Monthly Archives: April 2011

Can you swim six kilometers? Try it

Jose Antonio Aboitiz was our guest speaker last Tuesday. He spoke about water. “We take for granted the importance of water in our lives,” said Tonio, during our Rotary Club of Cebu West meeting at the Radisson Blu. “But all of life depends on water.”

True. The Chairman for the Visayas of the PBSP (Philippine Business for Social Progress), Mr. Aboitiz explained the various initiatives of his organization. Tonio also discussed a sporting event. A marathon, he called it. Only, this time, unlike the many races on foot that bombard the streets of Cebu, this one uses the feet in a different way.

“It’s a swimming marathon!” said Tonio. A swimming marathon? What’s that? Well, if there’s a 42K “Marathon” on asphalted road, there’s also a long-distance event… for swimmers. Six kilometers. Yes. That’s six thousand meters of swimming. “That’s tough,” I told Tonio. “It is. But with practice, you can finish it,” he said. (Earlier that Tuesday, Tonio practiced in Tambuli Beach Club — the site of the start/finish — with a 4K swim.)

The 4th Olango Challenge, it’s named, and it’s an open-water event that’s organized not only for sports — but more importantly, to raise funds for Olango Island. “In the past three Olango Challenge events,” said Tonio, “we’ve raised over P1.7 million. We’ve built many classrooms for the children of Olango.”

Two nights ago when we met, Tonio counted 85 participants for the 2011 edition. “This is the biggest we’ve had,” he said. And, my guess is, this number will balloon to over 100 swimmers. The deadline for registration is on Saturday morning, the day of the race, this April 30. The race begins at 10 a.m. Late registrants can go to Tambuli by 8 a.m. and still join.

What’s fun about this event is it’s not all-serious. Yes, for the serious “dolphins” like Paula Abigail Vega, Erika Lukang, Nikita Dacera and Michael David, there is prize money (P10,000 to the champion). But, to the rest of the non-competitive swimmers, there is a 2K swim and a 6K relay event.

“The Philippines is an archipelago surrounded by so much water,” said Tonio. “We have so much coastline. But the sad part is… we Filipinos are non-swimmers. Not all of us can swim — despite our many beaches. Many children drown. This event hopes to spread the joy of swimming and the love of the sea.”

The 6K, though daunting, is doable. It is divided into three 2K loops (or rectangles fronting Tambuli’s coastline). For the Fun category, participants can wear flippers. One person challenged by Tonio to join is Harry Radaza. Lapu-Lapu City’s energetic councilor will run the Run4Japan event the night before, on April 29, and will swim the next morning for Olango. (Is this Harry’s practice to join the TRI-Lapu-Lapu triathlon this December?)

“Swim for Nature, Swim for the Future.” That’s the tagline for this Saturday. It makes sense. You swim with nature to help preserve water; the proceeds of the swim go to “the future,” the children of Olango.

Mark Joseph and Lex Reyes of the Philippine Aquatic Sports Association (PASA), the two honchos of the national organization, will be here to join. (Mark is the brother of Dondi, the president of the Cebu Business Club.) To those interested, call Riva Valles of PBSP at 2325283 or 2325270. You can also visit olangochallenge.wordpress.com.

The Wakee Salud confession: I helped Manny

Wakee, introducing Manny to Nonito, during the 2009 Cebu Sports Awards

Yesterday morning, I spoke to one of Congressman Pacquiao’s best friends. “Manny and I became close in 2005,” said Rex “Wakee” Salud, who was in Cagayan de Oro yesterday when we talked for 18 minutes. “He had just lost the fight to Morales and I invited him to attend a promotion I organized in Lapu-Lapu. Manny came. That’s when our friendship started.”

Since then, M & W have been inseparable. Maybe you can call Mr. Salud “the good luck charm” of Rep. Pacquiao because, after their meeting, PacMan has not lost a fight since. That’s 13 straight wins leading up to Mosley. “Every fight since we became close, I’ve watched in person,” said Wakee, who’ll be flying to Las Vegas next Tuesday, on May 3.

Wakee’s biggest contribution to Manny’s career? It was convincing our Pinoy pride to stick with Bob Arum after he had signed with Oscar de la Hoya. “After Manny defeated Morales, he no longer wanted to sign with Top Rank,” said Wakee. “It was one of his last fights with their promotion. We were together in Denny’s restaurant in Los Angeles. Then, Freddie Roach fetched him in the airport. I didn’t know where they went. Attorney Gacal was with them…”

Of course, now we know that Manny met with Oscar de la Hoya that day. “Oscar offered $500,000 cash as signing bonus. Manny took it. He signed the contract. The next day, after the press conference, Bob Arum wanted to meet with Manny. At first, he refused. I asked Manny to listen to Bob; anyway, there was no harm in listening. And so, in one room, it was just the four of us: Manny, Bob Arum, myself and Michael Koncz. While Arum was speaking, Manny was just nodding his head. All along, while he did not say it, he had already signed with Golden Boy Promotions.

“I flew back to the Philippines. I arrived in Manila on a Friday and flew to Cebu on Sunday. Then Manny called. That’s when he told me about his acceptance of the $500,000 and his signing with Golden Boy. I told him he should have put that on hold first. Maybe Arum will match that offer. ‘Come here right away,’ said Manny. ‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘I just got home and it’s a Sunday. The travel agencies are closed.‘ But Manny insisted. And so on Monday, I bought a ticket and returned to L.A.”

At that point, nobody knew what was going on behind the scenes. Nobody could talk to Manny. Except one… RWS. “Ako ra gyud maka-duol ni Manny (It was only I, at that time, who could talk to Manny),” he said. “I stayed for 10 days in L.A., even spending my birthday there. Manny was afraid to go back to Arum. Hadlok siya mo pirma (He was afraid to sign), given that he had just signed with Oscar.”

Arum made a counteroffer of $1,000,000. “Plus, he would handle all the legal problems that were sure to happen,” said Wakee. “Manny further negotiated. He asked that the TV rights in the Phils. be under him. Arum said okay.”

The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Who knows what would have happened had MP cemented his agreement with ODLH? “For sure,” said Wakee, “there would have been no Pacquiao vs. De La Hoya fight. How can a promoter fight his own boxer?”

I asked Wakee about next weekend’s May 7 fight. “Before Manny left for America, we were together. I was able to go up to Baguio and watched him spar for five rounds. At that time, he had cough and colds, maybe due to the hot-and-cold changing weather. Even when I dropped him at the airport before he flew to L.A., he was coughing.” Wakee’s prediction? KO before Round 10.

What makes MP unbelievable? “He’s one of a kind. His resistance is unbelievable. He trains the longest. Even though he’s been absent from his workouts prior to training, when he’d come back, his stamina is still there. One time, we were together and, for three straight days, he did not sleep. We played poker, billiards. Pulaw siya tu-lo ka gabii. Imagine that. For us, we’d already faint and weaken. Not Manny. His resistance is so strong. He’s one of a kind. And, most of all, it’s God-given. Even Manny himself says so. Manny knows it’s a gift from God.”

PacMan: The best MP biography I’ve read

UBAY, Bohol – I’m here with my father-in-law, Jacinto “Jack” Mendez. The past three days, in between church visits, we eat fresh crabs, nap, watch the sunrise, exchange stories, swim, read. We’re at his rest-house that’s situated on a ledge and overlooking 180 degrees of the sea.

I brought a book. “PacMan: Behind the scenes with Manny Pacquiao, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world” is written by Gary Andrew Poole, who used to write for the New York Times and GQ. It’s 248 pages long. Among the few books that I’ve read of MP, it’s the best.

Divided into 13 chapters, it begins with the Prologue. Manny is training in the Wild Card Gym. His daily meals at Nat’s Thai, which serves Filipino dishes, is well documented. The other chapters? Number One is “The City of Dust,” the author’s term for Gen. Santos City.

“The province, the place where Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao was born on December 17, 1978, is the fourth poorest in the Philippines, where boys risk their lives to climb coconut trees (to make fifty centavo per coconut), play basketball on dirt courts, ride four to a motorcycle, get addicted to shabu (a combination of meth and caffeine), and live in endless crap, with roosters, goats, stray dogs, and no running water.”

The American author, Mr. Poole, describes our country in the poorest of terms. Sure, we’re no rich New York City, but given that he wanted to portray Manny growing up amidst the most slum of cities, he describes us as a destination of dirt and dirty men.

“The Streets of Manila” is Chapter Two and it explains the path taken by Pacquiao, at age 15, from GenSan to Manila. Manny’s first residence is in Malabon and his first manager, Polding Correa. “The GenSan boys sold doughnuts and worked construction (once he didn’t eat for four days because his employer didn’t pay him),” wrote Poole in page 23.

The book is well-written. As you turn each page and your mind deciphers the words, you can’t wait for the next discovery in Pacquiao’s life. We’ve known about Manny’s dire upbringing — but it’s only after reading this book that you learn the details. “Life is difficult here,” said Manny. “There are times when I eat rice only once a day.” Those words Pacquiao wrote to his mom in a letter.

The tenacity and no-fear that Manny displays on the ring today, no doubt, can all be attributed to the years of poverty that he endured.

L&M was the name of his first boxing gym. It was along Paquita St. “In the fate-obsessed Philippines, it was known as a lucky gym for producing champions, but it was considered (with a sick sense of pride) the planet’s worst-smelling boxing establishment,” wrote Poole.

“‘When Pacquiao came here, he didn’t have anything,” says Ramon ‘Moy’ Lainez, the ‘L’ in the L&M. ‘He was a stowaway, and he wasn’t very strong. We didn’t expect much from him. He had a big heart, he really wanted to fight, he really trained, and he dreamed that someday he will be a world champion.” That appeared in page 25.

Of the many themes that emerged from the book, what stands tallest is the teamwork between MP and Freddie Roach. As we know, without Roach’s fatherly guidance, our Pinoy hero wouldn’t be as great. It was 10 years ago when Manny first met Freddie – when he was brought to the U.S. by Rod Nazario. After watching Manny hit the mitts for the first time in his gym, Roach commented, “The speed and power worked so well together. Kind of just jumped on you… Within three minutes, it was like we knew each other our entire lives.”

The rest of the chapters — “The Mexecutioner,” “The Golden Boy and the Hitman,” and “Going Global,” and more — are exciting. As I said, many episodes we partly know — but not the full details, which are all bared open in this book.

“Don’t Quote Me on the Women” is on Chapter 7. Self-explanatory, if you want tsismis and Krista Ranillo stories, read this portion.

Read this biography. With 14 days left before Shane Mosley tastes the gloves of Manny on his cheekbones, this is the perfect appetizer and prequel. Happy Easter!

Dr. Yayoy’s prognosis? It’s Miami vs. L.A.

Every year, I consult a doctor. His specialization isn’t centered on Internal Medicine, osteoporosis or Dentistry. It’s centered on Centers. On point guards, 3-point shots and the NBA Play-offs. Each year, I consult Dr. Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba. He’s a Cebu City Councilor, now on his third term. He’s the M. Lhuillier coach. He’s the most famous and successful guru on dribbling and rebounding outside Manila. To me, he’s the best — including the PBA.

He’s a doctor. He screens patients (players), analyses their defects, he corrects, supplies medicine (more weight-training?) and ensures that they’re robust. Like a true physician. Plus, he owns a degree that none of is will ever achieve: Doctorate on Basketology. (Shouldn’t UC or UV confer such a title on Dr. Alcoseba?)

The Coach with Freddie Roach

“Between the NBA’s Eastern and Western conferences, I prefer the East,” the coaching wizard explained by phone from his City Hall office yesterday morning. “The Lakers lost in Game One. Same with the Spurs. These are upset victories by the New Orleans Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies. Los Angeles and San Antonio no longer have the home-court advantage. At this level of game, in the playoffs, you cannot afford to take any seed for-granted. You have to concentrate all the time. Everybody has to be 100 percent.”

The Lakers were dismal in their 109-100 defeat. “I watched that game,” said Yayoy. “They had no defense. No intensity.” Aiming for their third straight NBA crown, the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, said Alcoseba, will have difficulty winning No. 3 in a row. “The hardest thing is a three-peat,” he said. “It’s mental. I’ve been in such situations with many teams before. It’s so difficult to maintain the intensity, that level, after winning two straight titles. Sometimes, the edge is gone. It’s mental. At times, a team becomes complacent. Or overconfident, mo-kompyansa. With Game 2 against the Hornets, that’s a must-win for L.A. One more loss and they’re down 0-2.”

If that happens and the Lakers proceed to lose to New Orleans, it will be one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “The Hornets is the No. 8 seed,” said Yayoy. “They were not even expected to be in the playoffs. They had, what, a 1-7 start to the regular season? Still, I expect Kobe and his team to defeat the Hornets.”

San Antonio Spurs? They’re the No.1 seed in the West, right? “Yes, they are,” he said. “But they lost (101-98 loss to Memphis) because Manu Ginobili, who averages nearly 20 a game, did not play Game One. I’m sure when he returns, the Spurs, who are the top-seeds, will bounce back.”

For the Western Division, the doctor predicts the two first-game losers, L.A. and San Antonio, to make it to the second round. But his prediction on the finalists? “I think the Lakers and the Oklahoma Thunder will be in the Western finals.”

In the East, Yayoy prefers Youth versus Experience. “I don’t see Boston, with their three older players — Garnett, Pierce and Allen — making it to the conference finals.” In fact, it was only minutes before we spoke that I checked the results via the internet: Boston escaped with an 87-85 victory against the New York Knicks when Ray Allen made a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left.

“It’s Miami vs. Chicago in the East,” predicted Yayoy. As for Chicago, one player stands out: Derrick Rose. “He will be the MVP. He has everything. He owns double-double numbers. He scores (averaging 25 points per game) and assists (7.7 APG). He hits big shots in crucial moments. He’s a clutch player. Hands-down, he’s the NBA’s MVP.”

The Bulls or the Heat? “I’d choose Miami. The three — LeBron, Wade and Bosh — will be too strong. In the end, the Finals, it will go down to the contest that everybody wants to see: Heat vs. Lakers.”

A self-confessed Lakers fan who correctly predicted the wins of L.A. the past two seasons, does Dr. Alcoseba anticipate the same result in 2011? “The Lakers will have a hard time. As I said, a three-peat is extremely difficult. I think LeBron will prevail over Kobe.”

Tommy O’s stories about Manny P.

Manny steals my candies, said Tommy Osmeña. Yes, that’s true. The richest athlete that our nation has ever produced, pocketing P500,000,000 per blockbuster fight, the man who owns mansions spanning Los Angeles and General Santos, the congressman who bankrolled his own election campaign… yes, this billionaire codenamed Pacman… steals the candies of Tommy O.

“We sit beside each other in Congress,” said Tomas R. Osmeña, the Congressman of the Cebu City South District of his counterpart Representative of Sarangani Province. “I always keep candies in my drawer. After I leave my seat and come back, they’re gone. I look at Manny. He has all my candies!”

Last Wednesday night, I was seated beside Tommy. To my right was Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young. We were at the International Culinary Arts Academy of Cebu, or the ICAAC (owned by the younger brother of the vice mayor, Jeremy Young). Our group of 20 included my fellow members from the Rotary Club of Cebu West: Lenton Beltran, Ex Bollozos, Andrew Ching, Nilo Domingo, Romy Dy Pico, Nonito Narvasa, Francis Onglatco, Carlo Suarez, Alvin Tan, Justin Uy, Wilton Uykingtian and John Young. Joining us were three Rotarians from Rotary Singapore West: Tay Wei Lien, Darryl Kuek, Chio Poh Leng and Ashley McKinnon, plus a representative of SOS Phils., Pamela Daguman. Our Rotary groups were invited by Vice Mayor Young for dinner to celebrate our joint project with the Cebu City government and DepEd. We donated a total of 50,000 books to the Library Hub.

In our dinner of fresh salad with white cheese, the main dish of salmon, asparagus and scallops, and dessert of freshly-made chocolate ice cream, we discussed a milieu of topics. They ranged from Pres. Noynoy’s visit to Singapore (and having to climb 20 flights of stairs when the elevator broke down) to Flor Contemplacion’s execution in 1994 to the Magazine Hub project that we’re targeting for Cebu City. Then, we talked in length about the world’s most popular Filipino.

“I asked to be seated beside Manny in Congress,” said Rep. Osmeña. “The story about the candies? I ended up placing a bunch full of candies inside his drawer so he won’t steal from me.” John Young, seated to Tommy’s left, laughed.

“How many times have you watched Manny fight?” I asked. Tommy sat expressionless. Mentally, he was counting. “I can’t remember how many because I’ve watched so many of his fights,” he said. This May 7 in Las Vegas, Pacquiao’s good friend and fellow congressman will once more be there to cheer for him.

The Ricky Hatton KO? “The morning before each fight, Manny always has mass celebrated. I was there. I had just recovered from cancer. The moment I entered the room, Manny saw me. He asked that I sit beside him. ‘But, no,’ I said, ‘that’s reserved for Jinkee.’ Manny insisted. I sat beside him during mass. Then, during the homily, the priest asked Manny to say a few words. Manny got the microphone and, instead, gave it to me. He wanted me to say something. I said no. Finally, Manny spoke and, in the end, interrupted the mass and forced me to speak. I talked about my own fight — and victory — over cancer.”

Manny is a very caring person, said Tommy. He’s always concerned. During his birthdays, the Pambansang Kamao never fails to call and greet.

“When I had my bout against cancer,” said Osmeña, “I received a phone call the night before Manny’s fight against Oscar de la Hoya. He said, ‘Are you coming to watch?’ I said, ‘No, I can’t. I’m in Houston. But my son Miguel will be there.’”

Tommy wished Manny good luck while Manny wished Tommy a speedy recovery. “Then, the day after the fight, when nobody expected Manny to beat De la Hoya but he did, I get another unexpected call. It’s Manny. Imagine how busy he is, swamped with all these people. He remembers to call. That’s how good a person he is. You know what Manny told me?”

Our Rotary table sat silent, awaiting. “I won my fight,” Manny told me. “Now you win yours.”

Jacob Lagman is the future of PHL tennis

Jacob Lagman, only 15 years old, is the 15th seed of the Cebuana Lhuillier Men’s Tennis Open. Yesterday morning, he was impressive. Against Roel Capangpangan, a player from Manila who beat him at the PCA Open last year, he displayed toughness.

Down 6-2 in the first set and 2-1 in the second set, Jacob won 11 of the next 13 games. Final score: 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Winner: Lagman.

Today, Jacob plays Joseph Victorino (at 4p.m.) in the quarterfinals. As I said, impressive. Tomorrow (regardless of today’s result), he and fellow age-grouper Jurence Mendoza fly to India. They’ll represent our nation in the Junior Davis Cup event.

Elbert “Onyok” Anasta is the No. 2 seed. Last week, he reached the finals of the Cainta (Rizal) Tennis  Open. Of late, his showing has been remarkable — thanks to his being one of the four players of the Philippine Davis Cup team. But, two days ago, he was upset. Joseph Victorino, a former No.1 player of our nation (back in 2003), has been in Japan for several years now. He’s been coaching tennis. Now, he’s back. And he beat Anasta for this week’s biggest upset.

Johnny Arcilla? I saw him play yesterday morning. Stunning. Overwhelming. Those are words best to describe his showing this week. He’ll be very difficult to stop on Sunday, the championship day.

Today, all the quarterfinal matches in singles and doubles will start. Matches begin at 3 p.m. and will last until the night. See all the baseline action at the aptly-named venue, Baseline.

Bad Running

Mendel Lopez is a bemedalled track athlete. He’s won dozens of races. In a field of long-legged, international runners at the Hong Kong Marathon, he finished third place in the 21K. I spoke to Mendel yesterday. He was upset. Last Sunday, he joined a footrace and the winners were promised prize money.

“I won second place in the 5K category,” said Mendel. “They announced that the 5K champion would receive P4,000 and the runner-up, P2,000. But instead of getting P2,000, they only gave me P300.”

This is a scam. It’s an embarrassment. Based on the article of fellow writer Iste Sesante-Leopoldo, “‘1st Cebu Run Run’ turns into winners’ nightmare,” last Monday, the organizing group is the “C 24/7 Food Supplement and Nautra-Ceuticals.” A certain Rose Soltones is the head of the organizing committee.

What happened, Rose? This is humiliating. A promise is a promise when it comes to sporting events. When you guarantee the contestants prize money, it’s a commitment to fulfill that pledge.

The 5K champion, Jordan Bacong, the son of a fisherman who relies on the cash prizes for his food and expenses, was to receive P4,000. This was announced. He got P500. Josepha Kiptanui of Kenya won the 10K. His time was an astonishing 30:48. But what did he receive as reward for such quickness? P500. Instead of the P6,000 promised the 10K champion.

The organizers are blaming the lack of participants — only 700 reportedly joined instead of the 2,000 singlets that they produced — as the reason for their disobeying their obligation. Well, is that Jordan’s problem? Or Josepha’s? No, it’s not. Their job is to run and finish first. They ought to be rewarded by beating everybody else.

With this incident, I hope for two things. One, that the organizers pay the remainder of the prize money this week. They must. It doesn’t matter how they’ll raise it — it’s non-negotiable. (I suggest, if they fail to do this, that the Cebu City Sports Commission and Ayala Center blacklist them from organizing future events.) Two, I hope this doesn’t happen again. Road-running races happen every Sunday. Sometimes, two or three are held every weekend. Though some complain that this is too much running — I say it’s good. These events have gotten everybody healthy. But, please, promises are promises.

Schwartzel who? No Tiger roar from Rory

A non-golfer, I woke up early yesterday. Like a golfer. You see, if you play this sport of hazards, hooks, hole-in-ones and handicaps, you’d have awoken early the past four mornings. Nilo Domingo, the best golfer from our Rotary Club of Cebu West (handicap: 9), had wide-open eyes yesterday from 1 to 7 a.m. He watched The Masters. Like most golfers. It was the 75th anniversary of the greenest of all greens. And, it might have been the most tumultuous finale at Augusta.

“This Masters had the most topsy-turvy leaderboard with perhaps the most lead changes ever,” said Jovi Neri, one of Cebu’s best. “This is probably what makes it unique, but all the Masters are always exciting.”

A lawyer by profession and golfer by obsession, Jovi Neri, the 2002 Cebu Country Club champion, analyzes golf as accurately as his tee shot.

The champion? Rory McIlroy! Was he? No. Supposed to be. Yes. It was Tiger Woods. A four-time winner of the green jacket, he led the field with only nine holes to play. At that late stage, TW1 is unbeatable. He won. No? He lost. Was it K.J. Choi, whom Koreans in Cebu cheered wildly while watching Samsung TV? He came close. But, no, he did not win. How about a trio of Aussies, Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, and Jason Day? They were close — but preserved the tradition which states, “No Australian will win The Masters.”

The champion? Charl Schwartzel, a player I had never heard of before. Was he German? A famous brand of sausage? Why was his name pronounced “Sharl?” “The last time a winner finished four under over his last four holes was 25 years ago when a certain Jack Nicklaus won his 6th green jacket at age 46, and defied father time. What a way for Schwartzel to commemorate that historic `86 Masters with his own version of a strong finish,” said Jovi Neri.

(The Canadian Press)

Early yesterday, I watched those final four holes. It was dramatic. You didn’t know who’d win. Would Tiger’s 10-under be enough for a play-off spot? Then, all of a sudden, this South African ranked 26th in the world made birdie after birdie after birdie after birdie.

A Filipino almost won. A Fil-Aus, to be exact. As we’ve been accustomed to seeing Fil-Europeans banner the Azkals, here’s a top-notch half-Filipino who’s day, surely, will soon come. Atty. Neri explained: “Before his PGA Tour stint, Jason Day played in the Nationwide Tour (their developmental tour) and in `07 was the younger ever winner in that tour.  He is only of the most promising young players but his rise should in no way be connected with the golf development programs our country has.  If you check this interview, it seems like (1) he has never been to the Philippines, (2) he can’t speak the language, (3) he can’t even name the town where his mom was from.  So while he is a rising star and has Filipino blood running in his veins, I don’t think we can easily proclaim him as ours.  So far, Tiger is more Thai than Day is Filipino based on how they connected to their roots at the same age and stage in their careers.   http://pinoygolfer.com/2010/07/jason-day-interview-pinoygolfer-com-gets-a-few-minutes-with-the-highest-ranked-pinoygolfer-on-the-planet/”

How about today’s version of Jean Van de Velde? The man who led for three days and was poised to become the victor? “At 21,” said Atty. Neri, “you really cannot expect a golfer to handle that pressure well immediately even if he is Rory – one of the best players today. The only time a 21 year old handled Masters pressure with such ease was Tiger Woods back in `97, but then again Rory is one of the best today while Tiger is arguably the best of all-time. Rory’s time will come.”

Woods? “Vintage Tiger is having a lead and running away with the tournament.  Tiger has never won coming from behind.  He could have easily run away with this tournament if not for his putting.  Nicklaus was pronounced washed up until he won two majors in 1980 at 40 years old and then one more in the `86 Masters – so that is three majors after turning 40. You can never count Tiger out, and I am sure he has taken a lot of positives from his performance this tournament.”

Finally, explains Jovi: “The Masters is special because of traditions the tournament has that makes it unlike any other.  There is no corporate sponsorship, the field is very limited, all past champions have lifetime invitations, and they put great importance to the amateurs and pamper them well.  This is because the founder of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament is Bobby Jones – the greatest amateur golfer ever – who was the only man to ever win a grand slam in a calendar year.”

Millette Chiongbian and the Boston Marathon

How excited are you? I asked Millette Chiongbian, who’ll be joining the most prestigious 42K race in the world — the Boston Marathon — just eight days from now, on April 18.

“Hi John! Really excited!!!,” she said. “I think no other marathon does this.”

That’s true. There’s the Celtics, the Red Sox, the New England Patriots — all famous Boston teams. Add the planet’s most revered race: the 115th Boston Marathon. Yes, it’s 115 years old. It was in 1897 when this event was born. After the 1896 Olympic Games, it was founded and remains “the world’s oldest annual marathon.”

What’s difficult with Boston is the qualifying time. Everybody wants to join it. Few are accepted. That’s because you need to be very fast to qualify. For Millette, her qualifying time was 3 hours, 45 minutes. That’s speedy. Yet, she qualified. In March 2010, she joined the Los Angeles Marathon and clocked 3:43:06. Her time was just 114 seconds off the cutoff time; she qualified.

Her excitement? “It started building up when I got the Confirmation Of Acceptance in the mail sometime Nov ’10. Then by March ’11 I was assigned my race number thru email: 17009. This number signifies my rank from the fastest runner out of 27000+ runners. Runners are numbered according to their qualifying times. And just today (last Wednesday), I got the Number Pick-up Card, a Welcome Book and it’s sked of events. Owning a number for the 115th marathon edition means a whole lot. It can be meaningfully taken from my history or from Boston Marathon’s list of entrants in this edition. It’s actually a whole journey that started with a promise.”

Based on our research, no other Filipino — male or female — is joining next Monday’s Boston Marathon. Only Mrs. Chiongbian. “The feeling I am beset with is beyond compare. This is a celebration and a chance for me to run my victory lap for Cebu, as I’ve said in my speech during the Cebu Marathon pre-race party. And technically speaking, Boston’s procedures from registration to verification to confirmation and in welcoming the athlete sets itself from the other races I’ve joined.”
They say with Boston, the hardest part is qualifying. Once you’re in, it doesn’t matter if you finish in 3:30 or 6:30 — just by qualifying, you’ve claimed victory. “My plan is to humbly finish,” said Millette. “I have so much respect for the legendary course. I have no targets because of its unpredictability. I have no solid nor conclusive basis as to how I am going to perform on Marathon Monday. I will simply enjoy the course route.”

Millette will leave for the U.S. on Wednesday to acclimatize herself. With her will be her three children, Justin, Yuan and Savvi. Also joining the group are Dominique and Angelique Climaco, plus Clifford, Gera, Alfonso and Marco Alegrado. Good luck to the first-ever Cebuana to run Boston!

In golf, the master of all is the…

Of the four major championships of this sport that involves birdies, best balls, bogeys and bunkers, there is only one where the venue never changes. The three others — the U.S. Open, The Open (British) and the PGA Championship — change their tournament site each year. Not The Masters. Not the first major championship of the season that’s held at the Augusta National Golf Club every first full week of April.

“The first time I played the Masters,” said Chi-Chi Rodriguez, a Hall of Famer, “I was so nervous I drank a bottle of rum before I teed off. I shot the happiest 83 of my life.” That’s the type of bliss and exuberance that The Masters elicits. For no four days of golf is followed more than the one that begins today and ends on Sunday.

Maria Johnson, formerly “Bebot Pacaña” before she moved to the U.S. 35 years ago, is a friend of mine. A 4-handicapper, she lives in Georgia and had the opportunity to visit in 2009. “From the moment I stepped inside the gate of Augusta National, I was taken by the excitement and the beauty of it all,” she said. “I have watched the tournament on TV year after year but there is nothing like seeing it live. As it was, and as it always seems to be, Augusta National abounds in pristine surroundings, immaculate fairways and stunning botanical beauty. The sides of the fairways were filled with rows of Azaleas of various colors, pink and white dogwoods, century-old Magnolias, Holly and Oak trees. What a magnificent sight! From a distance, the greens shimmered like linoleum floors not yielding much even to the best putters in the world.”

To a child, a visit to this par-72, 7,435-yard golf course is like a trip to Disneyland. For tennis buffs like Stephen Lim and Ken Salimbangon, it’s la Sunday finale at Wimbledon. To Jesse Bernad, the World Series. To Montito Garcia, the new president of the Cebu Country Club, it’s a personal trip to The Masters — an act Montito was able to fulfill in 2003.

Upon the invitation of Mirant, the power company, Montito stayed the full four days. “The boss of Mirant was an avid golfer so he rented three houses in Augusta,” said Montito. “We had a chef and everything was complete. It was fantastic. The first three days, although it was “lapok” because of the rain, we watched. Finally, on Sunday, we played at East Lake, the home course of Bobby Jones. We played early morning then watched the final few holes when Mike Weir won. Augusta is hallowed ground. It’s beautiful.”

Luckily for us here in Cebu, we’ll witness this same beauty because The Masters will be shown on TV. Based on a quick research (www.espnstar.com), coverage on ESPN begins this 12 midnight but the live showing starts at 3 a.m. tomorrow. It’s expected to be aired until 7:30 a.m. Which means that we expect many, many golfers to rise very, very early starting tomorrow at dawn until Monday.

Back to the first-hand description of Mrs. Maria Johnson, she said: “The temperature was in the low 40s and the breeze made it feel even colder. The inclement weather did not bode well for me. It is but one of those forces of nature that is beyond control and cannot be made to go away. But the excitement of being there deterred my thoughts from the freezing wind and warmed me from inside out.

“Electricity filled the air at Augusta National that day. Roars and groans could be heard all over as players produced plenty of thrills. Patrons lined up around the tees and fairways to see and follow their favorites who, once they had teed off at the first hole, went about their business, hardly speaking except to their caddies.

“It was exciting to see my favorite players but as I walked through the ‘course,’ I realized that their presence was only the second or third most exciting thing that day. The fact of the matter is that just being at Augusta National was a dream come true, and my experience created a lifelong memory.”

Exercise alone does not make us healthy

I’m 38 years old. My body weight is 146 lbs. Each day, I pedal that mountain-bike, smash a tennis ball, or run. Twice, I’ve crossed the 42K finish line. You’d consider me extremely fit, right? Apparently, not. My cholesterol level is 271.

Last Saturday morning, a nurse from Hi-Precision extracted blood from my right arm. Later that night, I got the result. For those who know cholesterol, the supposed borderline is 200. Anything beyond is bad. Mine was 271. Despite my relatively youthful age. Despite my lean frame. Despite my deep passion for sports — which I perform as often as I eat breakfast. Ouch. It was a shocker. My very first time to have a blood chemistry, I was bewildered. What happened? I took the blood test as part of the Holistic Approach to Self Healing (HASH) program last weekend.

The culprit? The reason behind my failure at the medical check-up? My diet. You see, I used to think this way: I sweat and exert so much physical effort — thus, I can eat anything. And, yes, I eat everything: lechon skin, Coca-Cola almost daily, ice cream, chicken skin from Sunburst, fried food, and, of course, my all-time favorite… steak.

Well, after all the talks given during the “Detox” and wellness seminar last weekend at the Marco Polo Hotel (there will be another one this May 15), now I know better. Exercise cannot compensate for bad eating habits. Sure, biking and running work. They help. They strengthen the heart. They are good. But, they are not enough to keep us healthy. My LDL count? The borderline is 130. Anything beyond that spells trouble. Mine is 186. 186! What have I learned? Simple: Diet is all-important. Starting last Sunday, I made a vow. I’ll still eat lechon and indulge in Don Merto’s steak — but I’ll consume less.

Dr. Dale Flores, the U.S.-trained food expert who handled most of the weekend’s lectures, requested the 67 men and women who joined the HASH Seminar: “Do not deprive yourself of food that you like, even if it’s unhealthy. But take it sparingly.” I’ll follow that mantra.

Also, I’ll eat more fruits. (As our business is selling fresh fruit juices, I should consume the most bananas, apples and watermelons!) Vegetables? Oh, no. This is a weakness. Though I love broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, arugula and a few more, I’m far from being a vegetarian. I’m a meat-lover. Like most. Yet, I have to eat more vegetables. You and I know this. We’ve been taught this since pre-school. I vow to eat more greens.

Soft-drinks? I love Root-Beer and Coke. Remember the old advertisement… “Coke adds life!”? To me — and millions worldwide — it does. But it also “lessens” life; as the sugar content unknowingly kills us.

How about coffee? This was difficult. Prior to the Saturday morning check-in at Marco Polo, we were asked to refrain from meat, soft-drinks, artificial juice, etc. for 48 hours. That wasn’t too difficult. But that list included coffee. A coffee-drinker since 2007, I sip that aromatic brown beverage every 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. I haven’t missed that ritual for 45 months. Until last Thursday to Sunday. It weakened my senses. I had a slight headache. (Would you believe, due partly to wooziness, I forgot to button my pants last Friday! Good thing, Jasmin noticed.) I had become, as I suspected, addicted. Coffee, it turns out during the lecture, is not bad. (There are 1,001 debatable issues on its pros and cons.) The key point is moderation. My two cups every 24 hours is okay.

The whole conclusion I derived from last weekend? You are what you eat. Eat junk and this junk will turn you into a junk-like car of a person. You’ll pay for it. I also learned, as earlier pointed out, that plenty of exercise is no excuse for good, healthy eating. I’ve learned that the fittest people are those that combine both: Healthy eating + plenty of sweating. That’s what I’ll strive to do. They say “Life begins at 40.” Well, before I turn that age in a year’s time, I’ll eat well. For me: Healthy Life begins at 40.