Why We’re NOT Champions

Two years ago when the Philippines hosted the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, we won our first-ever overall title. We bested powerhouse nations like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. It was a historic moment in our sports history and made us all sing and dance to the tune of “Pinoy Ako.” You and I were proud to say… PINOY AKO!

Fast forward to 2007: In the past week or so, we’ve been deluged by sad news after sad news coming from Thailand. The defending champions have lost! Today, it’s official: From first place just 24 months ago, the Philippines has slipped and is down to sixth place in the SEA Games.

When we won the SEAG title in 2005, I wrote an article that appeared in Sun.Star Cebu entitled, “Why We’re Champions.” Here’s the article below…

(All photos, including below, by top Cebu photographer Benjie Ordonez)

We won because of basketball. Thanks to its no-show, one million and five spectators instead scattered and spread out among the different sports.

We won because of Paeng Nepomuceno, the six-time world bowling champion. No, Paeng did not compete. But each morning at 9 last week, he showed up at the Pearl Bowling Center and calmed the shaking hands of his fellowmen. Here at home, we won because of Danao Mayor Ramonito Durano and Oscar “Boying” Rodriguez of mountain-biking and dancesports’ Edward and Eleanor Hayco.

It’s called helping hand.

We won because of Thailand. Thanks to Prime Minister Thaksin, the Filipinos united, yelled louder and sprinted faster to the finish line.

It’s called anger.

We won because Maritess Bitbit, who pedaled home the gold in mountain-biking, calls Danao City home. She tackled its winding trails and hills that pointed to the sky and memorized every curve and turn. We won because Liza Clutario, who bagged the gold in the women’s masters bowling, has faced the same lanes a thousand times before. We won because our baseball players have called the Rizal Memorial Baseball Stadium “home” since they were teenagers. In the locker room they’ve engraved their names and know the janitor’s name, Bosing.

It’s called home-court advantage.

We won because Papa Eddie, Mama Celia, Lolo Nestor, Lola Conching, Tito Boy, Tita Carmen, Kuya Jun-Jun and Ate Tim-Tim watched from the bleachers.

It’s called family support.

We won because Cecil Mamiit, Eric Taino, Riza Zalameda and Denise Dy volleyed home three golds, one silver, and one bronze in tennis. Born, raised and trained in the US, are they legit Filipinos? Of course! Like you and me, they’re of medium-height, skin brown, hair and eyes black, and they know how to sing and dance “Pinoy Ako.”

It’s called the Fil-Am edge.

We won because the 10,537 fans who crowded the baseball stadium did “the wave.” They screamed, stood up and waved their arms.

It’s called cheering.

We won because of the P160 million raised by the private sector with the help of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. We won because we competed “out.” In Japan for judo, karatedo in Italy, archery in Korea, wrestling in Mongolia, taekwondo in Korea, gymnastics in China and the US, canoe-kayak in Hungary and football, fencing, volleyball, wushu, table tennis, swimming and weightlifting in China.

It’s called smart training.

We won because for 28 years, we’ve placed second (twice), third (five times), fourth (thrice), fifth (thrice) and seventh (once). Never first. Worse, back when we hosted in ‘91, we won 91 gold medals and leapt for victory—only to fall off the golden pedestal, losing by a single medal to Indonesia.

It’s called hunger.

Finally, on the 23rd SEA Games trophy will be engraved one name.

It’s called Pinoy.

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