Monthly Archives: August 2008

Nothing comes close to The Open

One week has passed, eight days remain. To me, among tennis’ four Grand Slams, nothing is more riotous, whopping, lively, and earsplitting than the US Open.

Nine Augusts ago—back in 1999—I was lucky to have stepped inside Flushing Meadows together with my dad Bunny and another father-and-son tandem, Paquito and Fabby Borromeo. What we saw was everything oversized: massive crowds, colossal stadiums, larger-than-life players—a Slam unlike any other.

Take Roland Garros. While the French speak a different tongue, drink champagne at side-streets and swing racquets on clay, in New York it’s brash, trash talk, Budweiser beer and the US Open hard-court. Continue reading Nothing comes close to The Open

From Jackie Chan to Beckham, bye-bye China

Two nights ago wasn’t the Closing Ceremony—that was a party. After 16 days of glitch-free Olympics that showcased world-class venues and introduced the warmth of the Chinese army of 1.5 million volunteers, the XXIX Games ended the way it began: with fireworks. For who, but our giant neighbors, can invent pyrotechnics that form the five Olympic rings on air? Or, at the program’s start, show the numbers “9,” “8,” “7,” all the way to “1” using the black night as canvas and fireworks as the paintbrush?

What a celebration! Compared to the formal walk of the 10,000-plus athletes during The Opening, the other night was a reggae, a fiesta, a gala, a carnival. When the Olympiads were called, they paraded inside the Bird’s Nest with no sequence, like little ants, mixed among nations, embracing, arms-locking, many donning gold medals on their necks. Continue reading From Jackie Chan to Beckham, bye-bye China

After the 8-8-8 Games conclude, our score: 0-0-0

Harry Tañamor lost in the first round. Eric Ang lost in the first round. Mark Javier lost in the first round. Henry Dagmil and Maristella Torres lost in the first round. So did swimmers Miguel Molina, James Walsh, Daniel Coakley, Ryan Arabejo and Christel Simms. Sheila Mae Perez lost in the first round. Same with our last hope in taekwondo, Toni Rivero and Thsomlee Go—all ousted in Round One.

The conclusion? It was RP’s worst showing on earth’s greatest show.

Our neighbors, how did they perform? Vietnam won one silver, Singapore won one silver, Malaysia another silver, Thailand one gold and one silver, Indonesia one gold, one silver and three bronze medals—while our nation which proudly claimed to be the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games champions just three years ago won nula. Kosong. Neoni. Nocht. In plain language you and I understand: itlog. Continue reading After the 8-8-8 Games conclude, our score: 0-0-0

As our journey ends, Rafa and gold glitter

BEIJING-Wasn’t it perfect? Like he had it all planned. Just three hours away from that most-awaited date of “August 18” when he’ll be crowned tennis’ world no. 1, Rafael Nadal stood at that middle podium, raised his Spanish arms to the Beijing skyline, then accepted the sparkling gold medal from his countryman, the IOC president for life, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Our last night in this city mixed with old culture and new high-rise buildings, what a fitting ending. Camera bulbs flashed. The Spanish flag was raised. Ten thousand avid fanatics jam-packed the Center Court. And, at the center of it all stood one man whose story became history.

The 2008 French Open Champion. The 2008 Wimbledon Champion. And now, the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gold Medalist. Continue reading As our journey ends, Rafa and gold glitter

The Bird’s Nest: Finally, we land inside

BEIJING—Apart from not seeing the US “Redeem Team” embarrass everyone in basketball (though we did see Kobe and LeBron in separate sports venues here) and not capturing, with our bare eyes, the historic 8-for-8 achievement of a dolphin named Phelps, our China trip lived up beyond our expectations—especially with what we witnessed two days ago.

For there, fronting us, stood a colossal monument that is the one symbol of the 2008 China Olympics. Costing nearly $500 million, it was built with 36 kms. of unwrapped steel, weighs close to 50,000 tons and occupies a whopping area of 258,000 square meters.

But more than the astronomical figures, it’s the intoxicating beauty of a structure that, when the name “Beijing” will be mentioned from hereon, will appear beside those of The Great Wall and The Forbidden City as a global landmark: The Bird’s Nest. Continue reading The Bird’s Nest: Finally, we land inside

Timeout from sports, we scaled the Great Wall

BEIJING-Out of the eight days and nights that we’ve camped out here in this Olympic city, the weather has been erratic: When we arrived on 08/08/08, the smog was as thick as smoke. The day after, the sun arose and the sky’s ceiling was painted blue.

The next morning, it rained. The following afternoon, the sky was blurry. And all throughout our stay, it’s been the same two words: unpredictable weather.

Last Wednesday, we booked an excursion to one of the must-see destinations of Beijing (there are three: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and)… The Great Wall of China. On that mid-week day, the sun beamed. It will be clear skies on our Friday expedition, we thought. Continue reading Timeout from sports, we scaled the Great Wall

The ‘People Power’ of the China Olympics

BEIJING — Four nights ago at around 10 p.m., me and my viewing partner during these games — my roommate Jasmin — were lost. We exited the Olympic Green Tennis Center, hopped inside Bus No. 7 and, as we had done the day before, expected to be dropped at a bus stop close to our apartment home.

But, no, the bus stopped midway, somewhere near the Haidian District — miles away from our spot and at a junction that we couldn’t even locate in the map.

As we stepped off the bus and started asking for directions, we encountered blank faces. For this is the story when you trek Beijing: very few speak English. And while we carried a handy Mandarin Chinese translation book, what good is it when they reply back in garbled sounds and we can’t decipher the words? Continue reading The ‘People Power’ of the China Olympics

48 months in waiting, gone in 8 minutes

BEIJING—After six days here of cheering for athletes from Sweden and Argentina and Indonesia and Australia and Serbia and dozens more, it was a welcome sight to see a familiar nation: Philippines.

YES! we can finally proclaim, we’re part of the XXIX Olympiad. You see, around this sprawling city of 15 million residents, you will observe one common scene in each of the 31 Olympic venues: the national flags. And only those athletes competing in that event will have their country’s flag hoisted.

In tennis, obviously, the RP flag was nowhere inside the Olympic Green Tennis Center. Same with badminton where the Asuncion siblings from Manila missed the cut.

In boxing, it was different. As soon as we entered the venue last Wednesday and found our blue-red-yellow-and-white RP flag proudly displayed above the rafters—that was moment to cherish. Continue reading 48 months in waiting, gone in 8 minutes

At the badminton stage, Lin Dan is a smash

BEIJING?Next to Yao Ming and the 110-meter hurdler Liu Xiang, the athlete the 1.3 billion Chinese admire the most swings a badminton stick. In this game played by everyone Chinese?from 66-year-olds to those aged 6?he has won, among dozens of trophies, the last two world championships. He’s the Michael Phelps of shuttlecocks; the Tiger Woods of lobs and drop shots.

Two nights ago, we watched Lin Dan. What a sight! For here was an Olympiad who glided on court. He floated. Light on his feet, he didn’t belabor sprinting from right corner to left corner, he tip-toed. Skipped. He drifted. And while others scooted to retrieve shots, he’d hopped like a grasshopper. He’s Mikhail Baryshnikov wearing shorts. Continue reading At the badminton stage, Lin Dan is a smash

An Olympic tennis feast for this tennis fanatic

BEIJING—The Temple of Heaven is one of this city’s must-visit sites. Located not far from the Forbidden City, it’s a mecca where tourists congregate.

Well, in my case, being the tennis buff that I am, my “Temple of Heaven” was located at another spot last Monday, the Beijing Olympic Green Tennis Center, where my wife Jasmin and I spent 11 ½ hours (from 10 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.) watching nothing but the green-and-blue courts, yellow balls and red-hot tennis stars. Continue reading An Olympic tennis feast for this tennis fanatic

Led by Yao Ming, no prouder people than the Chinese

BEIJING (Originally posted on Aug. 10, 2008)—My watch read “1:45” in the morning and we still had not had dinner. But never mind. Because what transpired the six hours prior was an experience that will forever be etched in memory. The 91,000-seater Bird’s Nest—home of the last Friday night’s Opening Ceremony—we were not able to enter but our excursion was no less dramatic…

The journey started at 5 p.m. Near our apartment of stay here, we were fetched by three Filipinos (one who’s worked here for two years; another who’s studying Mandarin; and one more who’s Qatar-based and is here to watch the Games). They’re Arnold, Jun and Roel. We first rode the bus to the subway station, Xizhimen. From there, we purchased subway cards then headed to the bottom of China’s earth to ride what is now considered one of the largest underground movements on this planet: the Beijing subway.

Despite not carrying Opening Ceremony tickets, we attempted to get near—hoping to watch from a jumbo TV screen there and see the fireworks. But as soon as we emerged in the roadway Gulouwai Dajie, policemen whisked everyone away from the tightly-secured cordon nearing the Bird’s Nest. And so, like hundreds of others, we walked. While strolling along their main road, we saw vehicles of dignitaries—including the speeding limousine carrying US President George W. Bush.

My clock read 7 p.m. Oh no! we thought. With barely an hour left, we had no clue where to watch this most historic moment in China. Studying the map, the nearest subway station was miles away. Trudging on, we walked for 20 minutes until finding a couple of vacant taxis that sprinted us to an area where many congregated: Ditan Park.

Yes! By 7:35 p.m.—with daylight still visible here—we made it. Thousands of people crammed the open space inside this vast greenery of a park named the “Temple of the Earth.” Security checks and guards patrolled the public arena. We found our seats (on the cement floor, of course), my wife Jasmin and I settled just 40 feet or so away from one of two massive TV screens.

As the minutes ticked and the seconds neared, our hearts pounded, our minds inflamed by the celebration, our goose-bumps all-standing. Sitting beside Australians and Italians and Greeks and hordes of other nationalities who’ve all converged to sit beside the Chinese, this was a festivity to commemorate.

Did you watch the hour-long show? And the three-hour parade of athletes? What a production! I don’t have much internet access here (other than the few minutes to send this first-hand account) so I haven’t read the reviews but, I’m sure, all critics will conclude that it was one of history’s most spectacular.

I’ll spare you the details (check out YouTube, they’ll post the official video there, I heard) but must say that it was loaded with surprises, acts of thrill, acrobatics, fireworks!!! and, yes, many, many “goose-bumps moments.”

Our RP delegation? Manny Pacquiao? He stood tall while carrying our flag; though I didn’t see GMA, unlike all the other heads of states who were shown.

How about Roger Federer? From where we sat, no louder applause was heard than when his face was shown, carrying the Swiss flag.

Kobe. Rafael Nadal. Dirk Nowitzki. Manu Ginobli. So many superstars, all lined-up one after the other on the world’s grandest arena.

Then, of course, no figure stood taller than the flag-carrier of the host nation: Yao Ming. When the Chinese flag entered the stadium and out emerged this 7-foot-6 behemoth, the thousands who congregated at Ditan Park stood up, clapped, shouted, waved flags. Our Chinese neighbors, as later translated to us, went agog, all screaming, “GO! CHINA!” This was the moment they had waited for—not the past seven years or for the past 21 Augusts—but since history was founded.

Chinese Pride.

Yes. If there’s one meaning that I’ve absorbed here so far, it’s that: the pride of being Chinese. Observing the many faces here, listening to them blabber, rejoicing in their rejoicing—you can feel how proud they are of their nation. President Hu Jintao? Unlike ours whom we clap for meekly when she’s on TV or, worse, when George Bush’s face was shown on the screen last Friday—boos erupted (among the Americans!).

The Chinese president? You’d never hear as loud a rousing reception. He’s a rock superstar here!

For, what a moment in history for this proud China.

Charlie, LeBronze and the US Redeem Team

Thanks to James Naismith, they’ve invented basketball. They’ve dominated. Since the game was founded in 1891, the letters U-S-A have lorded over the orange-colored ball that’s shot inside the10-foot-tall ring. In all, the Americans have won 12 of the 15 Olympic basketball gold medals. That’s what you call lordship. Superiority. Monopoly.

Remember the Dream Team? Of course! Remember MJ, Magic, Larry and Sir Charles? In that 1992 Olympics, they dribbled over earth like a ball in Barcelona. Same in Atlanta 1996. And, at the 2000 Sydney Games, they won the only color they knew: Gold. Continue reading Charlie, LeBronze and the US Redeem Team