Ironman Cebu: Four cities, three sports, three days left

imagesToday, registration opens for all participants of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3. What’s 70.3? That’s the total distance of the race: 70.3 miles. The Sunday event is actually a “Half-Ironman” as the full Ironman is twice the measurement: 140.6 miles, translating to a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike ride and a 42K marathon.

Three days from now, the length is still daunting: that’s a 1.9-km. swim, a 90-km. pedal contest and a 21K run using tired legs.

Today, the doors of The Marquee in Shangri-La Mactan will open to welcome all triathletes. By day’s end, you’ll know who’s joining: they’ll be wearing colored bands on their wrists with the IM logo. They’ll have bragging rights while roaming our city streets, quietly proclaiming to all: I hope to cross that finish line this Sunday and be an “Ironman.”

This race is life-changing. People’s lives have been altered because of Aug. 3, 2014. The reason: as soon as one has registered, first-timer or not, one has to devote innumerable hours performing free-style strokes in the 25-meter pool, four-hour-long bike rides to Catmon or Carcar or Carmen, long-distance runs that start at 4:15 a.m.

Belly bulges have been trimmed. Buckets full of sweat have evaporated. Hundreds of thousands of pesos have been spent on Pinarello Dogma bikes. GU gels have been swallowed like soft candy.

All for good. For here’s the good news: I know plenty of 39- and 49-year-olds who’ve never been fitter in their whole lives than today. Amazing, right?

Jonel Borromeo, my high school best friend, comes to mind. Over 24 months ago, he weighed over 230 lbs. and could barely circle the track oval’s 400 meters. Now, he’s lost 80 lbs. of fat and he’s a hard-core triathlete who joined Gianluca Guidicelli’s three-day bike “suffer” fest in Bohol that spanned over 515 kms. When he trekked to the U.S. for a business trip, he was stopped by the U.S. immigration because his new face and body didn’t resemble his passport photo. He was interrogated for two hours!

That interrogation brought an earful and fulfilling grin to Jonel. Ha-ha, he must have screamed inside. This is what being fit looks like, he must have told himself fronting the mirror.

1619604_631142706939972_881171607_nJonel (center) with Joseph Miller and Tenggoy Colmenares

And so, even before the starting gun will fire at exactly 6:28 a.m. this Sunday, I congratulate everyone who’s joining, especially the first-timers. Your dedication has not only made you slimmer and fitter — but, as a whole, you’re more disciplined and goal-oriented.

As Meyrick Jacalan said, “Race day is the pay off. It’s over. Enjoy.” By that, Jacs means that all your months of suffering have culminated towards this weekend. It’s time to claim the prize.

As we applaud the participants, we also thank Sunrise Events, Inc., led by Fred Uytengsu, Jr., whose family roots come from Cebu, and the woman supervising the whole spectacle, the indefatigable superwoman Princess Galura.

Cebu, as a brand, is known worldwide in the triathlon hemisphere because of the IM70.3. Our visitors descending to Mactan will not only spend good Euros but will also spread the good word (hopefully) about our beautiful island. Sports tourism, it’s nicknamed.

This means that, to all those who’ll be inconvenienced three mornings from now, please bear with this annual party. Speaking of “annual,” it looks like, after three years, Cebu will continue hosting the IM. And why not? Camarines Sur was a terrific start, bringing hundreds of newbies. But it’s small. And the water, murky and brown, can’t compare to Shangri-La’s. Three more years. That’s what I hear. Amazing Tri’ news for this multi-city hosting of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue, Talisay and Cebu.

Me? I did the 90K bike two years ago, was scheduled to race the Individual Full last year until an injury thwarted those plans, and this Sunday, I’ll run 21K with Ralph Sios-e as swimmer and my best buddy Dr. Ronald Eullaran as biker. Our team name is JACK MEN, in honor of my late father-in-law “Jack Mendez” who passed away two weeks ago and because “we’re men of Jack.”

Pointers for the IM 70.3 first-timers

Of the 2,500 participants in next Sunday’s race, hundreds will be new. Last year, I asked a few seasoned triathletes for some pointers. Again, here are those lessons…

AYA GARCIA SHLACHTER: 1. Taper. Do not cram your workouts. 2. If you feel doubtful that you can finish the race, break down the distances in your mind. I have difficulty running 21K so I break down the run as four 5k races; this way, I am not intimidated. 3. Smile and finish strong!

CHRIS ALDEGUER. 1. Race Week = Get enough rest this week. Avoid long training sessions. Keep it short with a nice pace to stay sharp. Eat and Hydrate well. Prepare and check all gear and equipment.

2. Swim= If you are a good swimmer, position well in the front. The swim start is crowded. Positioning well will get you in a good group that can result in an overall fast pace. For the majority, it is best to take the swim easy since it is a long race. The swim can be a warmup for the bike. For the first timers, expect the swim to be chaotic. It’s important to be prepared mentally to avoid panic.

3. Bike= Since it is a long race, ride comfortably the early stage of the Bike leg. It is better to be feeling good in the later part of the Bike rather than suffer.. there is still a 21k Run to follow. Also be reminded at all times to drink and eat.

4. Run= Same with the Bike; start at a comfortable pace. A big percentage end up surviving the run rather than running the run. This often is a result of wrong pacing. It is always good to finish strong.

JANE JANE ONG. 1. Eat and rest well and get plenty of sleep. Try to sleep early every night. If you can’t sleep, just lie down in bed. 2. During race day, it’s important to pace oneself. Although the adrenaline rush might push us to swim/bike/run faster, it’s better to stick by the pace we’ve practiced to avoid getting cramps. 3. Enjoy the race!

JACS JACALAN. Pacing is critical. Going out too fast in one of the disciplines will have a consequential effect on the other two. Settle into your goal pace; you should have put in many miles in the past months at your goal pace, so it should feel natural.

Swimming with hundreds of triathletes is chaotic. Losing your goggles is a nightmare, so put-on your goggles underneath your swim cap to keep it from getting off your head. Going out hard in the swim is a huge mistake. Many triathletes push hard in the swim thinking they won’t use their shoulders during the bike and run. But hard swimming causes the body to burn more carbohydrates and this effect will last until the bike and run legs.

Ease up slightly on the last km. of the bike leg by increasing cadence and using easy gear. The transition from Bike to Run is most difficult. Reducing lactic acid levels and getting your breathing under control will enable a smoother transition. Giving up a few minutes will improve your run split more than it costs your bike split.

You’ve trained hard and with discipline. You have missed late-night partying. You have not been to the newly-opened bars. You have sacrificed family time. Most even have troubles with their wives (hehe). Race Day is the payoff. It’s over. Enjoy the race.

ANNIE NERIC. Make sure you are really prepared. Don’t worry about losing the registration fee or not participating. You are better alive than sorry. Think of yourself and family. Remember this is not an ordinary sports event.

Consult your doctor, have a check up and ensure you are fit (heart, no high blood, sugar levels). Avoid work stress; worries that may affect your condition, psyche, focus. Try to relax and try to get a good sleep the night before (this doesn’t always happen). Don’t try anything new on race day like new rubber shoes, tri suit.

Relax. Don’t tense your body and muscles. Think of good things; think of going thru the course and succeeding. This is Physical, Mental and even Spiritual. So PRAY, too! Go thru with your guardian angel. Have fun, enjoy the scenery, think of the Finish Line and look forward to a Cebu lechon!

Jack Mendez

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We were supposed to travel together this November. A lifelong boxing fan, he followed Manny Pacquiao’s every jab and uppercut. We planned to fly to Hong Kong, hop on the fast ferry to the gambling island then set-up camp inside one of the suites of The Venetian Macao.

Jacinto Mariano Natividad Villarosa Mendez, or “Jack” to the tens of thousands of people who know him, won’t make the trip to watch Pacman. No worries. Instead of a seat inside the Cotai Arena, he’ll have unobstructed front-row seats from high above, seated alongside his buddies like Kits Borromeo, Dito Bugarin, Toto Gallego and his brother Tony — with an unlimited supply of Carlos Uno on his side.

Jack Mendez, my beloved father-in-law, the man I’ve known for over half my life, passed away Tuesday last week. He was to turn 83 years old this August 17.

He left us, to those who’ve met him and laughed with him and heard his impromptu speeches that were always the most applauded — he left us all better people.

Jack’s story is amazing. Born poor, he struggled to study. In college and in law school at the USC, his pants were often torn and he borrowed books. The dean of the USC Law School disallowed him from taking the Bar Exam for fear that he’d fail and would lower the school’s passing rate. He stormed Dean Pelaez’s office and slammed a hand grenade on the table.

He took the test, passed it, became Atty. Jacinto V. Mendez. But still poor, he worked as a security guard. One of his assignments in Manila was to guard a furniture factory where he had to scoot on top of a table to avoid the crawling snakes that wandered all night.

On March 1965, he founded the Centurion Security Agency, Inc. and it went on to become one of the biggest agencies (with over 2,000 guards) in Vis-Min. Counting the years, this March would have been Centurion’s 50th anniversary.

How dad, whom we were ready to nickname, “The Man With the Golden Gun,” longed to attend his baby’s golden celebration. But, no, God has better plans. He wanted his son Jack beside Him early — to be with Him for eternity.

I consider Jack not only as a role model and mentor — but as a best friend. We had the best of times together. Each Saturday dinner that we enjoyed, each trip that we took as a family, each trek to Dumaguete or Iloilo or Bohol that we took so he could watch his granddaughter’s tennis matches — each moment we savored.

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As every Rotarian or lawyer-friend or SSS co-employee would attest, he was jolly. He’d make jokes all night. He was witty and articulate. He loved to hold the microphone and tell the funniest of stories.

He was loved. By his family, above all, led by my mother-in-law Malu, and the children, Michelle, Jasmin, Jake and Monette. By his Centurion family. As example, the day after he passed away, the Head Guards group were so shocked and moved by his sudden passing that, never mind their limited resources, they donated a substantial amount of their hard-earned salary to the Mendez family. This is love. Jack’s love returning because of his kindness.

One of dad’s mottos is GOLF: “Growing Old, Living Fine.” He lived a fine and fulfilling life. Another saying that he held dear was the 5Fs. In life, he said, we must follow these 5Fs… First, faith. God above everything else. Next, family. Third F: finances. Fourth, friends. And last, Fun.

Faith. Family. Finances. Friends. Fun. “It should be according to sequence,” he’d say. “Never, for example, finances over family or fun over friends.”

I add a sixth F in his honor: Father. He was an always-present, very thoughtful, and giving father.

This morning at 10, a mass will be celebrated at the San Isidro Parish Church in Talamban with the interment to follow at Cempark. We will lay to rest a man who loved to the fullest, laughed every problem away, rose from rags to riches with humility; a man who could make the most serious of frowns smile, who commandeered a squadron of centurions.

Jack The Centurion, we salute you. Dad, we’ll miss you.

Home is where the heart (not Heat) is

You cannot please everybody. That’s a fact of life. No matter how good you are or how sincere your intentions are, there will always be that one person — or 20.5 million Floridians — who’ll despise you. That’s life. “You can’t please everyone, nor should you seek to,” said actor Dylan Moran, “because then you won’t please anyone, least of all yourself.”

Agree. Pat Riley must be fuming bad. What happened to their four year ride, reaching The Finals all four seasons and winning twice?

Yes, but then LeBron James is The King. As today’s Jordan, his decision is honored. He is not only basketball’s best but this planet’s greatest athlete. And when you’re at the Mt. Everest of your game and only 29 years of age, you can do as you wish. The Chosen One chooses.

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After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron must have looked at his pal Dwayne Wade’s 32-year-old banged-up body and concluded, “Man, he’s old.” This is a fact: If Miami Heat had remained with the same roster for next season, the result will be the same: they’ll get clobbered by Manu and Tony and Tim.

Stay with the old or gamble with the future? In “The Decision Part 2,” LeBron followed his heart. His heart had always resided in Ohio, where he was born. “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,” wrote LeBron in Sports Illustrated. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart.”

The King is coming home. Who’d have expected that? Given their success in Miami, wasn’t the logical move to at least try one or two more seasons before leaping? I’m sure LeBron pondered on that thought. The Heat and our fellow Pinoy Erik Spoelstra have been good to him and helped him purchase what couldn’t buy in Cleveland: two NBA rings. And, yes, while Miami cracked and wilted against the Spurs, surely with some tweaking and importing of new blood, they’d have the best chance next season, right?

Maybe. But that’s now forgotten. What’s important is that a decision has been reached and it’s an astonishing one. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” added LeBron. “After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown.”

Though this issue isn’t about money, it’s not bad receiving extra: While he started with $4 million as a Cleveland rookie in 2003, James took a pay-cut when he flew south to Miami, pocketing $14.5 million in his first season. Obviously, big bucks — but for a giant of his stature, that’s small. Believe it or not, in his whole career James has never been his team’s highest-paid member. That will change starting this October with the Cavs when he pockets $22.2 million.

This story is also about forgiveness. One of the major stumbling blocks of his return was the animosity he received from the Cleveland fans, most notably the Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Four years ago when LeBron shocked his employer with his goodbye, Gilbert wrote a scornful letter, saying LeBron was a coward. LeBron never forgot that (justified) cruelty.

Now he has. In a secret meeting last Sunday, Gilbert was said to have told LeBron, “We had five great years together and one terrible night. I told him how sorry I was, expressed regret for how that night went and how I let all the emotion and passion for the situation carry me away. I told him I wish I had never done it, that I wish I could take it back.”

LeBron reciprocated, saying that he, too, was sorry for “The Decision” that aired on worldwide TV in 2010. And so, the two shook hands, probably hugged, and ‘Bron’s coming home.

Which means that Cedar Point, the “roller coaster capital of the world,” will have to fulfill its promise of a new ride: a roller-coaster named, “King James.”

I can’t wait for the roller-coaster ride called the NBA.

Germany humiliates Brasil

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The headlines screamed, “Brazilians Mourn Nightmare,” “Neymar wouldn’t have saved Brazil,” “Massacre!” and “Germany Embarrass Sorry Brazil.”

It was an embarrassment. On home soil. Fronting tens of thousands of Brazilians and after $13.3 billion spent. Their worst-ever beating since that 0-6 loss to Uruguay in 1920. Five goals by Germany in 19 minutes. A day Luiz Felipe Scolari calls “the worst day of my life.”

Who’d have expected that? Entering the game, few believed that the hosts would win, despite Brazil never having lost a home match since 1975 — but nobody anticipated the outcome.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a fan or not of Brazil,” said Graeme Mackinnon, “7-1 was totally from another planet.”

Yes, that planet is inhabited by 200 million football-crazy people and it’s called Planet Brasil. It was an in-your-face embarrassment.

“Germany stops when it’s the World Cup,” said Dennis Valdez, my second cousin and the son of the famed Mt. Everest leader Art Valdez and former Bacolod City Mayor Joy Valdez.

I phoned Dennis yesterday. He’s German with Pinoy blood. By that, I mean this: He resided in Germany from 2003 to 2011 and speaks fluent German. “Friends of mine from Germany whom I communicated with after the game were just as shocked,” he said. “Nobody expected the outcome.”

Dennis, who resided in cities ranging from Heidelberg to Weisbaden to Frankfurt, was at the 2006 World Cup that Germany hosted. Though he never got to see a live game, he watched every game on the large screen alongside his friends and fellow employees.

“There would be public viewing screens everywhere,” he said. “In Frankfurt’s Main River, they setup a huge, huge screen in the middle of the river and everyone watched. The atmosphere was like inside the stadium. The Germans go crazy when their team plays.”

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(Matthias Schrader/AP)

Mr. Valdez worked for Bilfinger Berger, the second largest construction firm in Germany, and he says that business stops when it’s game-time.

Recently, I read an article about the automobile giant: “Volkswagen announced that it cancelled the late shift at its main plant in Wolfsburg so workers can watch the game. The late shift from 2 to 10pm was shut down, which means that around 4,000 workers can get off work early.”

What a celebration it must have been for the 82 million Germans. What an 11-man scoring machine. Consider that, four years ago when Spain won the WC, they scored a total of eight goals… for the whole tournament!

Yet, the victors are not gloating. It’s only the semis. “Germans are humble people,” said Dennis. “I’m sure, as much as they celebrated, they also sympathized with the Brazilians. Na luoy-sila. They also pity them. This was unexpected. Remember, this is, more or less, the same German team as 2006. Eight years ago, they were very young. Four years ago in South Africa, the Germans were expected to win. Now, they’re peaking. It’s about experience.”

Nimrod Quiñones added, “Many say Brazil lost because of the absence of Neymar and Silva, but I believe the reason for the loss was they they failed to play as a team.”

Of the other semifinal (played at 4 a.m. today), Graeme Mackinnon said: “No European team has ever won in South America so the pressure will be on Argentina to try and maintain that statistic. But first they have to beat a fairly impressive Holland who are being favored to win the cup. Whoever wins (Argentina-Netherlands) will be the underdogs in the final.”

Agree. For me, like most people worldwide — especially fans of Argentina’s No. 10 — I’d love to see a Germany-Argentina ending. But not my cousin Dennis who said, “I want Netherlands. Their rivalry with Germany is unbelievable. It’s like Pakistan and India, when it comes to football.” And, my Ilonggo cousin ended saying, “Grabe ila away. Kontrahan gid sila.”

rtr3xped(Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Wonderful Wimbledon

Day Ten: The Championships - Wimbledon 2014(Al Belo/Getty Images)

My choices lost. I picked Eugenie Bouchard and Roger Federer to each win the final point at Wimbledon. They didn’t. The crowd favorites, Bouchard and Federer, just by listening to the screams of the British, were revered.

Bouchard is stunningly pretty. Blonde, svelte, power-hitting yet not named Maria, she was the darling of The Championships. Sadly, Petra Kvitova annihilated her W dreams. The Czech checkmated her in 55 minutes. Only 20 years young, Bouchard will soon be a multiple Grand Slam lady. She has the mentality. When she reached the finals, she was not contented. That’s the hallmark of a champion — that hunger, thirst, need for more.

Roger vs. Novak Djokovic? Wow. That’s the ideal W for these W Championships. Unlike last year’s boring clay-court-like final, last Sunday was bang-bang-bang. They stood on the baseline. They rifled forehands. They swatted backhands. Serves smothered the T.

The first set was nail-biting. Just when you thought that Novak would snatch the tiebreaker, Roger inhales his 17-slam worth of experience to activate his muscles. He won 7-6. This is it! Roger fans believed. Eight Wimbledon crowns. 18 majors. Rolex watches to gift every family member after the triumph. But, no, Nole never goes away. Though he looks downtrodden, though he appears wilted with his skinny looks and skinny shorts, his heart is as large as Nadal’s. He never, ever, as Churchill would say, quits.

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Novak wins the second set. And the third. Oh no, we, Roger fans, watched from our TV sets in anxiety. The 32-year-old looked old. As Novak looked to Boris Becker and pumped his Serbian fists, Roger was, like he always is, silent and cool. He was too cool that he was close to losing the dream.

Fourth set: According to script, Roger fades. He goes down quickly 2-5 as the Philippine clock nears 12 midnight. Time to go to sleep, we say; this will be over in minutes. RF holds. It’s 5-3. Serving for the championship — and the chance to snatch back that No.1 ranking from Nadal — Novak goes down love-30. The crowd erupts in excitement. Two points later, it’s 30-all. The fans turn quiet. Moments after, Roger scores the break — it’s 4-5 and on serve! Yehey.

But Novak, ever the brave, fires back. He reaches Championship Point with Roger serving. Bang! Fault, the linesman calls it. Roger raises his arm. The slow-mo cartoon video is called and it shows that Roger served an ace. Yehey! Minutes later, deflated and in disbelief at letting slip his chances, Novak loses the fourth set, 7-5.
It’s two sets all. By this time, the momentum has shifted to Roger. He has escaped like Houdini. By the 5th set, he’s stepping forward, slamming that backhand inside the rectangle. He has nothing to lose — he should have been in the locker room at this point — and an 8th W to gain. On the other side of the net, Novak wobbles. His leg is injured. Well, not exactly. But he’s limping. Yet, he fires an ace on game point. The trainer is called (delaying tactics maybe?) and he massages the Serbian’s calves.

Roger’s fans, by this time, believe it. They can sense History in the Making. For isn’t that the Rolex ad, “It doesn’t just tell time… it tells history.” Sunday, July the 6th, was Roger’s historic date.

Well, unta. Watching the game until 1 a.m. yesterday, it was painful. It was too bad that Roger lost after that scintillating comeback; although it would have been worse pain for Novak had he lost after that 4th set meltdown.

It was one of the best matches I’ve watched — just like Chris Weidman’s win over Lyoto Machida earlier that day. It was also interesting to see the contest of the two people seated: Becker and Stefan Edberg. The other winners? Uniqlo, with their logo plastered on Novak’s shirt. And tennis… for isn’t this game unique? While all other sports involve a coach, in tennis you’re alone… What made Novak win? His heart, will, mind. Finally, the best sight of all: wearing matching dresses, Myla and Charlene. How we wished their dad climbed the box to hug the twins.

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Sporty weekend

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What a weekend for international sports! Brazil hosted four sets of World Cup quarterfinal games. Germany and Brazil are through. Early this morning, it’s possible that the Dutch and Argentinians advanced. What a final four. Neymar? That’s sad. I watched the replay of the knee kick to his back by Juan Zuniga and it looked intentional. Who flies on air with a knee bent straight to someone’s back? Neymar’s the best player and he was surely a marked man. Now, he’s out. Same with Thiago Silva. Too bad for the hosts. This might become a Germany-Argentina final next Sunday.

UFC 175: two main fights are scheduled and Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey, the reigning champs, are expected to be triumphant.

It’s the Wimbledon final! Last night, Eugenie Bouchard battled Petra Kvitova. I’m biased. And so, if you’ve been following the green grass games, are you: I hope the Canadian 20-year-old won the final point. Isn’t she pretty? Very.

Tonight is the gentlemen’s final as two familiar foes meet. Like Chinggay Utzurrum and Michelle So, I hope Roger wins. And doesn’t he always win when Rafael Nadal loses early in the tournament? If you recall the French Open in 2009, Rafa lost early and Roger zoomed to claim the trophy. At Wimbledon, the two were slated to meet in the semis but Rafa was slain by the giant slayer Nick Kyrgios.

Roger will win because Wimbledon is his property. He’s won at the All-England Club seven times. If he wins tonight — the final is at 9 p.m., Phil. time — he will have amassed 18 major titles, tying him with Jack Nicklaus. Speaking of the American golf legend, he sat beside Rod Laver last Friday to watch the tennis festivities.

Federer has been playing superb tennis the past two weeks. And, in the only time the two met on grass, the Swiss beat the Serb — in the semis two years ago on Centre Court.

“Against Federer,” said Novak Djokovic, “the key will be to try not to allow him to dictate too much because he likes to be very aggressive.”

Roger’s reply? The same thing: “It’s really important for me to stay aggressive against him… Novak can hurt you down the line or cross-court on both sides. His forehand, his serve, his movement clearly is what stands out the most at the moment. He’s really been able to improve that and make it rock solid.”

What I like about Roger is that he’s attacking the net more. A gifted volleyer, this had often been the complaint against him in the past. Why doesn’t he move forward to finish the points up close? Thanks to his coach — one of history’s best volleyers, Stefan Edberg — the Swiss Maestro has been attacking. This will be a scintillating finale.

ENGLAND is busy this weekend because apart from tennis, it also hosts cycling and motor-racing. The Tour de France will have its first race not in France but in Yorkshire. The three-week-long Le Tour will include 21 stages and 2,277 miles of pedaling before the July 27 finish in Paris. Among the nearly 200 estimated riders, one man is expected to win. He’s a Brit and he’s the defending champ: Chris Froome.

Tennis and Formula One racing fans might probably be switching channels tonight as Silverstone hosts the Santander British Grand Prix. It’s the Golden Anniversary of Grand Prix racing in Silverstone. Watch for an Englishman with the initials LH to win the 50th edition.

14 fun facts about the ‘14 FIFA World Cup

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I did a little research and unearthed these tidbits about this June 12 to July 13 event…

1) This WC is the most expensive in history, costing the Brazilians over $14 billion dollars. This amount is about the same cost as the last three World Cups. Of this colossal figure, about $4 billion went to building seven new or fully-refurbished stadiums and $900 million on security.

2) FIFA, the organizers, will spend a whopping $2 billion to run the event. But, no worries because they’re expected to gross $4 billion from ticket sales, sponsorships and other means of revenue.

3) A total of 12 cities around Brazil will host the games — the most number of venues in WC history. The Finals will be in Rio de Janeiro, a vast city of 6.3 million people.

4) Brazil is a massive country, almost as big as the U.S. Thus, teams have to travel far distances between venues. Consider the U.S. team. Their first match was in Natal and, for their second game in Manaus, they’ll have to fly 1,700 miles (as comparison, Cebu to Manila is only 355 miles).

5) The World Cup has existed for 84 years but only eight nations have ever hoisted the cup: Spain, France, Germany, Uruguay, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and England.

6) Teams demand special requests pertaining to their hotel accommodations. Here are a few: Japan (jacuzzi in every room), France (liquid soap not bar soap), Uruguay (silent air-conditioning) and Algeria (a copy of the Quran in each room).

7) Gisele Bunchen, the most famous Brazilian model, is expected to present the Cup when the event concludes in Maracana Staidum on July 13. She’s a huge football fan, although her husband (quarterback Tom Brady) is involved in another type of football: American football.

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8) The WC champion team wins $35 million while the runner-up, $25 million. Those eliminated in the group stage still take home $8 million. The total purse is $576 million.

9) Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull are singing the games’ official song: “We Are One (Ole Ole).”

10) Out of 209 national teams that vied to participate in the WC , only 32 are entered. They’re divided into eight groups of four teams each with the top two from each bracket advancing to the (Round of 16) knockout stages.

11) Finally! Yes, given the technological advances today, for the first time Goal-Line Technology will be used. Remember the 2010 World Cup when England was denied a goal against Germany after the shot hit the bar and bounced in but the officials failed to call it a score? Now, that won’t happen again. The new system includes 14 cameras that will be positioned around the goal, all connected to a computer in the data room. Once a goal is confirmed, the referee will feel a vibration in a specially-made watch that he’ll use and it will display a simple word: Goal.

12) The referee will be carrying a spray paint. No, he won’t use it against a red card-issued player. It’s a vanishing spray paint that he’ll use to mark the spot for a free kick. Great idea. The paint will last about 60 seconds.

13) This, coming from the Vox.com article “10 things non-soccer fans need to know about the World Cup,” is interesting: “Among the stranger things to know about the event: some coaches restrict their players’ sex lives during the month of play due to the belief that excessive sex will impede their performance on the field. Players on Spain, Germany, Chile’s teams aren’t allowed to have sex at all, while Brazil’s players are permitted to have ‘normal sex’ as long as it’s not ‘acrobatic,’ and France’s are also allowed to have sex as long as it doesn’t last all night.”

14) Brazil is not only a shoo-in to win because they own the most number of WC trophies (five) but also because of “home-court advantage.” In the last 19 World Cups, six hosts have gone on to win the cup. That’s the good news for Brazil. The bad one: the last time they hosted, they reached the finals but lost to Uruguay. That was in 1950.

Harvey Sytiongsa: Q & A with the champ

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In the annual Club Championship of the Cebu Country Club (CCC) last May 10, among the Class A golfers who competed, one young man stood tallest. He was only 18 then (he turned a year older last June 1). It was the first CCC “Green Jacket” victory for Harvey Sytiongsa. Here’s our interview:

START. I started playing golf at the age of seven, but the game caught my attention at the age of four when my dad (Edgardo) used to do practice putting in Del Monte Golf Club. My first coach was Bob Pestaño and the one who further developed my game is Coach Joe Bernaldez.

MILESTONES. During my Junior golf years, I won a Championship in one of the VisMin legs (Mactan).. With my amateur years at CCC, I was champion in some Monthly Medals and won a Lowest gross tournament in one monthly medal… In 2013, I placed runner-up in the Philippine Junior Masters. In 2014, I played for my school (Univ. of San Carlos) and placed runner-up in the individual competition. We won runner-up in the inter-school event at the Orchard Golf & CC. Lastly, I’m a member of the CCC that played in the 2014 PAL Interclub in Bacolod.

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP. It was a great experience for me; a chance to play with the best players of the club. I played my best and shot in the qualifying days 79 and 74 with a total score of 153. I won my first match vs Joseph Stevens, 4 & 3. With the second match, I beat Kiyofumi Takahashi, 4 & 3. The third match was very tough, against Carl Almario, a former pro-golfer; I won 2 & 1.

During the 36-holes final match, I was nervous playing Marko Sarmiento, a former club champion, because he is the strongest hitter in the club. He plays great golf and is an experienced player. I just tried to calm my nerves by playing the way I played that week and not changing the routine I had for the whole week. The first nine was close since we gave and took strokes per hole. The second nine was more challenging since Marko was driving good, hitting the irons solid and making putts. But I finally had the upper hand on the third nine since I just needed to make par and he needed to make birdies. I won the Championship on hole no. 11 with a score of 8 & 7.

GAME. I can’t say that I have a specialty in the sport since I am an all-around person. I treat all shots with equal importance but place more emphasis in the short game.

I usually play with golfers who are better than me so that I can elevate my game. I also play with players who are interested in bringing up their game to the level I am in now. I play as often as possible when I have time. I prepared for the tournament by having my swing and my game checked by my coach.

My idol? Tiger Woods. He plays a solid game and he blocks off any distractions. He has a great mental side and also keeps fighting to win all games. Among the locals, I like Frankie Miñoza. I watched his game against Miguel Tabuena in “The Duel” last May 23 and he played like there was no pressure. I also idolize our own CCC pro Chuck Hong. I was able to play with him during the Pro-Am in “The Duel” and he hits accurately and has a great short game. He is friendly, approachable and is fun to get along with. I really enjoyed playing with him.

WHY GOLF? It’s interesting and challenging. I chose golf above other sports since it is a game where I challenge myself physically and mentally. It is also a game wherein I only blame myself for the mistakes I make. It can be played by anyone of any age; it can be for business and everyone is treated as equals on the course.

My next challenge is to play in the Philippine Amateur Golf and Asian Amateur Golf and hopefully win both the stroke and match play. Another challenge is to qualify and represent the Philippines in the Putra Cup. Tips for the Jungolfers? Just keep practicing, have patience, always keep a positive mindset and never give up!

Danao City hosts the ASEAN Mountain-Biking Cup

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Exciting times! The NBA Finals are underway, the French Open concludes today, the World Cup commences on Thursday, and this weekend, it’s a mountain-biking holiday. It’s the ASEAN MTB Cup from June 13 to 15, this Friday to Sunday.

“There are already 73 foreign riders coming from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Germany, and the USA,” said Boying Durano Rodriguez, the lead organizer. “More than a hundred local riders coming from Manila, Butuan, Davao and Cebu have registered as well as national team riders who have garnered medals in the PNG cycling competition in Tagaytay.”

Danao City is often labeled as “the Mountain Bike capital of the Philippines.” Rightfully so. I think it was Rep. Ace Durano, decades back, who first brought a mountain-bike to our country after his studies in the U.S. Then, in 1997, Danao hosted the 3rd Asian Mountainbike Championships and, in 2005, it was the SEA Games MTB competition.

This weekend in Brgy. Manlayag, Danao will be the first of two legs of the ASEAN MTB Cup. The second stop will be held in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia next month. The categories are… Cross Country: Men’s Elite, Junior and Master; Women’s Elite and Junior for the UCI categories while for the non-UCI there are the Men’s Open (19 & older), Master A (30-39) and Master B (40 & older). Downhill: UCI categories are Men’s Elite and Women’s Elite while non-UCI categories are Men’s and Women’s Junior; Men’s Open and the Men’s Master A and B.

Mars G. Alison, writing for Full Point Cebu (Cebu Sports News), wrote this piece: “A point system will be used in the non-UCI categories to help the local racing scene of each host nation in implementing the UCI rules in future local races that will be run under the UCI regulations. The top 3 will be named in each category and the top 5 will be chosen overall. In the final circuit, an ASEAN Cup jersey will be given to the point leaders while the leaders in the ASEAN sub-categories will get a Cup jersey.”

I checked out the routes in the Facebook page and the X-Country track is four kms. in distance (per loop) with these descriptions along the way, “Entry to snail hill,” “Steep descent,” “Entry to jungle,” and “Mango Tree area.” Exciting. The FB page contains complete details, including the 284-meter high elevation start for the Downhill race.

Prize money? More than P260,000 is being offered and a  Cube 27.5 Mountain Bike will be offered as a raffle prize to the early registrants.

Who are coming to supervise the event? There’s UCI International Commissaires Max Mager (Singapore) and Beatrice Lajawa and Geoffrey Kronenberg from Malaysia. UCI International Commissaire Boying Rodriguez is the Race Director.

This event is supported by the Province of Cebu, headed by Gov. Hilario Davide III, Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, Provincial Board Members Jude Sybico, Miguel Magpale, and Ivy Durano-Meca. Shimano, Cube Cycles, Smart, Rudy Project, Endurace, Air 21, ASAP Advertising, Ayala Center Cebu, YKK Trading, Bikeology, Prince Warehouse, The Brick, CycleLogic. Rep. Ace Durano, Danao City Mayor Ramonito D. Durano III, and Vice Mayor Red Durano.

“The course is not difficult and all mountain-bikers are encouraged to join,” said Boying, in our phone conversation last Thursday. “It’s not as extreme as the Xterra course. The area is like a plateau that’s on top of a mountain. It’s like on a golf course where you see most of the terrain and course. It’s very rideable.”

This should be good news to the thousands of mountain-bikers in Cebu. Let’s join! An event this huge does not happen often. “For the Masters category, there will be a couple of loops with each one measuring about 4.2 kms.,” Boying added. “We will have the Masters and other events on Saturday while the Elite competition (finals) will be on Sunday.”

The best news? Late registration is still open; just visit their Facebook page. Apil ta!

In ‘The Rematch,’ can the Heat three-peat?

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Greg Slaughter is the Tim Duncan of the PBA. No wonder, when I texted him yesterday asking for his prediction, this was his reply: “Hey John! I think the spurs will win because they want it more this year.”

Makes sense. After that unbelievably painful experience 12 months ago when, in Game 6 of The Finals against Miami, the Spurs led by five points with 28 seconds left and, soon after, were 10 seconds from winning the NBA title before Chris Bosh rebounded a LeBron James miss then tossed the ball to Ray Allen for a three-pointer to force the overtime … which led to Miami not only winning Game 6 but also snatching Game 7 when Tim Duncan missed a layup in the final minute — ouch, that’s hurtful.

But, like any champion, defeat makes one better, not bitter. “Our guys, they actually grew from the loss last year. They showed an unbelievable amount of fortitude,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “If I can compliment my own team humbly, to have that tough loss — especially the Game 6 — and not have a pity party, and come back this year and get back to the same position. That’s fortitude.”

That’s scary — for Miami. Given that nightmare, the Spurs want it more. They’re hungrier. Plus, who knows if this will be the final year for the 38-year-old Duncan whom Greg Slaughter, in his message yesterday, calls “the ultimate efficient winning machine.”

Said Duncan in a prelude to Game 1: “We’re happy it’s the Heat again. We’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still.”

Game on! So, who’s your pick? When I meet friends and ask, the answers are varied. Some prefer the Spurs because “we want to see another team win.” Those who choose SAS agree with this analysis from NBA great Jerry West: “The Spurs are the prettiest team in basketball to watch because of their ability to pass the ball, the way they play together and the efficiency of the way they run their offense.” True. But, when I query friends, more tilt towards Miami Heat. That’s understandable; they’re more flamboyant and they possess the one-man-MJ/Magic Johnson of today. And, of course, there’s a Pinoy in the mix, Erik Spoelstra.

You know why this series is so compelling? Let’s start with Duncan. A 17-year NBA veteran, although he still has one more year to go in his $10 million contract, if he wins this month he might opt to retire.

The Big 3. There are two sets: Wade-James-Bosh and Parker-Duncan-Ginobili. Our hope is that all of them will be injury-free during the contest, especially Parker and Wade.

If Miami wins, the “Heat Three-Peat” will elevate their status as among the league’s best squads. Remember that this three-straight-wins feat has not been achieved since 2002 (by the L.A. Lakers). Plus, only two franchises have reached four straight NBA Finals, the Lakers and Celtics. “We don’t take this for granted,” said Wade, “and hopefully our fans in Miami, our supporters don’t take this for granted, neither. This is not something that happens every day.”

With LeBron, here’s an interesting fact: He can win Trophy No. 3 before he’s 30. (He turns that age this Dec. 30.) As comparison, MJ was a few months older when he did the Bulls 3-peat.

Michael Wallace of the Heat Index Blog added: “While it’s pretty much established that LeBron, at age 29, is already one of the top five talents to ever play the game, this series can fortify his legacy more than any he’s played to this stage. A win, and LeBron has done something his idol, Michael Jordan, and his biggest contemporary co-superstar, Kobe Bryant, have achieved with a three-peat. A loss drops LeBron-led teams to a 2-3 record in the Finals.”

In every one of the five Game 1s (NBA Finals) that San Antonio has played, they’ve won. On the flip side, every single Game 1 that LeBron has played on the road — he’s lost. He’s 0-7. Which means that the Spurs are sure to win tomorrow, right? Right. But if they don’t.. that’ll be a huge first punch to San Antonio. It’s a must-win for the team from the Wild, Wild West.

Gone too soon

Fritz Ponce Satera was at the prime of his life. He was tall, athletic and possessed a handsome smile. He was a friend to dozens of classmates, cousins, and tennis players. And how he loved the game.

“Fritz started at the age of nine,” said his father, Tito, during our conversation two days ago. “The date was April 7, 2005. I’ll never forget that. That’s when he first played tennis in Sibonga.”

Everyday, the young boy would sprint to the hard-court. “I got a coach for Fritz and agreed to pay him P1,000 a month but, weeks later, he had to leave because he had work elsewhere,” said Tito. “Nobody was left to teach Fritz but me.”

Father and son would hit hundreds of balls each day; dad tossing the yellow ball in various corners of the court while his son would swing and strike. Months passed. By October that year (2005), Fritz was ready for his big test: the provincial meet. He reached the quarterfinals. Not bad! said the dad but promised his son that, by 2007, he’d win the gold.

He did. Fritz swung forehands relentlessly and improved with each backhand. He’d go on to become a multiple Palarong Pambansa medalist and won dozens of trophies. Just last April, he represented Region 7 in the Prisaa Games in Tagum. Always the winner, he partnered with Mac-Mac Enriquez and won gold.

Sadly, and here’s the most shocking news, Fritz Satera is no longer with us. Last Friday night, he passed away.

Fritz was 18. He was to turn a year older this August 1.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. “He had no signs of sickness,” said his mom, Flor, during our lengthy talk at St. Peter Chapel when we visited two days ago. “The only time Fritz got hospitalized was a few years back when, together with his USC teammates, he had dengue. Other than that, he was perfectly healthy.”

It happened too quickly. Sometime Monday last week, Fritz was coughing hard and feeling tired climbing the stairs to his 3rd floor apartment unit. His parents had him checked and admitted him to the hospital. That was a Monday. By Friday, he passed away.

We don’t know the exact cause of his death. (Upon my speaking with a few doctors, because Fritz’s heart was enlarged, could it have been a rare case of HOCM –Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy — a disease that can strike anyone, including a topnotch athlete like Fritz?) Nothing is conclusive. What we know is that, after being admitted in the hospital, his condition worsened very quickly. This we also know: everyone’s in shock and hurting, especially his parents, seeing their only child leave this world so unexpectedly.

“Fritz was the perfect child,” said Flor. “He was respectful and was a very good son.” He was so humble, said his mom, that when she visited USC to check on his grades, she was surprised to know that he was in the Dean’s List. “He didn’t even mind telling me. He was that humble.”

I’ve known Fritz myself for a long time. In many of our local tournaments, including those I’ve organized, Fritz has often emerged the champion. There’d be many finals when he and his fellow age-grouper Jacob Lagman, older by just a few months, would contest a match.

When I scanned through my photos yesterday, I found myself standing beside a tall and handsome young man — Fritz was wearing baggy Nike shorts, orange Adidas footwear and our white Thirsty Cup shirt — as the event was sponsored by Thirsty three years ago.

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 7.00.55 PMFritz Satera with (from left) Fritz Tabura, his mom Flor and JP

Jasmin, Jana and I are still in disbelief at his passing. So are many of his friends, including Em Em Siso, who said, “He was like a brother to me. He and Kokong (Nino Siso) are like brothers. After we both did the Kool Adventure Camp, Fritz once told me, ‘I wish I had a sister like you.’”

Dr. Rhoel Dejano remembers his doubles partner well. A couple of years back, Cebuana Lhuillier had a Pro-Am event. Dr. Rhoel and Fritz were partners. “We played one tight match that we lost 8-6 after a 6-all tie. I’ll never forget that match.”

Neither will we forget Fritz: a good son, friend, classmate, cousin, tennis player. He’ll be missed.

Cold-blooded Heat

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Unstoppable. Remorseless. A wipeout. Mortifying. How do you describe yesterday’s performance by Miami versus Indiana? How about “No match.” Yes, it was a mismatch. Leading 9-2 in the first minutes of Game 6, I thought the Pacers had a chance. They didn’t. It turns out, they were just given a few moments of bliss followed by endless minutes of agony. Have we seen a more dominant LeBron & Co.? Blowing away their tormentors by a whopping 37 points in the 3rd quarter? How’s that for a statement.

After scoring a measly seven points in Game 5, LeBron was MIA. Yes, “MIA” means Miami but it’s also “Missing In Action.” In Game 5, LeBron was embarrassed. Well, he embarrassed the Pacers the next game. How many times have we watched a completely boring 2nd half — when the outcome was so obvious … in the final game prior to the NBA Finals! Very few. That’s because very few teams in the history of this 68-year-old league are like Miami.

“Not satisfied with our performance… we can still play better,” said LeBron James. We’d understand if he uttered those 10 words after Game 5. But he said that right after the first half, when the score was 60-34. Leading by 26 points, he wasn’t happy. He wasn’t satisfied. And that’s the hallmark of all champions, from Jon Jones to Ronaldo to Usain: they’re relentless, forever looking to improve, always asking how they can do better. “Just what you expect from greatness,” said the NBA commentator (and former coach) Mark Jackson.

Attack, attack, attack. That’s what champions do. That’s how they respond. That’s the LeBron James mantra. It worked yesterday and the previous two years when they won the NBA rings; it will work for No. 6 as he aims not just for a three-peat but for that Ring No. 6 in a few years‘ time. He’s only 29 — at his prime. And “he’s not Michael” said the commentator, referring to His Airness, MJ. “He’s Michael and Magic.” I agree. This is the great thing about the greatness that we observe in LeBron. He’s unselfish. While he can penetrate and shoot every time he’s handed that ball, he always looks for the best way to score — an open teammate, a drive that draws the defendants like a magnet then he dishes out a zip of a pass. He’s got Magic’s height and passing talent coupled with Michael’s drive and jump-shooting and air-defying prowess.

As to Lance Stephenson? Ha-ha. Guess who has the last laugh? He tried to bully his way into a mind-games battle against LBJ. It failed. Sure, this soon-to-be-a-free-agent has the guts to shoot faraway three-pointers and is unafraid … but his antics against the Heat (including that painful slap on Norris Cole’s face) backfired.

LET’S GO HEAT! This was the constant chant that reverberated inside the Florida stadium. They’ll need it. Whoever Miami faces in the finals will have home-court advantage. If the Spurs win today (that’s no guarantee given the tremendous lift that tilts towards the home team), it will be a rematch of 2013. If OKC wins, it’s Game 7. Either way, we know who the favorites are. When you’ve arrived at The Finals for four straight years, experience is guiding your brain. It’s called, in lay man’s terms, confidence. You don’t panic when you’re in trouble. You stay calm. You attack.

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What’s dangerous about MIA is that they’ve got so many weapons, from Dwayne Wade’s playing Robin to the Batman that is LeBron, to Chris Bosh’s stellar offensive play of late, to Birdman’s return from his nest to grab rebounds and scare the opponents with his tattoos, to Ray Allen’s beyond-the-arc loopers — these are pellets of ammunition that Erik Spoelstra, our proud fellow Pinoy, can utilize to dismantle the opposing squad. Just ask Frank Vogel or Larry Bird.

I admit bias. After the era of the Los Angeles Lakers when I rooted for them against Kevin McHale and Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics … after the Chicago Bulls domination over the Pistons and human race’s reverence for Jordan … I’ve been cheering for the planet’s hottest five.

Top TENnis Tips

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To the multitude of French Open-watching, smash-hitting and forehand-spinning players, here are pointers that I’ve compiled in my nearly three decades of playing tennis…

1) Practice your serve. The only shot in the entire game that’s completely under your control is the serve. Think about it. All other shots flying to your side of the court originate from your opponent’s racquet. The lesson: practice your serve. Very few do. They swing backhands and volleys but rarely spend quality minutes on that toss and serve.

2) Run Around Your Forehand. Most of us have a “weapon.” To many, it’s the forehand, and rightfully so. It’s the more natural shot that offers plenty of power. Develop a Federer-like attitude, one where you can hide your weakness (backhand) by attacking with your forehand.

3) Play with better players. This sounds obvious but we often neglect it. How often are we afraid to challenge, if you’re Class B, a Class A netter? Go ahead. If you stick on playing with those who are in your caliber (or those not as good as you), it will be them who’ll improve. The way to advance is to play with better players.

4) Slide. If you play on clay, like in Roland Garros, you’ve got to learn to do this. It’s the fastest way to get to the farthest shot. Glide like Novak.

5) Rally. I know many of us jump straight into playing a singles or doubles match. It’s fun. Your friends are waiting. And don’t we all want to compete? Right. But if you really want to improve, you’ve got to step away from “competing.” You need to rally. By rallying, I mean doing nothing for 45 minutes but trading shots with a trainer. Focus on a specific shot and practice that single shot 109 times. Take time off matches and rally with a coach/trainer.

6) In Doubles, keep a high first serve percentage. It’s not important to serve like John Isner. What’s more important is to put more first serves into play. Why? Because the opponent knows that you’ll have a weaker second serve and he/she will pound on it. Better to have a 3/4-speed serve which goes in than a 202-kph serve that hits the net.

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7) Try different racquets, strings, tension. Like Federer, who recently shifted to a bigger piece of equipment, you should try the same. I know change is difficult, but it can improve your game. The best advice on new equipment? Try it out first from friends. Don’t buy the latest Babolat AeroPro without sampling it for 15 minutes. Also, try new strings and a new tension. If you want more power, lessen the string tension. You want more control, increase it. Experiment.

8) Videotape yourself. I know this is extreme but the best coaches do this to their pupils. Only after you’ve watched yourself in real action can you visually know what changes are needed. Use your iPhone. Play it in Slow-mo. Golf pros do this. Jana’s coach, Tommy Frederiksen, does this. It helps.

9) Spin your 2nd serve. Many of us smother that first serve and, when we miss, we flick our wrist for that super-slow second serve. I think it was Pete Sampras who once said, “You’re only as good as your second serve.” Develop an excellent 2nd serve by adding spin. The kick (American-twist) serve is best.

10) Mimic your favorite player. I recall, back in the 1980s when I first started to play at the then-Cebu Tennis Club, how I improved best: I copied. I’d watch Ivan Lendl’s matches (he was my idol) and I’d copy his wicked forehand. I’d turn my shoulders, pull that right arm back, point the elbow outwards, then fire that bullet forehand.

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Who, if you were to ask me, would I recommend that you follow, among today’s men’s players? According to strokes and based on who possesses the best mechanics, the undisputed winner is Roger Federer. Every single shot that he executes looks perfect. His serve is classic and no-frills with a very relaxed motion. His forehand is one of history’s best. Volleys, smash, slice backhand — everything. Follow Fed. If you’ve produced 17 Grand Slam titles and two sets of twins, then you must be truly gifted.

‘Banilad Boys’ and the Giuseppe U-11

Sebastian Lacson was, during college, the Ateneo Blue Eagles team captain. He swam from Europe to Africa (Strait of Gibraltar) and, just last Feb., he finished the Tokyo Marathon. But today, I yield this space because the top VECO executive writes about football. Here’s Basti’s full piece:

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Few things can equal the real-life drama that sport provides. On occasion, the drama reaches such a high note that it leaves the spectator breathless, wanting no more and yet wishing it would never end. Such was my experience in Bacolod City, of all places, watching a well-coached bunch of Cebuano boys, all aged 11 or less.

Football (sorry, I cannot get myself to refer to it as “soccer”) tops the world in terms of popularity and viewership. In the Philippines, thanks to the resurgent Azkals, it is only recently that the sport has taken on a more widespread appeal. Quite possibly it is the difficulty of scoring goals that is the appeal worldwide, and the scarcity of goals (as compared to high-scoring basketball) that makes us Filipinos prefer basketball to the beautiful game.

I’m certainly no expert in football. As for live football matches, I have only seen a pair of Spanish league games and also the two times the Azkals played in Cebu. But none of them were as thrilling and delightful as the matches I saw the Giuseppe Under-11 team play at the recently concluded Ceres Cup seven-a-side invitational.

Call time was 7:00 am and the Giuseppe boys played all day until the final, which ended at 9:30 in the evening. Neither the scorching sun and the dust it conjured from the ground nor the intense afternoon shower that drenched them could wipe the determination from their little faces. They started cold in the first few games but hit their stride in the successive afternoon matches, winning one after another and making it to the semi-finals.

They beguiled all opposition with their disciplined spacing on the field, deft triangle passing patterns, sudden bursts of speed and brilliant final flourishes from prolific Yoji Selman, who scored a staggering 21 goals for the day and earned a unanimous MVP award.

It would be difficult to find a team more endearing than this one. Five of nine on the lineup in Bacolod are the Banilad Boys, so called because they study in Banilad Elementary School, next door to the Sandtrap football pitch where Giuseppe trains. These boys are as scrappy and hardy as they come. They may not have the latest in cleats or apparel, but they can outrun and outlast anyone their age or even slightly older.  If they had a motto, or if I could make one up for them, it would probably be along the lines of: play hard, complain none, and things will take care of themselves.

Rounding out the team are four boys from various schools that either don’t have a football team or who would rather come to Giuseppe to learn a more European style of playing. The glue of the team is Rachel Genco and her true passion for the game, keeping the various Giuseppe teams going through her sheer strength of character (and coffers) as well. Coach Bing Bing Colina keeps the boys in check with a studied combination of encouragement and hard work at practice.

The semi-final match was set for 7:30 pm at the well-lit North Point Ceres pitches. Standing in Giuseppe’s way was Marist School from Manila and, on average, the opposition taller than our boys. Hardly two minutes past when Yoji broke through on a pass from Enrico Yap and stroked a beauty with his left foot into the corner of the net. This match ended at 4-1, with the only opposing goal coming from a penalty kick.

By 8:15 pm, it was time for the final against a tough Corinthians team, also from Manila. Once more, our boys were dwarfed by the counterparts from Manila. Then the barrage began. Another four goals from Yoji and one from Stephen Soria and the final tally was 5-1.

So high was the quality of this display for the age of the team that a number of non-Filipino looking Ceres La Salle semi-professional players stopped our boys and sought them for pictures. Our boys being asked by the semi-pros. Yoji, for his part, had more than a few female admirers maybe twice his age all making a beeline for selfies with the young star.

After the game, an exhausted and famished Rachel could only comment that she saw an Italian-style football that day from her boys. And she liked what she saw.

Bright and colorful

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I’ve joined hundreds of runs before but nothing like the one last Saturday. It started at 7:30 p.m. What run begins at that primetime, traffic-infested hour, on a Saturday, the busiest of nights? Aren’t all races on an early-morning-Sunday, when everyone’s lying in bed and the roads are asleep?

The Color Nite Run was different. It’s a “party” run. By that, I mean this: loud Avicii music, powered by the Party Truck of Nature’s Spring, flooding the open air as laser lights swirled; everybody wore black — but what illuminated the darkness were neon sticks. All runners were given glow sticks. Some wrapped the neon bands on their necks, arms, wrists. I saw pairs of colored shoelaces. A foam stick — which emitted neon glows — was handed each runner. We waved the stick, carried it like a baton on a 400-meter relay; we ran like Darth Vader with lightsabers.

The venue was the South Road Properties (SRP), with the start/finish area at the Il Corso in Filinvest. Imagine the sight of 1,800 participants — which included many friends, Lester Tabada, Steve Ferraren, Derek Dytian, DJ Fortz (aka “Michael Jackson”), Allan Delantar, Jeson Guardo — running in the gloom, all carrying yellow bands and orange sticks and glow-in-the-dark accessories?

Boom! As the gun was fired to signal the start, we all shuffled our feet and waved our colors to trek 10 kms. Half of the SRP road was closed. Perfect. With the calm waters of the SRP to your right and the vibrant lights of Cebu to the left, how unique could this run be? Looking at the lights of our city, what stood brightest was Crown Regency, all 40 storeys with multi-colored glowing lights that danced and bounced. The run was “cool” — and, at night, cooler than the 36 degrees Celsius of summer sun to bake your skin.

Organized by Jay Em of ProactiveSports and assisted by Joel Juarez of Coco Running, these guys are experts. Starting with the registration, after paying you’re given a plastic card. You go online and register. The run was well-managed. Hydration stations were plenty. Signages were clear. Tents stood at the finish with food/water. What I found unique was the fee: it was the same P750 for the 3K, 5K and 10K distances. All got a good-quality black shirt plus the neon adornments. Also, since this was a fun-run, no prize money was involved (which saved the organizers plenty); it also meant that they could deploy fewer marshals at the U-turn slots — if you booked for a 3K but felt strong and wanted to go 10K, why, nobody would stop you. Nice.

The only bad parts? Glow Eyeglasses were promised but not given. Worse, no medals were distributed at the finish. For some reason, the medals were locked-up somewhere and they could not be handed-out. This turned many smiling faces into frowns.

Personally, the race was extra special because the entire way, I ran alongside a person who bore me in her womb and helped raise me the past few decades: my mom, Maria Elena. Stride for stride, running short bursts then strolling to walk as the water stations approached, my mom Allen and I forged ahead as one. Best of all? It was my mom’s birthday, her 46th! (Okay, you can interchange the numbers but given her looks and slim physique, she can pass as my sister.) We ran. So did dozens of my mom’s relatives: her four brothers, Ric, Eton, Ondoy and Paul; and dozens of my cousins who flew in from Iloilo — including my “older brother” (cousin) Dindin Zaldarriaga who ran the 10K with my wife Jasmin. We also had over 50 of our teachers from Play House and Bright Academy.

20140517_192011Dindin, Allen, Jasmin and John

At Lantaw Native Restaurant, led by my brother Charlie, we set-up a tent with plenty of food. Prior to the gun start, I did something I’ve never done before: I tore a few cracks off the skin and munched on lechon… before a 10K.

At the finish, after a leisurely one hour and 19 minutes, my mom and I crossed the line with arms raised, holding hands. Minutes later, fireworks erupted as we sang Happy Birthday. What a colorful night.

What’s wrong with Rafa?

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This is the problem when you’re No. 1. When you’ve won 90 percent of your clay-court matches. When you’ve triumphed in every French Open, except one, from 2005 to 2013. This is the problem when you’re Rafael Nadal. His middle initial is P. That stands for Perfect. (It’s actually “Parera.”) You can’t make a mistake. You. Can’t. Lose. A. Single. Match. Because while your socks get brown-colored-dirty, when you’re Rafa you’re supposed to be without blemish. You are Spain’s Superman.

Rafa has been invincible. At the Barcelona Open, he won eight titles. Same in Monte Carlo, eight trophies. In Rome, it’s seven championships. These are records that even Bjorn Borg couldn’t achieve; even Thomas Muster couldn’t muster. I’m unaware of any other athlete who’s been as dominant as Rafa has been on clay.

But remember the cliche, “All good things come to an end?” Is this the End of Rafa? No, he’s not retiring after the French Open ends on June 8. But is he having difficulty dominating like before? Absolutely. This 2014 has been his most challenging year since he burst into the scene as a 19-year-old to win the French Open.

He turns 28 this June 3. “At this age, (Bjorn) Borg was doing other things,” Rafa said last week. “It’s not possible to win for 10 years with easy scores and easy matches.”

Three weeks ago, Rafa lost to Nicholas Almagro. The week before, he succumbed to the topspin of David Ferrer in Monte Carlo. Last January, when he was expected to romp to his 14th Grand Slam title, he melted like Swiss cheese to Stan Wawrinka. Despite an ATP-leading 34 wins on the tour this year, he’s already lost six times. Not bad. But not Rafa-good.

In his titanic rivalry against Novak Djokovic, they seem to have these see-saw moments when one sweeps through several victories before losing a quartet of matches. Thus far, Nadal has lost his last four encounters with Djokovic. In the game of the mind, this is bad for Rafa. And so was this statistic in their final yesterday: Nadal had 15 winners/27 unforced errors while Djokovic had 46 winners/30 unforced errors.

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Which brings us to Roland Garros, the official name of the French Open. It starts this Sunday and will run for two weeks. It’s one of tennis’ four majors and it’s the only one played on clay.

What’s clay? It’s like the surface of most of our courts here — Baseline, Alta Vista, Cebu Country Club. Among the various surfaces (hard-courts, grass in Wimbledon, indoor carpet), it’s the slowest. Why? Because when the ball touches the ground, it doesn’t skim on a slippery surface like cement; on clay, the ball settles and plunges, often taking some soil to intertwine with the fluffy yellow ball.

I’ve been inside Roland Garros. This was in 2001. With the family of Jack Mendez, my beloved father-in-law, we opened the gates that September and roamed the site where Rene Lacoste was victorious three times. I touched the clay in Paris. It’s thick and red — slower than our “anapog” courts here. (Next week to commemorate the Paris major, I’d love to play in the CitiGreen indoor courts in Punta Princesa, Cebu — they’re red clay!)

Back to Mr. Nadal, is he most vulnerable this year? Yes. The only clay-court event that he won prior to Paris was in Madrid. And he should have lost that. Trailing Kei Nishikori in the final, it was only after the Japanese got injured that the Spaniard surged.

Also, if you recall their semi-final meeting last year, Djokovic led Nadal, 4-1, in the fifth set before that infamous net-touching incident by Novak. The Serb ended up losing to the Spaniard, 9-7, in the fifth.

Next week? Wow. They can only meet in the final and it will be a colossal finale if the world’s top two face-off.

Still, Rafa is Rafa. He’s won 59 of 60 matches in Roland Garros, translating to a 98.3 winning percentage. He’s the King of France from Spain. The memories, the triumphs, the surroundings, the roaring French cheers, the green backdrop with the “BNP” initials — all these will energize the lefty. Vamos.

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2014 - Day Six(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Pacers-Heat vs. Spurs-Thunder

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Of the 30 NBA teams, 29 reside in the U.S. while the Toronto Raptors are, obviously, from Canada. The 2013-14 season started last Oct. 29. Now, seven months later, it’s down to the last four.

It’s No.1 vs. No.2, in both conferences. This hasn’t happened since 2005 — when the top four seeds advanced. In fact, during the first round last month when five of the eight match-ups reached Game 7, we thought there’d be some upsets; but no, the best squads advanced.

LeBron James. Is there any doubt who’s the best? Ha-ha. Yes. There’s Kevin Durant, the undisputed MVP. But when the Playoffs arrive, nobody rises higher to the expectations than Miami’s No. 6. In the first two rounds, the Heat scored 8-1. And this was the Florida-based team that was criticized for being weaker than their previous two years? “On the outside, there’s more doubt,” said Udonis Haslem. Well, after compiling a 54-game winning record in the regular season (12 less than last year), it’s understandable for fans to be insecure. But there’s no one more secure than the South Beach players. “Within here,” adds Haslem, “we’re still confident in one another. We still know what we can do.”

It’s a rematch. Pacers-Heat. During this time 12 months ago, they reached Game 7. Twenty four months ago, Indiana led Miami in the playoffs, 2-1. But they couldn’t overtake Dwayne Wade’s team. Now it’s different. Why? Right after their Game 7 loss last year, Pacers coach Frank Vogel huddled his downtrodden players and vowed to accomplish a mission: grab the No. 1 seed and gain that home-court edge over the Heat. Mission accomplished. Will their goal to “Beat The Heat” be realized in the coming weeks?

Let’s see. What we can foresee is another nail-biting series. With games 1, 2, 5 and 7 to be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this changes the dynamics of the contest. The question is: Which Pacers will show up? At the start, they won 16 of 17 games. Unbeatable, the journalists proclaimed. But in the end, they sputtered, closing on a 10-13 collapse and barely escaping Atlanta in the first round.

Miami is great, that’s a given. This is NBA’s version of “The Avengers.” If Indiana, led by the erratic plays of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, don’t elevate their game, it will be a routine six-game-series win for the two-time defending champs.

“In their fourth season together, the Heat know exactly who they are,” wrote John Schumann in an NBA.com piece. “They have the best player in the league, who draws the attention of the entire defense. He doesn’t force anything and he trusts his teammates. As a group, they take what the defense gives them. More importantly, the Heat don’t panic. And when you have talent, teamwork and resolve, you win big games.”

That’s in the East. Over at the West, it’s a repeat of the 2012 confrontation. It’s Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook; Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant. “The Spurs don’t make mistakes and instead capitalize on their opponents’ all the time,” said Adi Joseph of USA Today. “They will look to divide and conquer, forcing Westbrook and Durant onto islands without help scoring while attacking the Thunder’s inconsistent role players on both ends.” He believes that’s the key for San Antonio, who have the home-court advantage. Plus, Serge Ibaka is injured.

Still, Oklahoma has to be confident, having passed two tough rounds against Memphis (4-3) and the Clippers (4-2), including the distractions swirling around racist Donald Sterling.

“Durant and Westbrook are two of the five-or-so best players in the world,” said Adi Joseph, this time arguing in behalf of the Thunder. “No one on the Spurs can match them individually, and Leonard is the only player on the team with hopes of defending either one-on-one. The Spurs have struggled against elite athleticism this season, and the Thunder are chockful of that.” As evidence of the Spurs’ struggles, they lost all four regular season games against Durant & Co.

In all, this will be another amazing few weeks for the NBA whose slogan reads, “Where Amazing Happens.”

Pete, Ana, Novak, Serena, Andre, Rafa…

Can you believe this? The news that has gotten tennis fans excited? Yes, they’re coming. The date: Nov. 28 to 30. The venue: MOA Arena or the Araneta Coliseum.

It’s called the International Premier Tennis League. It’s not the usual ATP or WTA tournament. There are no ranking points offered. Cash? Oh yeah. For these celebrity athletes to come, surely there are plenty of Euros. How much? I don’t know; but players of this caliber are given “appearance money.” Which means that, win or lose, they bring home $$$$$$.

This is team tennis. It’s not a common setting. Usually, players play for themselves. Or, if it’s a team format, they play for their country (Davis Cup or Fed Cup).

The brainchild of former world doubles No. 1 Mahesh Bhupathi, this is the inaugural season. There are four teams/cities: Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai and Bangkok. But, wait. What’s unfortunate for Thailand has turned fortunate for our country. Because of the political instability in Bangkok, the venue has been transferred to our capital.

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Yehey! This is fabulous for tennis. Because while the NBA’s Rockets-Pacers dribbled inside MOA last Oct. and David Beckham kicked the ball here with the LA Galaxy and, well, we have Manny Pacquiao, we’ve never had a Top 10 version of tennis.

Well, we did, but it was over two decades ago. Inside the Araneta Coliseum, I was there when Ivan Lendl played Stefan Edberg. A baseliner, Lendl rushed the net to practice his volleys. There were plenty of laughs as the exhibition setting was relaxed. That was called “Fire and Ice 2.” The first one was a classic: Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe. But since those legends landed in Luzon, we haven’t had a Sampras or Becker or Agassi visit us.

Until six months from now. Ours will be the first leg. After our Nov. 28 to 30 date, the venue moves to Singapore (Dec. 2-4), Mumbai (Dec. 7-9) and Dubai (Dec. 11-14). We’re lucky because all the attention is focused on the first stop.

The format is innovative. Reads the website: “Each match comprises five sets, with no-advantage scoring. There will be one set of men’s singles, one of women’s singles, one men’s doubles, one mixed doubles and one men’s legends singles. Every game counts because the winning team is the one that wins the most games in total. In the event of a tie, the match will be decided on a tie-break.”

TEAM MANILA is bannered by Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Carlos Moya, Daniel Nestor, Victoria Azarenka, Kirsten Flipkens and our own Treat Huey. TEAM DUBAI (called the U.A.E. Falcons) is led by Novak Djokovic, Nenad Zimonjic, Janko Tipsarevic, Goran Ivanisevic, Malek Jaziri, Caroline Wozniacki and the Swiss Miss, Martina Hingis. TEAM MUMBAI (Indian Aces) has Rafael Nadal, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras, Rohan Bopanna, Fabrice Santoro, Sania Mirza and the beauty, Ana Ivanovic. TEAM SINGAPORE (Lions) has Andre Agassi, Llyeton Hewitt, Nick Kyrgious, Pat Rafter, Tomas Berdych, Bruno Soares, Daniela Hantuchova and the indefatigable Serena Williams.

fe38f36472b64ddc579ea4b718a7463fSerena and Andre (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Amazing list of names, right? But the question is: Will all of them come to Manila? The answer is No. It’s a team event. It’s possible that Murray will be here but only Monfils, Berdych, Ivanisevic, Rafter and several others will land in Manila. Our hope is that the big names — Rafa, Serena, Andre, Novak, Pete — will come. But there’s no guarantee. They might; they might not. And we’ll probably never know until the actual start. What’s guaranteed are a few things: This is world-class tennis, whoever comes. These aren’t your usual exhibition matches where they giggle all-day and still receive that $1 million fee.

“The games will be relaxed and fun but very competitive,” said Randy Villanueva, a good friend of Bhupathi (they played each other in the juniors).

So, dear fellow tennis addicts, start saving up. You don’t have to travel to Paris or Melbourne to watch these stars. Let’s go. Sadly, to all R. Federer fans, he can’t make it. He’ll be busy with a couple of sets… of twins.

Showbiz and Sports: A foul mix in Laguna

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Laguna Governor Jeorge “E.R.” Ejercito Estregan should be applauded for the staging of the 57th Palarong Pambansa. It was Laguna’s first-ever hosting of the country’s biggest sporting party and, based on what my eyes witnessed from May 4 to 10, the event was a mammoth success. But here’s the catch: It was a self-promotion. Let me explain.

First, there’s the “Magic Bag.” Each of the thousands of athletes received from the host province a bag. Great! But guess whose name and photos were prominently advertised outside and inside all the contents of the backpack?

Gov. E.R. Estregan. On the bag’s outside was his photo. Inside, there’s a ballpen bearing his face. Same with the fan (paypay). The coffee mug? His picture adorns it. There’s a sleeping mat/foam — very nice. Only that when you sleep on it, you will (literally) be cheek-to-cheek with the governor as his photo is on both sides of the mat, at the exact spot where your head rests.

All throughout the Palaro host cities/towns of Los Baños, Sta. Cruz and Pagsanjan stood innumerable billboards that promote the Games. This is good. But what’s bad are the giant images are all decorated with the governor’s face — as if personal money was spent.

In the sports complex, the moment you enter, his name is plastered on the entrance. Standing on the track oval, when you gaze throughout the arena, at the top of each of the bleachers and the grandstand is his name proclaimed.

Gov. E.R. — a nephew of Manila Mayor Erap — attended several awarding ceremonies. I watched a few. While he’d shake the winners’ hands and pose with the medalists, right beside him would stand a mascot with a giant-size head. Whose large head did the mascot reveal? Of course, who else but the head of the province. In the Closing Ceremony last Saturday, while the real life Gov. E.R. congratulated the champions, his two Gov. E.R. clones/mascots were walking about, shaking hands!

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In business, this is called marketing. Promotion. Publicity. This is good politics. The tens of thousands of Laguna residents and the thousands more from all over the nation will know the star — the movie star turned politician. But using sports for political gain? This is showbiz.

The funniest of all? The boy mascot. The logo itself of the Palaro has this boy pictured everywhere. Need you ask who the mini version is? He’s a bespectacled kid with black-rimmed glasses — the 12-year-old version of E.R. complete with a mustache! Yes. I rarely see a boy with mustache. But this boy sports one.

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Even our car pass with the CVIRAA name has the logo with Little Boy E.R. The orange plastic chairs at all the sports venues, including those found at the Unson National High School — on each chair were engraved two initials: E.R.

All the Palaro sponsors are required to place the logo and the mascot/boy’s face. Greenwich Pizza had a “Visit our Booth” banner with the governor’s photo.

Speaking of pictures, a great idea of the organizers was the Photo Booth. Log-in your Facebook account and you get to pose with your friends and you receive a printed photo for free. The catch? Gov’s smiling face, complete with him pointing the “No.1” sign, stand behind you in the photo. Some athletes told me they received a free gift — a DVD with E.R.’s movies! Incredible.

I recall then-governor Gwen Garcia promoting herself through sports via the GUV Cup (volleyball), Horse Barrel races and Airsoft games. I remember the Mandaue reclamation lined with banners of Gwen. That was nothing. This screams 50 times more advertising.

Isn’t there a law prohibiting the excessive use of an official’s pictures and name to promote a government-organized activity?

In the weeklong Palaro, I know that hundreds of elementary and high school girls and boys were awarded medals. But, in the game of self-promotion, there is only one gold medalist. The kid with the mustache.