist, he is also the London and Berlin marathon champion and has won seven of his eight marathon races. Nike made the perfect decision in tapping the 32-year-old Kenyan to break the record. But was his record legitimate? More inputs in a future article.

Women rule

I’m no sexist but when it comes to sports, the men dominate. Take the PBA or NBA; the Azkals or Lionel Messi. There’s F1 racing, Cesafi basketball, Michael Phelps, ALA Boxing, LeBron and Steph, Gilas Pilipinas and Donnie Nietes.

The one sport where the women prevail? Volleyball. Last Saturday, Jasmin, Jana and I were witnesses to this phenomenon.

It started with the UAAP men’s volleyball championships between NU and Ateneo. I entered the ticket booth and there was no line. The Patron tickets sold for only P200 and it was near-ringside. We entered the gates of Araneta Coliseum at 12:45 p.m. and saw no spectators at the Lower and Upper Boxes and General Admission — and this was the men’s final! 

Women’s volleyball? As early as 12 noon, or four hours prior to game start, a long line snaked outside. When the game started past 4:30, over 20,000 jampacked the Big Dome. People screamed D-L-S-U while pounding on balloon cheering sticks. One half was all-green while the other was blue. Drum-beaters smashed their drum sets with the booming sound reverberating throughout the circular arena.

In my many decades of watching sports — from the Knicks in MSG to Agassi at the U.S. Open to Pacman in Macau — few compare to the hair-raising and ear-defeaning Ateneo vs. La Salle atmosphere.

But this wasn’t men’s basketball; it was something more — and even louder and more thrilling. It was women’s volleyball.

It’s amazing to think that the most popular female athletes are collegiate volleyball players. It started with Alyssa Valdez. I cannot think of a lady athlete who’s more photograhed. When she visits SM, she’s swamped with fans like she’s Anne Curtis. Last Saturday, despite her collegiate retirement, plenty still wore her blue-and-white jersey. Same with the names DE LEON, MORADO and MADAYAG. Their shirts are worn by hardcore fans.

While watching the DLSU-ADMU game, what struck me was this: majority of spectators were female. This is terrific. I cannot think of any other sport where the men are outnumbered in the audience.

Game 2, as many of you saw on TV, was a seesaw battle. You can see it from the faces of the spectators. In one set, you’d stand and clap and scream. In the next, you’d sit downtrodden, quieted by the cheers of the other color. In the end, while Blue won among the men, it was Green who claimed the ladies crown.

My daughter Jana, a resident of Eliazo Dorm, was sad especially because most of the Lady Eagles are her dormmates. It was heartbreaking for team captain Jia Morado, who will be graduating from the Ateneo this month and won’t join next season. Had Ateneo won last Saturday, Game 3 would have been tomorrow — Jia’s birthday.

But this is sport. At game’s end, there is ecstacy and agony. Four years ago, Ateneo won back-to-back; now, they’ve lost the same. But if there’s any consolation, it’s this: the women have triumphed. As the saying goes, “Men rule the world but women rule the men.”

Junia Gabasa and Weiwei Gao

While Sergio Garcia donned his first green jacket at Augusta last Sunday, two teenagers also scored the lowest numbers to win at the Cebu Country Club.

Junia Gabasa won the women’s crown in the 2nd MVPSF Visayas Regional Match Play Championships exactly one week ago. On the men’s side, it was Weiwei Gao, a national team member, who defeated Rolando Pila. Weiwei’s win was similar to the Spaniard Garcia’s victory at The Masters. After 36 holes of match play competition, the 17-year-old Weiwei needed to play an extra playoff hole where he sank a 12-foot birdie putt for victory.

“I have known Weiwei since he was a small boy,” said Nimrod Quiñones, a sportsman and golfer and my mentor in writing as he was the one who invited me into sportswriting over two decades ago. “One thing that I can say about Weiwei is that his success is anchored on the dedication of his parents Shiyu (Jeffrey) and Shelley.”

Shiyu, added Nimrod, is very passionate about his how his children — Weiwei, Weiyu, and Weifang  — developed as golfers. He engaged in a lot of research and invested on proper training and coaching to help them attain their dreams.

“Weiwei as a person is very mild-mannered and is passionate about the game,” Nimrod added. “I have seen him cry in frustration and when he wins, he always remains humble. I have seen how he blasts his drives and make shots I can only imagine, but then despite all the hard work he is putting in his golf game, there is one thing that is also stoking the fire — his love for golf.”

Junia Gabasa — the top seed of the tournament and the younger sister of one of Cebu’s best golfers, Irina — had an easier time winning the women’s title. Only 15 years old and studying at Bright Academy as a Grade 9 student, she defeated Manila player Kristine Torralba after 31 holes.

“It was a very good win after her recovery from an injury last year,” said Deo Gabasa, the dad of Junia. “The golf course was in a very tough wet condition.”

Junia’s next event is right after Holy Week at the Phil. Junior Amateur Open, slated from April 18 to 21. The field will be tough because Junia will compete against the country’s top junior amateurs and there will be foreign competitors, including strong players from Korea. Junia is hoping for a Top 5 (or better) finish.

“Because of her injury for half of last year,” Mr. Gabasa said, “Junia was not able to travel to the U.S. for summer tournaments. She was, however, part of the Phil. team that finished third place in the junior girls division for the 2016 Southeast Asian Amateur Golf Team Championship in Singapore.”

Junia’s goal later this season is to fly to the U.S. and to play the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Open tournaments and to join one or two Invitationals. Added her dad Deo: “In order to experience playing with the top players there, Junia is considering joining the U.S. Women’s Open Qualifier.”

Garcia on Garcia

Paco Jarque won The Masters. If you’ve ever met the new president of the Casino Español de Cebu, Paco Jarque looks like Sergio Garcia. What a victory for the Español! I watched highlights of last Sunday’s final round and it was a heart-stomping, rollercoaster battle.

I asked the best Garcia golfer in Cebu to comment on the best Garcia golfer on the planet.

Bayani Garcia said: “Everybody in the golfing circles agree that before this win, he was undoubtedly the best player to have never won a major championship.”

That’s true. Now 37, Sergio turned pro in 1999 and spent the last 18 years attempting to win a major.

“When he first burst in the scene with his unforgettable duel against Tiger Woods during the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, people were predicting that this was the person who could go toe to toe against Tiger and perhaps become the next best thing in golf,” said the Cebuano Garcia, Bayani. “He had the charm, charisma and no doubt the game to do so.”

Sergio Garcia finally succeeded on his 74th major start. And it couldn’t have happened on a more symbolic day. Last Sunday, April 9, the great Seve Ballesteros, whom Garcia idolized, passed away nearly six years ago of brain cancer and would have turned 60.

“Over the next few years, he (Sergio) wasn’t the ‘bright star’ that everyone expected of him,” Bayani Garcia added. “Yes, he won a few tournaments, including the so-called ‘5th major,’ the Players Championship. Often times he would be in contention in regular tour events and in majors. In my opinion, he did not succeed in ‘closing’ the wins because as the years went by, doubt and uncertainty crept in. The self-doubt of not being to win a major championship got stronger and it messed up his psyche.”

He almost did not win again two days ago. After leading in Days 2 and 3, when the final day started, Sergio established a two-shot lead over his Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose. But midway through the day, that advantage evaporated. Heading into the last five holes, it was Rose who led by two. But armed with a serene mind (“I felt much calmer than I felt on any major championship Sunday,” he later admitted), Sergio inched closer until he tied Rose, missed a for-the-win 7-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole; he regrouped as Rose faltered on the first playoff hole.

“I have always believed that Sergio is one of the greatest ball strikers of all time, even better than Tiger. Sergio has always been a streaky putter and that’s why he hasn’t racked up as many wins and majors,” Bayani Garcia said. “Hopefully now that will change after this win. He has validated himself as being one of the best and has gotten that wicked monkey off his back. He is riding on a confidence high. Things are going great in his life on and off the course. I think winning more majors should be a little ‘easier’ since he has won his first.”

Tiger and Roger

They’re brothers. One was born in Dec. 30, 1975; the other in August 8, 1981. They both wear shirts with the swoosh logo. One has the label “TW” and the other has “RF.” On their wrists are wrapped Rolex watches. One wields an iron club while the other clubs an iron called a tennis racket. They’re both 6-foot-1 weighing 185 lbs.

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are the so-called GOAT. Spelled fully, that’s Greatest Of All Time. True? No and Yes. Let’s rewind the clock and return to 2008. That year, Tiger and Roger stood at the top of the golf and tennis worlds and, talking of similarities, were both tied at 14 Grand Slam titles apiece.

That was nine years ago. A lot has happened since. With Tiger, he was en route to easily overtaking Jack Nicklaus’ 18-major trophy collection. There was zero doubt among golfing experts then that he would be crowned The Greatest. But nobody expected the catastrophe of his married life, highlighted by the club-wielding, car-wrecking tee shot of Elin Nordegren, which ultimately led to their divorce.

Meanwhile, Mr. Federer has led an immaculate and unblemished family life; he and his wife Mirka will celebrate their eighth anniversary this Tuesday and are blessed with two sets of identical twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, and the boys, Leo and Lennart. On the tennis court, while Tiger has added zero major trophies to his collection, Roger has compiled four more, bringing his tally to 18 — the most of any male tennis player.

“What Rog has done is he’s been dominant for so long,” Tiger said last February after Roger won in Melbourne. “To compete against Novak (Djokovic), to compete against Rafa, and now Andy (Murray). He’s had a litany of guys who have won slams. And no one wins slams at his age. And for him to come back, after having to take that much time off, and for him to get the timing, that’s the hardest part. As you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently, and he did that.”

Asked about Tiger’s kind words, Roger answered: “I really wish, of course, he could come back and win again — I wouldn’t want anything else but that. It would be great.”

Let’s recap: Tiger is stranded at 14 majors and, given his endless bout with injuries, it doesn’t look likely that he’ll win another big one. Plus, he’s 41 years too old. So, is he golf’s GOAT? No. He was a sure candidate but he ruined that with his personal travails. And while Tiger’s trajectory has been downhill (like the specialty of his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn), Roger’s is all-positive. Come Wimbledon, he’ll be the favorite and he’s eyeing to regain that No.1 ranking.

The main difference between the two? How Roger treats the most important person in his life. After winning the Australian Open, he credited one person for his resurgence: his wife Mirka.

“She’s been there when I had no titles and she’s still here 89 titles later, so she had a big part to play in the win,” Roger said. “And that’s why I’m just happy she’s my wife now.”

If only Tiger had not been such a tiger.

DepEd is late for class

Last Sunday, I wrote about the Palarong Pambansa. I posed the question: Why did they give the first-time hosts — the Province of Antique — only five months to prepare? This April 23, the Palaro will gather 12,000 high school and elementary athletes in one venue. Why was Antique only informed last Nov. 18 that they’d be hosting the country’s largest sports meet? Five short months to prepare the venues, including the new rubberized track oval (which is still being worked-on); the billeting, the transportation, the food…

It turns out, this practice is not only being practiced this 2017. Last year in Albay, when the Palaro was held in April, the hosts were told only six months earlier in October. The formal signing of the MOA was done in January, just three months prior to the gun start. In 2015, the same thing: with the event in Tagum, Davao del Norte (May 3 to 9), they were informed in Dec. 15 — just over four months to prepare. And in 2014, the announcement was made in Oct. 2013 for Laguna to host the games starting May 10, 2014.

“The Palaro is held in April or May,” said Mars G. Alison, a good friend and fellow sportswriter who writes for Rappler. “Maybe DepEd should already be able to make a decision on who will be the next host on the last day of the Palaro for early preparation.”

I agree with Mars. The Department of Education (DepEd) is the lead government agency that handles the Palaro. They have a Selection Committee who gathers to evaluate the various bids. Whether this committee decides six months prior — or two years earlier — it’s the same selection process. Why not decide earlier?

“They (DepEd) should be proactive because the Palaro is their pinnacle event,” added Ms. Alison. “It is a competition among the best of the best student athletes from all the regions. I mean, let’s say they make the host announcement in May, so by June, they can already accept bids for the next host and do inspections and then by the next Palaro, make the announcement. It should be that early if they want to give a chance for small provinces to host. It entails a lot of preparation. Besides, there’s already a pattern as the hosting rotates from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.”

Consider San Jose, Antique, the hosts for the Palaro which will start in 17 days. With a population of 35,000, they’re not as large as, say, their Panay neighbors like Kalibo, Iloilo or Roxas.

“I think the problem in Antique will be the billeting,” said Mars Alison, who will be making her fourth Palaro trip later this month. “They are expecting 12,000 delegates from 18 regions. I don’t know if all delegations will be accommodated in schools. There were talks about a tent city. Right now, the temperature is unbearable so I am not sure if this is a good idea.. And, what about the parents? Even the media right now is being referred to home stays. And, how about their water supply? I mean, during the Palaro days, the number of people using water will double. This is a problem that has happened in the past Palaro.”

Coming soon: reply from DepEd.

Old is the new New

(Photo source: AP)

Roger Federer is 35. Every day for the past three decades, he’s been swinging at that yellow orb, sprinting for dropshots, smashing a towering lob, punishing his 187-lb. body. How is it possible that the Swiss is able to produce that crosscourt backhand winner or strut and glide like MJ on the hardcourt given his grandfather-like age?

It’s called experience. Age is the price of wisdom. Through the years, Federer has been able to pace himself well. He doesn’t play every Tuesday to Monday. He understands his body; he listens to the only God-given, flesh-and-bones machine that he operates, and he doesn’t overplay. Especially the last few years since he’s breached thirty, he chooses to vie only for the big trophies.

His fluid, relaxed and graceful game is to be credited. He glides like a Michael Martinez. Effortless. Smooth. If you were to train an 11-year-old the ABCs of T, look to nobody else but RF. In a 19-year pro career, he also rarely gets injured. And when he does, we know what happens. Last year, while helping his twin girls in the bathroom, he twisted his knee which resulted in him having to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus. What did Roger do? He quit tennis for six months. Physically and mentally, he pressed pause. Normally, after such a long layoff, one’s comeback would be rusty. Not RF. At the Australian Open last January, he won Major #18.

That triumph over his tormentor Rafael Nadal, when he was down 1-3 in the fifth set of the final, was the clincher. That win boosted his conviction. Before that victory (when he had not won a Grand Slam title in 4.5 years), his biggest win was being named GQ’s Most Stylish Man for 2016. People said he was decrepit. Some called for his retirement so he could spend more time with this twin set of twins.

Feeling rejuvenated, he was a rabid dog unleashed. The elderly felt young and born again. He has since changed to a larger 97-inch-head Wilson racket. And his backhand! What used to be his only weakness has now transformed into an offensive slingshot. That Rafa-forehand-to-Roger’s-backhand combination used to be painful to watch. Now, it’s become a cannon. He serve-and-volleys, attacks the net, slices; he’s an artist weaving his craft on Nikes. And the Swiss is no longer afraid of the Spaniard. After the Oz Open, RF won Indian Wells, and now, in Miami, lifting a prize he hasn’t carried since 2006 when he defeated — with a sweet twist of irony here — his coach, Ivan Ljubicic. He’s at 19-1 this year and 7-0 against the Top 10.

“I’m moving up in the (rankings) and I just want to stay healthy,” Federer said. “When I’m healthy and feeling good, I can produce tennis like this… It would be great to be No. 1 again, but it’s a long way away.” 

Can RF, who last climbed the summit of Tennisdom in Nov. 2012, ascend to become No.1 again? In military lingo, I say: Roger that.

Palarong Pambansa

The Palarong Pambansa is our National Games. It’s that annual congregation of “the best of the best” in the elementary and high school divisions. Over 10,000 girls and boys representing 18 regions gather to compete in over 20 sports disciplines that range from archery to baseball to sepak takraw to taekwondo.

The Palaro started in 1948. Minus a few years when it was cancelled (in 1972, for example, during Martial Law), this year will be the 60th edition. It will be held three weeks from today (from April 23 to 29) in the Province of Antique.

I recall the two times that my daughter Jana Marie joined. She had to undergo a series of tennis contests to qualify: the unit meet, the district meet, the city meet, the provincial meet, the CVIRAA (regionals), until finally you join the nationals (Palaro). It’s rigorous. In her final year of elementary, we went to Dipolog City and, a few years later in high school, it was the 2014 Palaro hosted by Laguna.

The entire week is a sports carnival: You arise at 5 a.m., compete at 10, watch the 100-meter sprinters in the track oval; you play again at 3 p.m. then converge with thousands of others to mingle, buy souvenirs and eat local delicacies. It’s our Olympics — for elementary and high school athletes.

Why this talk of the Palaro? First, because this is a first for Antique. “We are so happy that after 60 years, Palarong Pambansa will be held in our province,” said Eric Otayde, representing Antique. “It is our chance to show the whole country the best things Antique could offer.”

Second reason: I was born in Iloilo and my wife’s mom, Malu Gayanilo Mendez, comes from Guimbal, a nearby 67 kms. from the main site in San Jose, and she speaks fluent Kinaray-a.

Now, as happy as I am that the venue is in Panay, I’m also anxious for the the municipality of San Jose, the capital of Antique. I’m concerned for San Jose not simply because they’re not as large as, say, Bacolod (the city which has hosted the most Palaro games at five times) or Tacloban (a three-time host), or because it’s Antique’s first — I’m troubled by their lack of preparation time to organize such a massive endeavor.

Given that the Palaro will invite over 10,000 athletes, plus thousands more of coaches, officials, and parents, do you know how much time they were given to prepare?

Five months only! They were told last November 18 and given only five short months to get ready for the nation’s largest sports meet. That’s incredible. More next week..

Maria Sharapova

The girls are unhappy. They’re complaining, criticizing, saying it’s unfair. The controversy surrounds the most popular female athlete on this planet. Standing 6-foot-2 with flowing blonde hair, Maria Sharapova could have been a Vogue or Prada model. But she’s more than a beautiful face with long legs. She’s a 5-time Grand Slam champion who was ranked world No. 1.

Sharapova, who’ll turn 30 this April 19, is in the midst of a 15-month ban after she failed a drug test at the Australian Open last year. Humiliated, Sharapova has been busy off the tennis court: she enrolled in the Harvard Business School and has been attending to her myriad of businesses including the premium line of candies named Sugarpova. For 11 years now, Forbes has named her “the world’s most marketable female athlete” and her estimated on-and-off-court earnings exceeds $285 million.

Back to her WTA suspension, it will officially end this April 26. Now here’s the controversy. There’s a big tournament called the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix that will start on April 24 — two days before her suspension ends.

This means she can’t join, right? Wrong. The Porsche tournament organizers decided to delay her first round match to Wednesday — the day after her suspension ends.

Right? Or wrong? Technically, and the WTA has approved this request, they said it’s okay. But is it the correct thing to do?

“I don’t think it’s right but what can we do about it? She’s still banned but she can come on site on Wednesday, that’s pretty strange,” said world no. 4 Dominika Cibulkova. “For me it’s not OK and I spoke to some other players and nobody is OK with it, but it’s not up to us. All the people who are taking care of these things should know the rule and do the right thing. It’s not about her, but everyone who was doping should start from zero.”

Why was allowed to join midway through a tournament? Simple. The Porsche-sponsored Sharapova will draw the biggest attention. “From the tournament standpoint she will bring in the crowds, make money,” said British No. 2 Heather Watson. “But from a moral standpoint you should have to work your way back up if you’ve been on a ban. It just seems a bit easy.”

Caroline Wozniacki added: “Obviously rules are twisted and turned in favour of who wants to do what.”

For me, this is wrong. After a 15-month-long ban, what’s a wait of a few extra days? She’s now ridiculed by many of her peers. As one of my favorite sayings goes: “The truth is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

Swiss dinner with Roger on the menu

Last Saturday night, we were in Switzerland. The elevation stood over 300 meters high. The wind howled and the cold penetrated our skin. Red seats and red napkins adorned the table as we dined on Swiss cuisine: sausages from Switzerland and a fondue set which required us to pierce cutlets of bread that we dipped into melted Swiss cheese.

Ahhh, delicious. We were in the company of Dr. Fritz Strolz and his charming wife, Pearle. The location was their fabulous home in Alta Vista where Cebu’s blinking lights glimmered below, punctuated by the SM Seaside City tower.

Dr. Fritz Strolz is Cebuano. Well, he was born in Switzerland and studied in the same school as Albert Einstein in Zurich but since he married a Cebuana, then he’s one of us. The couple have been long-time friends of my wife’s (Mendez) family.

When Jana, Jasmin and I visited Switzerland two years ago, we stayed in their home in Basel. Dr. Strolz toured us in his Alfa Romeo as we drove hundreds of kilometers to visit Geneva, Lausanne, Mount Rigi and even took day trips to Germany and France (to see the French National Car Museum). One highlight? Uncle Fritz brought us to TC Boys Club, the red clay courts where a young boy learned to hone his volleys.

That’s Roger Federer. The other day, he defeated Stan Wawrinka. Dr. and Mrs. Strolz got to see the same all-Swiss encounter at the Australian Open last January. In a month-long trip Down Under, the couple made sure to watch the two men’s semifinals. It was Nadal-Dimitrov in one half; the other was the all-Swiss duel.

Back to last Saturday night, we were eight guests: Dr. Ronnie Medalle and his two sons, Dr. Stevee and Santi; Dr. Ron Eullaran and his boys, Rayne and Yani; plus me and Jasmin. It was a night that ended past 11:30 that included plenty of jokes. Rayne Eullaran conversed in German. His father, the top rheumatologist Dr. Ronald, made us a laugh the whole evening. Dr. Stevee Medalle showed us a photo of his room in Manila where, hanging above his bed, was a Swiss flag.

We learned plenty about Switzerland: their population of 8.5 million; the nurses who earn P300,000/month; the requirement for each home to build a bunker. How timely for this weekend, we thought, dining on Swiss food (including Swiss ice cream dessert) with our Swiss hosts, as the Swiss lord over tennis. Said Dr. Strolz in a message yesterday: “Pearle was never so proud to be a Swiss. We are the strongest tennis nation in the world at the moment!”

Who’s basketball’s most valuable player?

It’s over. Let’s pop the champagne, ignite the loudspeakers, switch on the spotlight and proclaim the winner. It’s Russell Westbrook. He just recorded his 34th triple-double, leads the NBA in scoring with 31.7 PPG, and has sparked the Thunder’s lightning with an impressive 39-29 record (sixth in the West) — all minus Kevin Durant. Impressive? No. We need a better adjective. How about the letters M-V-P?

Let’s discuss that triple-double (which means, to the non-basketball fan, that he reaches double digits in three categories, usually in points, assists and rebounds). The all-time record for one season belongs to Oscar Robertson’s 41, which he achieved in 1962. Fifty-five years later, Westbrook has 34 ‘TDs’ with 14 games left. This means that if he records a triple-double in every other remaining game, he’ll at least tie “The Big O’s” milestone.

Given that his jersey number is “0,” will Russell break that record and be crowned today’s “Big O?” I think he will. I hope so. As each game passes, fans will watch. It’s like Golden State last year when we kept score until they won No. 73. With his latest triple-double, recorded last Thursday against the Raptors, that was his fourth straight. In that game, despite sitting out the 4th quarter, he made 16 assists — more than the entire Raptors squad. How ludicrous is that? And he’s not a hulking LeBron; he’s the same height as the 6’3” James Yap.

“I think he (Westbrook) is very conscious of the achievement,” said Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN. “He’s such an electric player with so much stage presence. And, like, from the moment he struts into the arena, usually in this outrageous outfit, he has this sneer on his face. He’s an athlete that likes to play angry. And you get the sense if he didn’t, it might even compromise his production.”

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

HARDEN. But, wait, because the NBA has 30 teams with 15 per squad for a total of 450 players, who else is vying for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the league’s first commissioner? There’s Mr. James of the defending champs. Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 16.2 PPG in his career, now averages 26.4 and has spurred the Spurs to battle GSW for No.1. But the best rival for Westbrook?

“James Harden is my MVP choice,” said Dennis Que, a huge basketball fan who’s watched nearly 20 live NBA games, including last year’s playoff game between the Clippers and the Trail Blazers. “He’s averaging close to triple double, leading the league in assists (11.3) and leading his team on top of the West (currently 3rd). He doesn’t have superstars around him like the Cavaliers and Warriors but because of his presence, his teammates are playing well. That’s Harden’s edge over Westbrook.”

A possibility that Dennis foresees? If last year the NBA had it’s first unanimous MVP in Steph Curry, how about its first co-MVPs in Westbrook and Harden?

The 52nd Anvil Awards

Leo Amoyan (HR manager of SMB), Girlie Garces (SMB head of Corporate Communications) and John P.

Last Friday night at the Makati Shangri-La, I received an award in behalf of the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC). With me were three executives from San Miguel Brewery: Girlie Garces, heading Corporate Communications; Leo Amoyan, who leads Human Resources; and Bryan Garcia from SMB’s headquarters.

SAC and SMB have been partners for 35 years. Each February or March, we recognize the Cebuano athletes and sportsmen who excelled in their respective games. And as you may have read last week, June Mar Fajardo copped the highest honor (Athlete of the Year), Donnie Nietes beamed a toothful smile as Hall of Fame awardee, Joy Tabal stood tall in her high heels, Jonel Borromeo was honored with the Presidential Award and Fred Uytengsu, born in Cebu in 1961, was our Sportsman of the Year.

Back to last Friday, it was a glittering affair as SMB and SAC jointly received the Anvil Award. What’s an “anvil?” In plain English, it means “a heavy steel or iron block with a flat top, concave sides, and typically a pointed end, on which metal can be hammered and shaped.” Named after this block of iron, the Anvil Awards honors organizations and companies whose programs make an impact and are long-lasting.

“Presented annually by the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP), the ANVIL is the symbol of Excellence in Public Relations,” read the website. “It is awarded to outstanding public relations programs, tools and, now, practitioners after careful screening by select PR professionals and judging by a distinguished multi-sectoral jury.”

Why would a PR group recognize an awards body that honors athletes? Because of the uninterrupted partnership of San Miguel and SAC.

Last Friday, we were seated by 4:45 p.m. Very early, I thought, for an awarding ceremony. It turns out that the program involves plenty of entertainment and speeches. Over a thousand beautifully-dressed ladies and gentlemen in coat-and-tie filled the Rizal Ballroom. The stage was huge and impressive. Large screen LCD sets swamped the backdrop. Some of the most celebrated of dance groups captivated the audience as Girlie, Leo, Bryan and myself enjoyed dinner that included salmon and corn-fed chicken.

Joy Polloso, who heads the retail group of Filinvest, was seated at the next table as many of the nation’s top firms, including Smart, PLDT, Shell, PDI and Phil. Star, Page One and more were honored. Manny Pangilinan was in attendance. Finally, when the clock neared 9 p.m., we were called up on stage for that quick award acceptance. A short but memorable moment honoring 35 long and enduring years.

Tour ni Frank and Tour de France

Both rhyme. Both involve utilizing two God-given legs to power a vehicle up a steep mountain. Both are celebrated. Of course, nothing compares to the July 1 three-week-long race in France called “Le Tour.” But here in Cebu, we have one cycling race that’s renowned.

It’s the 15th edition of Ang Tour ni Frank and it’s happening today and tomorrow. It all started when Frank Gatdula — who moved to America after high school in 1976 — visited his hometown of Compostela.

“In 1999, I came home and met Dr. JV Araneta who introduced me to Cebu Recycle members,” Frank said. “Riders who would race at the North Reclamation Area every Saturday morning and put in P20 as entry fee. It was like a ‘bente-bente’ winner-take-all race. Watching the guys racing hard for little money impressed me so I decided to donate a little cash to add to their prize money. From then on, every year I come home, I would sponsor an event during Sinulog. It was originally called ‘Cebu Recycle Race Series’ and somehow someone started calling it Ang Tour ni Frank (TnF), synonymous to the big Tour de France. My little donation snowballed into a big event, from bente-bente criterium race to a 3-day stage race that has been attended by a few foreigners.”

Pictured above, Frank Gatdula’s love affair with cycling began in 1983 after he entered the U.S. Air Force. He hasn’t stopped pedaling since and has raced in the U.S. Cycling Federation (Category 4).

“TnF is Cebu’s longest organized road race,” Frank added. “When we started, it was my intention to help build the grassroots. I sponsored a few local riders, including buying new road bikes for those with potential. Over the years, the vision has developed and we now have more bikers and road events.”

The TnF schedule? “Today (Saturday), we will have two races,” he said. “First stage, to start outside JY Square, traverses through the Busay Road and finishes in TOPS. This is the most challenging stage of the TnF. The 2nd stage is the Twilight Criterium near Lantaw SRP. It’s a 2.2 km. stretch with two hairpin turns for 40 minutes. The second day (tomorrow) will take us from Danao to just north of Lugo with a distance of 90 kms. We also have two ‘King of the Mountain’ awards.”

A total of 150 participants are expected with over 30 arriving from outside Cebu. And since this is the 15th anniversary, Frank has added special awards for Most Aggressive Rider, Oldest Rider and Youngest Rider. To avid cyclists, don’t miss Ang Tour ni Frank.

Read “Appreciating the Tour ni Frank” by my good friend and fellow writer, Dr. JV Araneta.