Monthly Archives: June 2010

Jane-Jane Ong: Running in the family

Jane, Andrew and Nica at the Big Sur Marathon

Leona Cakes and Pastries entrepreneur Jane-Jane Ong started running three years ago. “At that time I was doing a lot of cardio in the gym (treadmill, elliptical machine),” she said, “and was curious to see how I would fare in a fun run. Once I started, there was no stopping… I was challenged to do a PR every time I ran a 10K.”

Since that 2007 start, Jane-Jane has thinned dozens of thick-padded shoes, traversed thousands of miles, sweated buckets-full and completed three 42-km. races: In 2008, the Singapore Marathon; in 2009, the Amsterdam Marathon, and, last April, the Big Sur 42K in California, U.S.A.

Jane-Jane enjoys running. That’s obvious. To understand why, in an exchange of emails last week she explains nine reasons for her love of this sport that has enamored her fellow Cebuanos.

“Running is good for one’s health,” said Jane.

“Training for a marathon has also made me more disciplined,” she says in Reason No. 2. “I eat healthier, sleep earlier, so I can wake up early for work-outs and long runs.”

Three: “More than the physical endurance in a marathon,” she adds, “it has built up my mental endurance. Running a marathon is a mind game, when you condition your mind that you can do it, then naturally your body follows…”

“Since I’m a type A, running suits my personality,” says Jane. “It pushes me to be better, whether to have a better running form or to strive to do a PR, be it a 10K, 21K or a full marathon.”

Reason No. 5 is common denominator to us all: Running is my ‘ME time’ – a good way to de-stress.

“On the spiritual side,” she says, “it has made my faith stronger in the Lord, especially during the Singapore and Amsterdam marathon when my Iliotibial Band (ITB) injury was really painful, I was praying all the way to the finish line.”

True. That’s what running does–especially long-distances; it draws us to a power above, helping us overcome the knee and heart pains and the challenges in crossing that Finish Line, 42.195 kms after the gun start.

“And, of course, through running, I got to meet a lot of new friends! I love the camaraderie with other runners during long runs and run events.”

Jane-Jane, a member of the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC), I’ve ran alongside with on dozens of occasions. What she says is correct. Running is the perfect excuse to hangout with friends and family.

Of the family, what’s unique with Jane is she’s not alone: her brother Andrew and sister Veronica she’s convinced to run.

“Andrew joined me in fun runs three years ago but never followed through,” she said. “Then he got serious when training for Amsterdam. Initially, he was planning to run only 7.5K.” But then Andrew, whose physique–tall and lean–is perfect for running, progressed fast and has now, like Veronica, finished two 42Ks: Amsterdam and Big Sur.

With ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes in Big Sur

“Veronica started by walking the dogs when she accompanied me during my training for the Singapore marathon two years ago,” said Jane. “I still remember those times when she would have me and Mendel (Lopez) each run a dog. Slowly, walking the dogs became running the dogs. She became serious when training for Amsterdam.”

For Reason No. 8, it’s Andrew who supplied the answer: “I love running because I like to see the physical and mental progress I’ve made with the effort I’ve put in.”

Finally, says Jane, “Running together is a good bonding time for us siblings. Nica and Andrew train together so they get to spend more time with each other but the three of us do our long runs together. Plus, we get to travel together more not only internationally but also within the country.”

The siblings (they’ve got one more sister, Nathalie, whom they’re still trying to coerce) have a major goal to accomplish before yearend. “We applied online last December,” said Jane, “and were surprised that all three of us made it on our first try.”

That target? Come Nov. 7, the Ong family will hold hands at the start, pray, warm-up, then run beside 45,000 fanatics in the world’s biggest footrace, the New York City Marathon.

Green grass, random notes in Singapore

SINGAPORE—Here the past four nights to attend the Induction Ceremony of our “brother” club, the Rotary Club of Singapore West, here are some observations…

WIMBY. While billions of football zealots worldwide dream of blowing that vuvuzela in South Africa, I’m dreaming of London. Yes, it’s the same green as soccer, but it’s grass at Wimbledon. Guess what? From our Peninsula Excelsior Hotel here at the heart of The Lion City, I’m just 250 meters away from a Wimbledon-like sight. A grass court! While jogging early morning last Monday retracing the finish line of the 2008 Singapore Marathon, this green court with white rectangular lines sat there. Nobody played that 7 a.m. and how I wished Fabby Borromeo—Class-A at tennis and who’s part of our Rotary group here—brought rackets for us to swing our first-ever hits on a grass-court here at this “Wimbledon in Singapore.”

ROTARY. There are 24 of us from the Rotary Club of Cebu West attending the 50th anniversary of the RC of Singapore West (our club last week held its 48th Induction Ceremony). With us are a mix of sports lovers… golfing buddies Johnny Siao, Justin Uy, John Young and Nilo Domingo; badminton swingers Jimmy Lao, Ruel Dihiansan, Alvin Tan, Bobby Yap and Lenton Beltran. Also here are Romy Dy Pico, Johnson Dy, Wilton Uykingtian plus many of our spouses. And while we thought our “Filipino hospitality” was the world’s best, the Singapore welcome here—including dinners at the Black Angus Steakhouse and Long Beach restaurant (famous for the original Black Pepper Crab)—can be described in one word, which I delivered in a short speech to the Rotarians here: WOW!

PAPERS. Like I do in each trip, I’ve accumulated four days of newspapers these past 80 hours. Yesterday, The Straits Times (established in 1845), devoted six giant-sized sports pages. The banner story read: OUT OF AFRICA. Pictured were two players, one in yellow, the other, wearing blue, with the subtitle: “France fly home in economy class after another humiliation: France 1, South Africa 2.” The story goes… “The players who had been flown to the Cup in the first-class cabin of a new Airbus A-380 faced a cattle class return journey in the back of a Boeing 737.”

As expected of a nation whose most-followed game is football, it’s all-World Cup here. What’s terrific about their South Africa focus in the newspapers here—apart from printing the standings, results, TV schedules, Quotable Quotes—are the commentary. They have plenty of columnists here—much like our Noel Villaflor—whose acumen for soccer is outstanding. There’s Gerry Armstrong, Lee Min Kok, and Tay Yek Keak. Rohit Brijnath, whose byline is SPORTINGLIFE, titled his piece, “Messi proof of beauty of decisiveness.” Here’s a sampler of his writing prowess: “Messi has too much skill and thus too much choice: jink, pass, swerve, shoot, feint? But this Cup, more often than not, his thrill has been an ability, under pressure, to select the right gap, person, move. His judgment is so fine it seems he owns a sixth sense, a third eye.” That’s excellent writing. There’s more. Terrence Voon, whom they call “Our man in South Africa,” is literally in SA. He writes first-hand stories of what his eyes see… of the vuvuzela that deafen his ears.

YOG. The most-awaited event here happens from August 14 to 26. It’s the Youth Olympic Games. Sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it is the first Olympic games for the youth aged 14 to 18 years old. What a privilege for Singapore to host this inaugural event.

USS. Two days ago, we had a free, guided tour of the newest attraction, the Universal Studios Singapore. Like Hong Kong’s Disneyland, it’s a must-see destination… especially for those who love thrill rides.

CASINO. Yesterday, the Marina Bay Sands was formally opened. What a sight! Its advertisement sums it up: “Unveiling A New Wonder Of The World.” With three 55-story towers that support the SkyPark (a surfboard-like structure that looks like a ship), it’s an amazing sight in Singapore.

Boston won until LA stole the gold

BOSTON WINS GAME 7! That was the prepared headline. It was written. At the start of the final quarter of the final game of this NBA season, the score was 57-53—one of the lowest in The Finals history—favoring the Celtics. And doesn’t Boston win all low-scoring games? Don’t they triumph in all games via defense? “It was exactly the type of game we wanted,” admitted Doc Rivers.

Boston owned a 13-point lead and won… the first three quarters. The Lakers? In this game where a resale ticket costs over P50,000 ($1,099), LA played their worst game of the playoffs. Maybe, of the season. Kobe Bryant was 1-for-7 after the first quarter, 3-for-14 at halftime; in all, he missed 18 of 24 attempts. The entire LA team? At halftime, they shot 25.6 percent. At game’s end, it was 32.5 percent. Free throws? I’ve never seen them more lousy. Yet, in this off-day for LA which the TV announcer calls “one of the most poorly played games you’ll ever see,” it wasn’t Gilbert Teodoro’s color that won but P. Noy’s.

D-FENSE! D-FENSE! Those shouts reverberated inside the Staples Center. And while the Celtics are best in defense, the Lakers won this contest because of their D. Determination. Led by Kobe who said, “I just wanted it so, so bad.” That’s D: Desire. Maybe, this all-too-consuming Dream by Kobe was the reason why he missed so, so much… from free throws to threes to open jumpers. You can’t blame Mr. Bryant. After 82 games in the regular season and many more in the playoffs, even though he’s Superman, he’s super… but human.

To me, three lessons can be derived from this NBA Finale. First, basketball—like life—is about teamwork. Kobe’s team won not because of him–but because of him with his teammates. Here was a man transformed from being selfish to selfless.

Ron Artest? He was the Game 7 MVP. He guarded Paul Pierce, forcing him to miss 10 of 15 shots. He played 46 of the game’s 48 minutes, stole the Boston ball five times, scored 12 in the second quarter to keep the halftime tally close. “He brought life to the team,” said Phil Jackson. “He brought life to the crowd.”

Pau Gasol was the hero. That offensive rebound (he totaled 18 rebounds, nine offensive) after Kobe missed a three-pointer with 27.9 seconds left had Kobe saying at the end: “I can’t say enough about that Spaniard. That guy is unbelievable and just a hell of a player. We wouldn’t have won it without him.”

Kobe’s realization: Rely on others. Ask for help. Trust your teammates.

Lesson No. 2: Anybody can have an off day. You can’t expect perfection 100 percent of the time. This happens to Kobe, to you, to me, to the world champs, Lakers. What’s essential is to rise above this temporary lapse, this “off day.” The LAL, despite trailing 85 percent of the way, found a way. They never gave up. Never felt deflated nor discouraged. Look at Kobe. Inside his brain entering those final eight minutes, he must have wondered, “How can I mess up this bad?” Yet he persevered, passed instead of shot, rebounded 15 times, and converted—finally!—those free throws.

Lesson No. 3: The game is won in the end. It’s like a sprint. Anybody can take the early lead. But it’s the finish that matters. Championships are won in the final 300 seconds. Like a 400-meter dash. The winner isn’t the one who gallops off the starting line first or leads halfway, it’s the one who leads at the very last meter. That’s what the Lakers did.

“They scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, and for us, a defensive group, that’s the toughest part to swallow — that we gave up 30 points,” said Doc Rivers.

The Lakers summoned up all their past triumphs, absorbed all the deafening vibes of the Los Angeles crowd… and sprinted first to the finish. Much like the victory of our new Vice President, right?

One game left in this Hollywood blockbuster

(Wally Skalij/LA Times)

I wish tomorrow were a holiday. I wish last Monday’s Independence Day no-work schedule was moved to Friday. That way we can all watch this contest between two of the most significant brands in sport, Lakers and Celtics. Yup. From a best-of-seven series, it’s down to a best-of-one. Who’s the best one?

Here’s my prediction: The team with the most energy wins. We saw that yesterday. Right after the jump ball, the LA boys, buoyed by fellow Californians, rebounded, hustled, fist-pumped. The electricity of the Staples Center audience electrified their muscles. Kobe Bryant, the undisputed playoff MVP, scored 11 of his team’s first 21 points. He sizzled as hot as the Kobe Beef in Japan. No wonder the whole night the crowd chanted “M-V-P!”

The Celtics? They’re the Most Vilified People in Hollywood. Worse, their spirits were left in Boston yesterday. They were slow-footed as LA was sure-footed, they missed shots (Wallace, Williams and Davis scored zero points) as LA out-rebounded them 52-39, they were embarrassed inside the arena that houses 15 banners. Will it be 16 championships for the Lakers?

The odds are, Yes. Sixteen times the NBA Finals have culminated in a Game 7 and 13 of those were won by the home squad. Win or lose for BC or LAL, the sure winners are the hundreds of millions of fanatics—that’s us—who’ve been treated to ballgame spectacles this week involving the hands (NBA) and the feet (World Cup). “This is definitely a special treat for the NBA,” said Boston’s Ray Allen. “We’re going to Game 7, and this is The Finals, and it’s the Celtics and Lakers.”

Allen, who, like this seesaw series, has been hot-cold, cold-hot (he made eight three-point shots in Game 3 before missing 21 straight in Games 4 and 5), is right. Tomorrow’s finale is like an American Idol final where, after a season-long wait and dozens of cities visited, we’ll be treated to The Finale. It’s like Tiger vs. Phil tied going into the final day at the US Open in Pebble Beach. It’s RF vs. RN in the Wimbledon final next Sunday. It’s Money against Manny come November. It’s a best-scenario ending (well, OK, next to a Game 7 by LeBron vs. Kobe) that can only be rivaled if Spain meets Brazil in South Africa this July 11.

How important is the Staples Center for LA in Game 7? HUGE. A total of 11 playoff games Pau Gasol and his gang have played and they’ve won 10. That’s a 90% winning clip. But Boston has to feel upbeat, as I’m sure coach Doc Rivers will remind them. After succumbing to an NBA Final Game 1 loss, they rebounded to win Game 2. Mentally, this tells their internal circuitry: We can do it.

Again, I go back to the E word: Energy. Who has it more—who’s more Excited and Emphatic—triumphs. “Our energy went down a little,” said Rajon Rondo of their Game 6 effort. “We just came out and didn’t have it.”

“I thought we would play better,” added Doc Rivers. “I just thought they were ready. I just thought the Lakers played harder, better. They executed, they trusted more.”

Maybe it’s the crowd (can you imagine if the Los Angeles fans brought vuvuzelas for Game 7?). Maybe it’s the threat of losing, like they did in 2008 to the same faces, that sparked those plugs inside Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom. Maybe it’s just the you-win-now, I-win-next yo-yo effect that happens when two past champions collide. It’s even. Now, at 3-3, it’s even. Tomorrow, the final odd number, one team will cry, another will rejoice.

In all this, nobody has more experience than No. 24. “No different to me,” said the four-time champ, No. 24. “I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but it’s not. I know what’s at stake, but I’m not tripping. It’s a game we’ve got to win, simple as that.”

(Michael Dwyer/AP)

For with Kobe, his philosophy is simple: 48 minutes left this season then I get my fifth ring, one for each finger. I call him The Ring Bearer. This draws him one closer to The Air King, Michael J., and five more than The Supposed-to-be King, LeBron J., who has zero.

My pick, green or yellow? Expect the same winning color as May 10.

‘A lie told often becomes the truth’

Vladimir Lenin said those words. They’re sad, but often true. For all this talk about Manny Pacquiao taking drugs is sad… and untrue. MP’s been tested, retested, possibly hundreds of times; he’s voluntarily, throughout his 15-year career, submitted to urine tests and blood extractions and never once, in any lab from Vegas to Vigan, tested positive. Pacman is drug-free. The only “drugs” that boost his punches are his internal spirit and supernatural work ethic.

Lies, lies, lies. They’re all lies, what Floyd Mayweather Sr. said about MP injecting chemicals. This was seconded by his son, Jr. Then the allegations were worsened by Paul Malignanni who, last December, said, “I’m taking facts and I’m putting them together and they don’t just make sense to me. I don’t have all the facts obviously he’s passing the tests (mandatory drug tests before every fight). Let’s keep in mind there plenty of things you can do to beat drug tests and there’s plenty of drugs and steroids that are not detectable.

“At the smaller weights he was very good but he was beatable but now he has gone up in weight and he’s not just beating guys and he’s crushing world class killers. He’s absolutely crushing them! He’s obviously become a Superman and people say but steroids won’t make your chin feel better, yeah, but there’s things that can make you feel like you’re on speed or something. There’s things out there that make you feel like that.”

It’s true: Pacman is Superman. It’s true: Pacman is crushing ‘em. But what’s a giant lie is this steroids issue. And now, just days ago, this latest uppercut coming from Ricky Hatton.

“A few years ago he was getting knocked down by little men like Marquez,” said Hatton. “Then all of a sudden he is knocking out Oscar de la Hoya, myself and Cotto, who are powerhouses in comparison… I could have had those rules, but I wasn’t bothered. Maybe in hindsight, I should have done I must admit, I fancied my chances against Manny… It is a little bit strange. He could be on what Floyd is accusing him of (performance-enhancing substances), or it could be that he is just a great fighter who has improved. We will never know.”

Sore loser!!!!! Again, all these allegations are fabrications. Never has Manny tested positive. Unlike, for example, the case of Lance Armstrong, where his colleagues admitted cheating and his sport is where drug use is most widespread, thus, these issues validly arise, with MP, there is no tinge or sign or shade of any type of EPO use.

It’s just one loudmouth in Mayweather Sr. shouting a deceitful story, then his Jr. “seconds the motion,” then Malignanni adds fire to the burning lie, then Hatton’s fable. Behind all this, we know the truth: Floyd is a coward. He’s instigating these lies because he’s scared.

Football reigns! The World Cup kicks off

Forget Boston, Los Angeles, the NBA. Disregard Wimbledon’s June 21 start. Don’t mind the US Open, which Tiger Woods plays at Pebble Beach next weekend. Beginning last Friday until tomorrow and ending on July 11, all the world’s 6.8 billion people will be glued to one sport: kicking. For no game or gathering draws a more riotous and impassioned following than the FIFA World Cup. Here’s a spectacle that doesn’t happen each Sunday, month, or year. Only once every 48 months do these 32 top soccer-crazy nations gather to goal, juggle, slide, pass, scream… while we all scream.

South Africa? Having had the privilege of traveling to New York, Paris, Singapore and Russia—it is the one nation I would love to visit more than any other. For in South Africa, it’s not about one dark color called black. It’s about a rainbow, a spectrum of colors. Red. Yellow. Blue. Green. It’s about our black brothers who’ll be welcoming, on their shores and in our TV sets, Earth’s people: whites, South Koreans, the defending World Cup champs from Italy, the latinos from Brazil…

The World Cup is THE world’s cup. From its first name alone, “World,” it stands as a tournament that draws one planet, spread by oceans and differentiated by skin colors, to be one united human race. To borrow the theme of Rotary International this year, “Bridging Continents, Building Communities,” that’s the same goal of this sport that scores goals: To bridge continents, to build football and peace-loving communities.

Why is football the world’s most beloved game? I’m happy my colleague Noel Villaflor is back. No better football player in our Sun.Star lineup—and more savvy a writer on soccer—than Noel. And so I speak more about Time magazine, featured yesterday by Noel. Here’s a paragraph from their cover story, “The Global Game,” written by John Carlin, sub-titled, “The Game You Can Play Anywhere.”

“How did the World Cup become the species’ favorite pastime?” wrote Carlin. “Why do more people spend more time watching or playing soccer than they do engaging in any other social activity, with the possible exception of eating and drinking? Why are those who play it best venerated for their skill and adopted as warriors, or armies, in tribal causes — be they national or local? Here’s one reason: the game is just so accessible. You can play anywhere: on grass; on cement; on dusty, stony ground; or even (as pained mothers the world over will attest) inside the house. The basic rules are simple, and you don’t need any kit or equipment beyond a round — or even roundish — object of not necessarily fixed size. It can come manufactured (a tennis ball often does the job) or may be fashioned out of animal bladders, stones, socks or plastic bags.”

Football is the game for the masses. While Lionel Messi, who is called ‘the god in soccer’ by fellow player Eto’o, earns over $100 million, anybody who can kick and run can play football.

Jabulani? Ever heard of it? In Zulu, the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, it means “rejoice.” To footballers, it means another: it’s the new ball designed by Adidas that will be used this month. While some critics dislike the new ball, it looks fantastic. I’m sure it will be a hit!

The best news for Cebuanos? SkyCable, through its aptly-named “Balls” channel, will be showing the games “live” in channel 33. While first I thought they’d be charging extra for the month-long coverage (like they do with M. Pacquiao fights), it’s all-free, all-access, all 64 games until July 11. This means that, unlike before when we had to troop to Badgers and endure smoke-infested bars, this time, we can cheer and toot the vuvuzela at home.

Here’s even better news: the time schedules. In 2006, the World Cup was played in Germany and we had to watch early… early mornings! Not now. The schedules are perfect for us: based on our RP time, Game 1 kicks off at 7:30 p.m, followed by a 10 p.m. contest, then 2:30 a.m. Which leaves us no excuse not to celebrate South Africa.

LA rebounds with a steal in Boston

LA won Game 1, Boston won Game 2, LA won yesterday, Game 4 to Boston, Game 5 for Los Angeles, Game 6 to…. Game 7? This is the NBA Finale. That’s how it’s supposed to be. A seesaw. A pendulum. One swing here, another sway there. It’s a boxing fight of 10 men minus the red gloves.

Yesterday, I only saw the final 12 minutes. The hero of the game, of course, was Derek Fisher. He’s 35 years young and keeps four NBA championship rings at home—while many have none—yet, he’s still hungry for one more ring to make it all five for his fingers.

“Won the game for them,” said Doc Rivers. “Derek Fisher was the difference in the game. We lost our composure a little bit down the stretch — a 4-point game, all you need is a stop. We let Derek Fisher dribble the ball all the way up the court, unattended, get a three-point play. If you get a stop there, we had plenty of time. But that’s where we (need) the mental toughness. We’ve got to hang in there. It’s not going to be an easy game, none of them are going to be, and that’s what we have to do.”

In all, Fisher netted 16 points—nothing too extraordinary a catch. But, when you examine that 11 of those points came in the fourth quarter, then that’s the reason why his team leads 2-1. “He’s our guy that pulls everyone together,” added Kobe Bryant of his teammate who stands as tall as my brother-in-law Rommel Desnacido at 6-foot-1.

“To come through tonight again for this team, 14 years in, after so many great moments, it’s always quite surreal,” said Fisher. “It’s quite humbling to experience it again and do it again. But it’s like being a kid, man. You just never get tired of candy.” For, with Derek Fisher, the NBA crown looks like candy. It’s tempting, sweet, mouth-watering and, once tasted, always desired.

How about Ray Allen? Wow, what a split personality. In Game 2, he converted eight 3-pointers. That was an NBA record. Yesterday? He attempted to smash another National Basketball Association record: 13 times he attempted, 13 times he missed—barely missing the all-time record for misses (14). “I thought all of his shots looked flat tonight,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers. “I don’t know if he had any legs.”

Maybe he overspent himself in Game 2. Like Robin Soderling who upset Roger Federer and squeezed out a five-set-win in the semis against Tomas Berdych in the French Open, only to lose stamina in the final against Rafa Nadal, maybe it was the same with Allen. “Ray went 0-for-13,” said Glen Davis. “Who would have ever thought that?

No one. Not even Ray. “This is why you always have to be humble, thankful,” said Allen. “You have to continue to work on things to make you successful. I never hang my head. Tomorrow is another opportunity.” That’s the spirit. That’s being positive. Let’s see what happens to his hot-and-cold hands in Saturday morning’s (RP time) Game 4. But, for now, the series is back where it belongs—home-court advantage for the Lakers. If they win the next game, it’s over for the Celtics. A 3-1 lead is insurmountable. Thus, Game 4 is a must, must-win for Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Win those 48 minutes of play time, then another in Game 5, then the pressure and pendulum shifts to the West Coast in Los Angeles. But these Green Goblins have to win the next two on their home turf.

One man is optimistic. He’s Paul Pierce. “The Lakers are a high-powered offensive team that is used to scoring in the 100s and we’ve got the game in the 80s,” he said. “It’s our type of game. Usually, we win these type of games.”

Usually. But LA is not your “usual” team; they’re the reigning champs. They’ve got KB24, Pau, Artest, Lamar, and the captain of their ship is Fisher.

He’s Spanish… and the King of France

If Rafael Nadal were a battery, he’d be The Energizer. He’s a Bulldozer with a Porsche engine. He’d mash through dirt like a tractor—in high speed. If he were another being, he’d be Tiger Woods-mentally-strong—minus the sex. He’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-muscular wearing Usain Bolt’s Puma. He’s an SUV 4-wheel-drive with the adroitness of a Mini Cooper.

Rafael Nadal is not the greatest ever to have gripped a tennis stick. That title rightly belongs to Sir Roger Federer. But, when we speak of mud, sand, le terre battue, soil, the red clay, the rectangle on Stade Roland Garros named Court Philippe Chatrier, nobody, nobody but the right-handed left-hander is better.

Peter Bodo, the famed tennis columnist, calls him “The Specialist.” He’s no General Practitioner Doctor; if Nadal were a physician, he’d be The Specialist, a heart surgeon, possibly, whose expertise and acumen is unmatched from Chong Hua to St. Luke’s to The John’s Hopkins to Cebu Doc.

“Never,” said writer Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated when asked if he has seen a better clay-court player. “Nadal comes off as a laid-back guy. He doesn’t say anything provocative on purpose. But mentally he’s a beast. This was a revenge match for him, whether he wanted to admit it or not. It must be so demoralizing to play against a guy who’s so much better defensively and just chases down everything. You could see it in the match today but you see it every time he plays. He beats you down mentally as much as anything he does physically.”

Take, as an example, one point in last Sunday’s final against Robin Soderling. They name it the Point of the Match. I call it the Moment of the Tournament. Having won the first set, 6-4, Nadal was down a break point trailing 0-1 in the second set. If Soderling wins the point, he leads 2-0 with the pendulum called Momentum having shifted to the Swede. In that point, Soderling hits a bullet crosscourt backhand to win the point! The crowd gasps, applauding. Game, Soderling!!! It’s 2-0. But, wait. Nadal sprints all the way left, his body no longer seen on TV because he’s so far off the court; inexplicably, he retrieves the ball… the point’s still alive!!! Soderling is in disbelief, yet still attacks. Nadal is defensive. Then, a shot here and there after, Nadal is on the offense, attacking the net, capturing the point with a deft drop volley. In one single episode, Nadal transforms a sure break point to A Broken Soderling: From that point on, Rafa wins six of the next seven games to win Set Two, 6-2. Minutes later, dejected and tired, Soderling quits. He loses the third, 6-4.

Do you feel like the best ever on clay now? Nadal was asked in the post-match press conference.

“No. No, I sure that the numbers are unbelievable for me, no?” he answered, making sure to say “No” thrice. “I never thought to have the chance to win this tournament, five titles, five times or Monte Carlo six or Barcelona five, I think, too, or Rome for me five. For me, that’s more than a dream. When I see these titles and these numbers, for me is amazing. I don’t know how I did.”

We can enlist a slew of adjectives about the five-time French Open champ—this King of Clay applauded by the Queen of Spain—adjectives like “relentless,” “sturdy,” “unyielding” and “valiant,” but here’s one more I’d like to stress: “humble.”

Isn’t this delightful? Against the backdrop of an egoistic jerk like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., you’ve got Nadal. And Federer. Two No. 1s, two gentlemen.

“But first of all, you gonna be very arrogant if I say for myself I am the best of the history,” continued Nadal in the press-con. “Second thing, I don’t believe I am the best of the history. I try my best every day, and we will see when I finish my career. I not gonna be who decide if I am the best or not. You maybe, but not me, sure.”

Kobe Bryant and his golden Los Angeles

I used to idolize Michael Jordan. Who didn’t? But when he retired the Chicago Bulls jersey, then, after he stopped wearing the Washington Wizards uniform, my interest in the NBA faded. Then LeBron James arrived. Here was Air Jordan’s Heir. Yet, after seven years and numerous Most Valuable trophies collected, he has zero titles; LBJ is no MJ.

Kobe Bryant is. Though, in his own words, he admonishes the comparison. “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan,” he said. “I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”

What a performance thus far by the 6-foot-6, 205-lb. “NBA Player of the Decade” from 2000-09, as named by TNT and Sporting News. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Kobe showed the world his Barack Obama-like leadership acumen on the basketball court. He scored 30. He blocked Tony Allen’s shot. He sprinted to dunk an alley hoop seconds later. He banged a three-pointer to lift his Los Angeles city to a 102-point haul. He rebounded seven times, assisted on six, made 9 of 10 free throws, and caused frown lines on millions of Celtics fans worldwide.

Kobe Bryant is. For here’s one lesson I’ve learned from watching KB24—a life lesson that we can all use: “He who wants it more, gets it.” Get it? I repeat: Nobody in the NBA wants that title more than Kobe… and that’s why he’ll get it.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot,” Kobe was once quoted.

Amazing, right? For herein lies his secret—and the secret of life: The man who wins is the one who thinks he can. The man who, like the 31-year-old Kobe, has more enthusiasm, more vitality and will, more eagerness and zest and spirit than anybody else… wins.

Kobe Bryant is. That’s who he is. That’s why he’s won four times and will add another. It’s called focus. It’s named tenacity. At one episode in Game 1, the comedian Chris Rock, one of Hollywood’s most celebrated, sat beside Kobe in the front row and kept on talking to him, clowning around, dishing out tips and words. Kobe’s reaction? None. He hardly noticed the superstar. His eyes and mind and focus were serious, all zoomed in towards one goal: winning the ballgame.

“I’m chasing perfection,” he once said. Yup. True. In this case, Kobe’s definition of chasing “perfection” is chasing “a fifth NBA championship.” He longs for L.A. to win their 16th title and move them just one behind Boston’s record of 17.

He who wants it more, gets it. What a lesson Kobe is demonstrating to his audience. From the stern look on his game face to his three-point-shots despite the in-his-face defense to his fist-pumping, Kobe shows us that he wants it more than Pierce or KG or Rajon.

“Some are destined to succeed, some are determined to succeed.” I like that quotation. I’m sure jersey No. 23 does, too. For this word—Determination—is Kobe Bean Bryant’s middle name. It’s embedded in his system. It’s the reason why, failure after failure—a rape case in 2003 that nearly collapsed his life and reputation, an embarrassing Game 6 finals loss of 39 points to Boston in 2008—he’s able to overcome the challenges.

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise,” is another of Kobe’s more popular Quotable Quotes.

Kobe Bryant is. He’s the reason why the team in gold will win gold.

Scanning the sports horizon for athletes with similar conviction and single-mindedness, I can think of one other today. He, too, embraces the motto, “He who’s more determined, triumphs.” And, like Kobe, who’s gunning for his 5th NBA crown, this man, tonight at 9 p.m. in our Cebu cable TVs, will aim for his 5th crown in Paris. Watch for Pau Gasol’s countryman from Spain to win the French Open.

At Roland G., it’s Robin versus Rafa minus Roger

Only four men are left in the men’s draw of the 2010 French Open. Robin Soderling and Thomas Berdych occupy the upper half; if the odds are followed, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who brawled against opposing players last night, will meet in the other semifinals. Looking ahead to this Sunday, it’s expected to be another R & R finale. Only this time, the reigning Roland Garros winner codenamed “FED” will be missing.

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

What a match the duo played two nights ago. I hope you saw it. In the first set, Federer was impeccable. He won 6-3. In Set 2, he was broken in his first service game, trailed 2-0, then promptly lost 3-6 to Mr. Soderling. In the third set, Roger owned a set point against Robin with the score, 5-4, but—in what turned out to be the point of the match—his opponent saved that game. At 5-all, it rained in Paris. I slept in Cebu. It was nearly midnight. Then, my text-mate that evening, Sun.Star’s Executive Editor Michelle So, sent me a message that my phone captured at 1:48 a.m. Reading it when I awoke at 5:37 yesterday morning, the message was succinct: “RF lost. 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 4-6.” My guess is, Michelle, the leader of the RF Fans Club of Cebu, if ever there was a group, had trouble sleeping after RF’s exit in France.

But what a performance by this Swede nicknamed Soderking. (True: He sawed-off ‘d King.) Robin slammed the ball from his slingshot forehand to Roger’s backhand, drilled a down-the-line backhand, served a 240-kph ace, he played fearless, never, for a moment, intimidated thinking that across the net was The Greatest Of All Time.

Soderling’s offensive gunfire against Federer was the same Robin Hood-like barrage of arrows he unleashed on Nadal last year. Both victories were monumental, said top tennis scribe Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated: “I can’t think of two bigger clay-court upsets in the last, say, 20 years. Those are two just massive wins, but you have to follow it up. We’ll hold off on the Hall of Fame plaques until he wins a major, but those are just two monstrous wins on clay in back-to-back years.”

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Peter Bodo, in his blog at Tennis.Com and a story he titled, “K.I.S.S. Revised” (the KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Soderling), added:  “The main difference, in the big picture, was that Soderling reached out aggressively to take the match, and he did that from start to finish. Meanwhile, Federer did a fair impersonation of Hamlet, his game fading in and out like the signal from a distant radio. More and more, it looks as if Federer is not really playing to win, the way a Soderling is in these upward arcing days of his career.

“It seems that Federer is playing not to lose. He’s doing a fair job of that, hanging in, fending off, snarling and snapping like a captive wolf in a cage. But Federer doesn’t seem to seek the freedom represented by victory, or triumph over his captors and adversaries. He doesn’t appear to want to attack, break through, run like the wind and distance himself from his tormentors.

“The question, going into this event, was whether Federer would muster the focus, hunger, and determination that seems to have been in remission since he won the Australian Open. Did he have a stock game for most tournaments and a custom one for majors? Unfortunately for Federer, Soderling was the most dangerous of opponents to entrust with those questions. He asked them all, and we all saw the answers.”

The final question, of course, is this: Who will win on Sunday? If Robin meets Rafa, can last year’s tormentor, who inflicted RN’s first-ever loss at the French Open, win again? Given his thrashing of Roger, will Soderling’s all-power assault once more punish Nadal? Consider that the 6-foot-4 Robin is at his all-time peak in world ranking (No.7) and confidence. Or will Rafa, now fully-healed of injuries and having won three Masters Series clay-court events leading to Paris, avenge his 2009 loss to Robin?

The answer—like the Lakers vs. Celtics dispute—is coming soon.

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Boston versus Los Angeles: This is it!

Kobe Bryant is not Michael Jordan. But he’s getting close. With Kobe’s fifth NBA ring just four games away, he’s nearing MJ’s record of six NBA crowns. And, in the much-debated Kobe vs. LeBron contest, we know who’s the true season MVP. One is at home wearing pajamas; the other is playing on Friday.

“Kobe is so good, he makes incredible normal for us [and] those that are around him,” said Lamar Odom. “He spins away from a double team, leans back and hits those medium range jumpers. He uses his footwork to free himself while he’s double-teamed. There aren’t too many players in the history of the NBA that can make those plays. I always commend Kobe for his competitiveness, his preciseness, the way he studies the game and his goal as far as being the best player ever.”

Incredible made Normal. Opposite words turned into synonyms by Mr. Bryant. This series, he’s been Jordanesque; making 52.1 percent of all his shots, and averaging 33.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.3 assists. Don’t those numbers remind us of MJ? Here’s more: He scored 30 or more points in 10 of his team’s last 11 games. Plus, if you watched Game 6 two days ago, you will never forget the one shot that caught us in disbelief: Facing Grant Hall on the three-point-line with 34 seconds left, he fired a jaw-dropping shot that blackened the sun of Phoenix.

Incredible is Normal. “He’s one of the very few guys that I have seen play that literally can will the ball in the basket,” said Derek Fisher. “He has the ability to lock in on the rim.”

Like an F-16 jet with laser-guided missiles that “locks-in” and rarely misses the target, so is Kobe. When the ball leaves his fingers, there’s a magnet attached to it that forces the object to swoosh inside the ring’s middle.

“Hey, I’ve known him all his life, since he was about 16,’’ said Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry. “I’ve always been a big fan of his. He knows that. He probably solidified my thought process as to he’s the best basketball player right now.’’

Ouch, LeBron. Beware, MJ. Which brings us to The Finals. It’s the Rivalry of Rivalries. It’s the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, Ali fighting Frazier, Borg-McEnroe, Prost vs. Senna. For no two NBA teams have won more, loath each other more… than Gold vs. Green. The NBA Finals have been contested 63 times and, on 32 occasions, either Boston or L.A. has triumphed.

Starting 1959, they’ve met 12 times in The Finals. In that era, the Celtics beat the Minneapolis Lakers for the first of their eight straight NBA crowns. Those were the 1960s when Jerry West guarded Bob Cousy.

In the 1980s, we remember what transpired: Magic Johnson faced Larry Bird three times, with his Lakers victorious twice. That last game was in 1987. Then, 21 years after, the courtship happened again. This time, in 2008, it was the league’s MVP in Kobe vs. The Big Three of Boston. Against an impenetrable defense, Green beat Gold, 4-2.

And, now. This. Friday, 9 a.m., Cebu time. The Rematch. The Revenge. The Rebirth of a Rivalry. Call it what you may, but KB24 calls it by another name. “It’s a sexy matchup,” he said.

Sexy? Ha-ha. I hope he’s not reminding us all of his past “sins.” But Kobe’s telling the truth: In Los Angeles, it’s a world of glamour, glitz, Greta Garbo. It’s Hollywood. In Boston, it’s cold and hostile territory for the Californians.

What does Phil Jackson have to say? “We remember more than anything losing on our home court, a situation where we had some defensive lapses and they took advantage of it,” he said. “This year we have home-court advantage, and we look forward to the rematch with great intensity.”

Home court advantage, in politics or sport, is an advantage. This time, the Lakers want to score early. And, with the 2-3-2 format, those first two games are at the Staples Center. If LA wins those, they’ve got momentum. If Boston steals one in The City of Freddie Roach, it’s Advantage, Celtics.

Like you, I can’t wait for Friday.