Monthly Archives: December 2013

Flying high

Scary! That’s the best word to describe what my eyes witnessed last Sunday. Treacherous. Risky. Hazardous. Those are three more adjectives. I’m talking about one sport that had thousands of people watching last weekend.

Motocross racing. Two afternoons ago, on a date with my daughter Jana, we trekked to the South Road Properties (SRP) to watch daredevils fly. Yes, they flew. Five, 10, 15 — maybe 20 feet on air. No, they weren’t birds. No, they didn’t have wings. All they had was a super two-wheeler called a motocross that elevated on air. Daredevils. Yes, that’s another aptly-worded description. These men have no fear. They’re gutsy and bold. Daring.

I had long wanted to watch motocross racing. It wasn’t until last weekend that I finally did.

Bill Velasco, one of this nation’s top sports media personalities, sent me a text message on Saturday wanting to meet. I promised to visit him at the SRP.

Last Sunday, inside the organizer’s tent fronting dozens of mounds, we watched. The pros were competing. On a nearly-one-kilometer track that circles and winds, dozens of athletes revved their engines and pushed the machines to their limits. They started in unison but, seconds after, one would overtake another. Dirt gushed from the dry sand. Often on slippery ground, the dust would belch a fiery steam.

The motorbikes would scream loud voices. Pushed to the limit on a straight path, upon reaching a hill, the bikers would release themselves from their seats and, like Michael Jordan wearing helmet, they’d fly.

In front of us were two Chocolate Hills. After accelerating on a turn, they’d skyrocket to drift over these two heaps of soil.

Acrobats. That’s what these lionhearted professionals do. Some would, while sailing on the air, wave their right hand to the crowd. Others would captivate the audience by twisting their handlebars and landing on a sideways posture.

This isn’t just sport. It’s entertainment. It’s the thrill of watching men do crazy moves that, to us ordinary motorists, would maim or disfigure.

“Safety is number one,” said Bill Velasco, who helped operate the whole event. “Before the start of each race, the crew would line-up and, foot by foot, inspect every portion of the track for debris that shouldn’t be there.”

Thanks to this attention to safety detail, few incidents — and nothing major — have occurred the past 12 months.

“Eleven races. Ten different locations. Hundreds of riders. Tons of dirt. Tens of millions of pesos. Crowds ranging from 18,000 to over 42,000. This has been the story of motocross’s renaissance. And it all returned to where it started…” – Those were the words of Mr. Velasco in his Phil. Star column yesterday.

After starting the Kopiko Astig 3-in-One Supercross series in Cebu City last January, it was back to the SRP last weekend. In between the two Cebu races, there were nine others all over the Visayas and Mindanao.

Each city is different. The track and obstacles are different. The conditions — “very rainy for two straight weeks in Cagayan de Oro” and “very hot and dusty in Bacolod” — are different. Our Cebu track was built by Cebu’s legendary Adlawan family, led by Jon Jon.

What doesn’t change is this: The Thrill. The Scare. The engines that soar. The engines that roar. The racers who slide, descend, ascend and pilot each of the bike’s two wheels as if they were his own legs.

How much does each bike cost? “One million pesos,” Bill replied. Yup. These are not your ordinary Yamahas. These are souped-up and modified super machines whose goal is to achieve a combination of top velocity and agility.

The most fun part? The little kids. No taller than a few feet tall, the “Pee Wee” division is for kids not satisfied with kiddie games like the swing and the slide. They’d rather slide and swing on the dirt track, armed with padded gear and helmets.

Good thing, after a few circles, the children crossed the finish safely. It brought smiles to the parents — the perfect Christmas gift.

To all… Merry Christmas!

Smashing 2013 for Rafa

nadal photo

On tennis, when we reflect back on 11+ months of slice forehands and topspin backhands, two words enter my mind: “Rafa’s comeback.”

I’ll make a confession: Whenever I’m asked which player I cheer for more — Nadal or Roger Federer — I don’t provide an answer. I’m noncomittal. That’s because both are the most smiling, respectable and sportsmanlike of athletes on this planet. But, deep inside (Jasmin and Jana know this), the answer tips in the Spaniard’s favor. Maybe it’s Rafa’s tenacity. Maybe it’s his less-talent-than-Roger-but-bigger-heart that draws us cheering. Maybe it’s his humility. I think it’s all of the above.

This 2013, Nadal has amassed a record that is one of history’s best seasons ever. He won 75 and lost seven. That’s a 91.4 percent winning clip. He won the French Open for an eighth time (he’s lost only once ever in Roland Garros). He defeated Novak Djokovic at the US Open to collect his 13th Grand Slam singles trophy. This “13th in 2013” feat is significant because it puts him in the No. 3 spot among the all-time greats. Pete Sampras has 14 majors and Federer has 17.

Only four Grand Slam titles separate Roger and Rafa. These are interesting questions: Can Roger increase his 17 majors? If he doesn’t, Rafa can easily overtake the Swiss, right? (Their age gap is five years). What if Rafa’s injuries resurface? How long can he last this grinding-type game? Given his dominance on clay, how many more French Open titles will he collect?

We don’t know the answers. That’s the thrill of sports. There are no guarantees. (Look at the America’s Cup last Sept: New Zealand needed just one win but lost eight straight to the Americans.)

We don’t know what 2014 will hold. But this we know this December: Nadal is Numero Uno. Wasn’t this a farflung possibility 12 months ago? Looking back at 2012, right after Wimbledon, he skipped the Olympics (where he was the defending champion), he skipped the US Open, and, when we all thought he was ready, he skipped the 2013 Australian Open.

Nadal, who? Now, it’s whew, Nadal!

Apart from the two Grand Slam trophies that he pocketed, the 27-year-old, 6-foot-1 native of Manacor, Spain, won five Masters 1000 titles. These are, next to the majors, tennis’ biggest tournaments. But all these pale in contrast to Nadal’s mightiest accomplishment: He’s healthy. He no longer wears that knee brace. He’s not limping. It’s like an ill man on bed for months who finally walks. Just the mere walking is a blessing. It’s the same for Rafa: just being able to compete on that rectangle court is, for him, a mighty blessing.

Fab Four

Next year will be a guaranteed smash for men’s tennis. Djokovic just hired Boris Becker. We know, of course, that Andy Murray has Ivan Lendl as his coach. I also just learned from our Cebu-based Swedish coach, Tommy Frederiksen, that his fellow Swede, Stefan Edberg, spent time with Federer. Will Edberg be Federer’s coach? If yes, this is remarkable: Becker, Edberg and Lendl — the Big Three of the ‘80s — are all coaches. (Maybe, as teaser during tournaments, they can play exhibition matches?)

The Australian Open is starting this Jan. 13. The winner of the last three in Melbourne, Djokovic will be a shoo-in to triumph again. Remember that, in the last few months this season, he was unbeatable. (Too bad he missed on that Davis Cup win.) I’m sure “Djoker” or “Nole,” as he’s called, will be difficult to beat.

Murray? He, too, will scramble for that top ranking. Now that he’s unloaded that “monkey off his back” (Wimbledon — winning it last July), he’s raring to not only be one of the Fab Four but to stand at the summit of this Rafa-Nole-Andy-Roger rivalry.

My picks in 2014? I’ll play Santa and gift each of the Fab Four one apiece: The Serb will win in Australia; the Spaniard in France; the Swiss in the U.K. and the Scot in the U.S.

Should DepEd scrap boxing?

Jonas is dead. Only 16, he is forever gone. Not by accident. Not by disease. Not by Yolanda or some type of calamity or 7.2 earthquake — but because of this cruel sport that may not be for kids.

Jonas Joshua Garcia wasn’t supposed to box. It was his twin brother Ralph Raven who was set to join the regional meet of Central Luzon. A fourth year high school student from Bulacan, Garcia competed in the CLRAA boxing event. In the first round, his nose bled. Go on, he was told. In Round 2, he felt dizzy and the bloody game was stopped. But it was too late. Rushed to the hospital, he turned comatose. Days later, DepEd announced the most painful of broadcasts: he’s gone.

Boxing has not been scrapped from the 2014 Palarong Pambansa. Not yet. It may be. Maybe for the special reason to honor the memory of Garcia, it should be. Today, boxing is under immense DepEd scrutiny, declares the Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali. According to reports, boxing is not the only sport that is being examined for being unsafe to youngsters. Also under threat are taekwondo, wushu, arnis and wrestling.

gatorade-kids-boxing-small-10240

This may be an overreaction. But this is valid. A parent’s loss can never be recovered. This incident should be debated upon. It often takes a painful moment for the public to pause, reflect and study. Should children do combat via full contact sports? Pacquiao was 14 when he started. But he’s Pacquiao. Is boxing too dangerous for children at such a fragile age?

Let’s examine what the U.S. and other developed nations do. At what age is boxing allowed? What additional safety gear do they wear? Our referees and officials and doctors manning these bouts: how qualified are they? If our rules get stricter because of this death, the next challenge is enforcement. You know the saying, “The Philippines has so many laws. Our problem is implementing all of them.”

This case is similar. If boxing isn’t banned, as the congressman from Sarangani says it shouldn’t, then how do we ensure, in every town or mall or school, that it won’t kill again?

Silver-silver for golden SWU?

Jeric Teng of DLSU drives against melvin holper of SWU.KC Cruz

(Photo by KC Cruz/GMA Network)

Coach Yayoy was realistic. When you’ve coached basketball for over three decades, you know the odds. He knew the odds did not favor his SWU versus De La Salle Univ.

True enough, in yesterday’s first quarter, SWU scored eight points against the 21 from DLSU. After a 13-all split in the 2nd quarter, it was another blowout in the 3rd: La Salle made 20 points; Southwestern only 11. By the start of the 4th quarter — the time when I arrived home to catch the final minutes — the Green Archers led by 22 points. It was game over by then. It was not until the 4th quarter when SWU played all-out, aggressive and attacking. But it was too late. They cut the lead to nine but it wasn’t enough. Final score: 64-54.

Still, it’s only Game 1. There’s still today’s second encounter — a meeting the Cebuanos hope won’t be the last. If, miraculously, SWU wins to tie the PCCL Finals series, Game 3 is tomorrow.

IF. That’s a big “if” we can steal one game. Actually, we did. In the preliminary rounds, we defeated the same Taft Ave.-based school. Only this time, the UAAP champions were focused and relentless. Even if we lose today, SWU will come home as proud warriors. They’ll stand tall with necks straight-up  — just like a mighty cobra. These Cobras did Cebu proud. Losing finalists in a heart-breaking Cesafi final against UV here at the Cebu Coliseum, this squad was not given a chance to advance in the PCCL.

“We already have a ticket tomorrow morning,” Coach Yayoy said a few days ago, right after they defeated FEU in the semifinals. “I told the boys, we haven’t even arrived yet but they’re already sending us home.”

That’s a witty statement from Provincial Board Member Raul Alcoseba. Sadly, they might be sent home tomorrow if they lose today. Silver in Cesafi; silver in the PCCL? We hope not for the gold-colored Cobras.

Tacloban rises and runs

t1(All photos from lapiskamay.wordpress.com)

Lester Tabada emailed me yesterday. “I’m a runner from Southern Leyte,” he wrote. “I ran for Tacloban City.”

Last Sunday, exactly one month after the strongest typhoon on earth decimated Visayas, a band of runners decided to do the unthinkable: They decided to run. For 10 kilometers. Around Tacloban’s streets. “We decided to rise up and run,” declared Lester, “to show the people of Tacloban that we are stronger than Yolanda!”

Their race bibs were made of tarpaulin. The runners, instead of writing numbers, inscribed messages of gratitude and hope on the plain white tarpaulin. Some wrote “Wag mawawalan ng Pag-asa,” “Thank You World,” “Thank You Paul Walker,” and “DTI what happened to the Price Freeze.” Lester, who penned the inspiring story in his blog, Lester Pencilhands (lapiskamay.wordpress.com), wrote on his bib: “Anderson 360 for President (Thank U CNN).”

Last Sunday, he said, was a comeback run. “Most of the Tacloban runners who showed up were having their first run since Yolanda,” he said. “But it suddenly transformed into a fun run the moment we agreed to steel that ‘Tindog Tacloban’ tarpaulin near the City Hall.

“We made it as our banner for that hope rally. I believe it was a spontaneous turn of events that led to us running not only for ourselves and our goals but also for the city and its people. We wanted to show them Hope through running. We wanted the Taclobanons to see us running back again to tell them ‘We are stronger than Yolanda.’ That is the goal of our instant fun run. No registration fees, no singlets, no water stations, no marshals. Only Hope.”

t2

They converged at the front of the DYVL. Starting at Romualdez St., they ran to Imelda St., then to Real St. and all the way to Coca-Cola. That was the first 5K. “These are the major streets of downtown Tacloban City, where the most number of people can see us,” Lester said. With the second half of the race, from Coke, they traversed to the hardest hit barangays of San Jose. The finish line: Tacloban airport.

Along the way, the nearly 20 runners chanted “Tindog Tacloban” in unison. “The people couldn’t help but notice and be amazed,” said Lester. “People were clapping at us, waving at us, taking pictures… It was such an amazing experience, like something taken out of those sports movies.”

It was, as described by Lester in one word, magical. “It was a great feeling to finally be able to run after a month of hardships and heartbreaks,” he added. “Tacloban runners could hardly run before that day because they were shocked and freaked-out of dead bodies lying in the streets. Most of them lost their houses and members of the family.

“I think some showed up wearing borrowed shoes and running gears. And it broke my heart later on when I learned that a close running buddy was not able to run because he lost his running shoes and all his belongings in the flood.

“Nightmares, regrets, desperation, and helplessness; these are the harsh realities these runners have to go through (and overcame) coming into the event. I hope running in the streets in that fateful day brought back a sense of normalcy to them. These are good people trying their best to be strong for each other. That fateful Sunday was the 1st month anniversary since Yolanda devastated our city. It was the day we decided to move on and run once again. Tindog Tacloban!”

PLEA. Lester added: “I only started to run seriously this year. I did 4 half-marathons that started in the 1st Tacloban City Marathon. I was in Cebu too this year for a couple of 16Ks. But there’s one race we Tacloban runners are dreaming of: Cebu City Marathon (CCM) 2014. It was and still is our goal of conquering its 42k. It wil be my 1st Mary! We will be there.

“Sir, I hope there’s something you can do to help the Tacloban runners. Some of them lost everythng. Even old shoes and unused gears, it would be the world to us.”

t3

 

Nelson Mandela: The fighter who KO’d apartheid

Pele called him “one of the most influential people in my life. He was my hero, my friend.” Muhammad Ali adds: “His was a life filled with purpose and hope – hope for himself, his country and the world. He made us realise we are our brother’s keeper and that our brothers come in all colours.”

The world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela. Imprisoned for 27 years, he emerges from his 8 x 7-foot prison cell not loathing with hatred and revenge but overflowing with peace and forgiveness. Given the depth of his world impact, what many don’t know about Mandela is this: He’s a lover of sports.

BOXING. He was a six-foot-tall heavyweight boxer. “Although I had boxed a bit at Fort Hare, it was not until I had lived in Johannesburg that I took up the sport in earnest,” Mandela wrote in his book, Long Walk to Freedom. “I was never an outstanding boxer. I was in the heavyweight division, and I had neither enough power to compensate for my lack of speed nor enough speed to make up for my lack of power.”

mandela boxer

Larry Merchant, TV’s top boxing commentator, recalled interviewing Mandela in 2001. He said that Mandela spoke a lot about Ali, even following closely the heavyweight champ’s career while in prison. “That showed how important Ali was as a political figure and not just as a world-wide celebrity and cultural star,” said Merchant. “He talked about how Ali was an inspiration both to him and to all African people.”

Merchant said that Mandela discussed with him boxing technique and showed him the proper way to unleash a left hook. After their interview, the two posed for a photo, side by side in a boxing stance. Mandela — whose name “Rolihalhala” means troublemaker — was then 82.

In his 1994 autobiography, Mandela talked more about the sport. “I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it. I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match.
“Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color, and wealth are irrelevant… I never did any real fighting after I entered politics. My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. After a strenuous workout, I felt both mentally and physically lighter. It was a way of losing myself in something that was not the struggle. After an evening’s workout I would wake up the next morning feeling strong and refreshed, ready to take up the fight again.”

INVICTUS. Last Saturday night, Jasmin and I watched the most inspirational of films. The true story of Mandela and the healing power of sports, “Invictus” stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon (as the South African rubgy team captain Francois Pienaar). The two forge a bond that transcended sports. It was the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the movie showed how sports can unite and uplift a nation. Be prepared to shed a few tears. This movie is uplifting! Directed by Clint Eastwood, you have to watch it — especially at this time when the memory of Mr. Mandela shines brightest.

PRESIDENT. Although he was president of South Africa for only one term (1994 to 1999), Mandela’s legacy in sports has been embedded in their nation. Apart from the 1995 Rugby World Cup, they hosted (and won) soccer’s African Cup of Nations in 1996. Years later, he strode midfield, greeted by billions around the globe. It was the 2010 Fifa World Cup in South Africa.

“Sport has the power to change the world,” Mandela once said. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Kobe Bryant: I’m back

No. 24 is here! Kobe Bean Bryant returns today. On his heels, he’ll be wearing Nike’s latest footwear, “Kobe 9.” Like the man called “Black Mamba,” it’s color black stitched with plenty of neon orange and yellow. No ballplayer has more flair than Kobe. He hails from the Land of Hollywood. It’s Los Angeles, where human stars glitter. It’s the movie and entertainment capital of Earth and, among sweaty earthlings, Kobe is the Master Entertainer.

Shortly after reading this article, I’d like you to do something: On your Android or iPad, log-in to YouTube and type “Kobe Seasons of Legend.” You’ll be treated to a 2:08-minute Hollywood movie. Starring? Obviously, number “24.” The video about Kobe’s return is simple yet dramatic; it teems with bravado. Watch it. I did. And I’ll watch his return, too. After 19 missed games with the Lakers (10-9), they’re playing at home. What better homecoming for one of basketball’s all-time best?

Kobe’s not young. At 35, he’s about three months older than his fellow Nike endorser… this Pinoy boxer who’s being charged by the BIR. We don’t know how long Kobe will last. (For comparison, Michael Jordan retired at 40.) Injuries have a way of shortening careers. And this latest injury was lengthy. It started on April 12 when Kobe tore his left Achilles tendon. Days ensued. Weeks passed. Months flew. It’s taken eight months before his return on Dec. 8.

Questions arise: While Kobe’s numbers last year were impressive (27.3 PPG, 6.0 APG and 5.6 RPG), can he match those statistics this season? I doubt it. He didn’t pass through the Pre-Season; those are the games when you warm-up and hone your rusty skills. He’s coming off a long break. Can he do a Rafa Nadal, who was out due to injury for seven months and returned to win 75 of 82 matches for 2013?

To the Kobe fans, this is their Hope. To the Kobe haters (and there are plenty; those who’d prefer LeBron or despise his “buaya” style), they’d love for Superman to tumble. What’s undeniable is this: Kobe is super-competitive. No one strives harder. No one gives 1,000 percent more than KB24. No one is more experienced; he’s played in the league since 1996 and has amassed phenomenal numbers: 15-time All-Stars. The league MVP in 2008. Twice a scoring champion (2006 and 2007). Two-time NBA Finals MVP. Five-time NBA champion with Phil Jackson. Two golds at the Olympics. And, the youngest-ever NBA Slam Dunk champion at 18.

To us here in the Philippines, Kobe is one of the most popular of Americans. He’s been to Manila at least six times, the last one when he did a PR stint for Lenovo in August.

Quinito Henson, our nation’s top sports journalist, wrote an article yesterday in The Phil. Star, “Kobe moved by Pinoy spirit.” Two Sundays ago, we were with Quinito in Macau during Pacquiao’s fight. He’s now in the U.S. and recently interviewed Kobe. Quinito wrote that when Kobe was shown a photo of Typhoon Yolanda victims playing basketball in Tacloban amidst the destruction, Kobe said: “They’re playing, competing and enjoying themselves in the worst of times. Look at us, sometimes we can afford to even say we’re having a bad day. Hey, are we really having a bad day? Those kids out there are smiling, playing basketball in the absolute worst of times. I was very, very moved.”

Mr. Bryant then talked about life: “It’s not success, it’s not about being great, it’s perseverance,” he said. “It’s having a goal, you get knocked down then you get up, you get knocked down and you try again. Eventually, you will get to where you want to go but you’ve got to have the perseverance and determination to get there.”

Finally, speaking about Pinoys, he said, “I don’t know why it is (the bond with Filipinos). The first time I came over to Manila, I played in a 3-on-3 tournament in a mall. It was a great response. Every time I visit, I feel the energy and passion of the fans. They push me to continue to be better to inspire them. I’m very thankful I have that response.”

Salamat, Kobe. Welcome back.

Paul Walker, extreme sports fan

jiu-jitsu-portugal-paul-walkerWalker (center) with his MMA buddies

“My motto is, you have to get in a sport a day. Playing a little basketball, volleyball, going out surfing, skating, whatever it is. It’s the best way to live.”

Paul William Walker IV said those words. He was a race car driver. An actor of over two dozen films. He surfed. Weight-lifted. Was on the cover, with chiseled abs like Pacquiao’s, of Men’s Health magazine. He was the father to 15-year-old Meadow. And, like many of us, he loved and played sports.

Sadly, the world mourns his shocking death. To us Filipinos, his death is even more personal. Just moments before his life ended, he did charity work. He helped raise funds for the typhoon victims of Yolanda.

We all know Paul Walker as the blue-eyed star of the Fast and Furious series. But he has two other movies that our family particularly like: Eight Below and Into The Blue.

Based on a true story of an expedition group that left a pack of dogs in the polar base because of a heavy snow storm, Eight Below is an inspiring and moving film.

With Into The Blue, he starred alongside Jessica Alba in a sport that he loves most: surfing. He started in high school (California) and never stopped hitting the beach. “It keeps things grounded for me,” he said of surfing. “It’s where I came from, and it’s who I am. I sometimes struggle, because my job is like the antithesis of what surfing is all about. Surfing’s simple. It’s real.”

Next to car racing, the sport Paul Walker enjoyed most was mixed martial arts. He was a huge UFC fan. In an interview a few years back, he said, “I just thought, wow this is a really cool sport. This is something I’d like to do.”

He enrolled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He had a brown belt under Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller in California.

Ronn Shiraki, who owns an MMA gym in Honolulu, recalls a time when Walker called him seven years ago wanting private lessons in Hawaii. The caller simply said he was “Paul” and Shiraki shrugged him off because he was busy with other clients. Weeks later, he found out the caller was Paul Walker. Of the man he’d become very good friends with later, Shiraki said of Walker: “If he wasn’t an actor, he’d probably be very, very good. He would probably be competing in the sport at a very high level.”

Of surfing and MMA, here’s a Men’s Health article entitled “How Paul Walker Got Those Abs.” Written by Daniel Duane, it’s dated Sept. 2005: “Nowadays, the only formal fitness training Walker does is martial arts, which strips unnecessary bulk off his frame while building his speed, balance, flexibility, and coordination. He starts every day with 2 hours of Brazilian jujitsu at a studio near his modest Santa Barbara home, then follows up with an hour of Muay Thai kickboxing. After that, it’s all about the water: ‘If there’s any surf, any fishing, I’ll whip out in the boat.’ That would be the fast rigid-inflatable that allows Walker to rip across to the Channel Islands and catch a few waves, maybe spear a calico bass for dinner, then have a buddy drive while he surfs the boat wake all the way home. And if he’s still itching for a good time after all that, he and some friends might do a few downhill skateboard runs on a quiet canyon road, or take his Nissan Skyline (0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds) to the racetrack.”

Walker also snow-boarded, counting his fall when he tore a tricep and shattered an elbow as one of his worst accidents. Still, he said, “That was not fun. That one hurt. But I’m not giving up extreme sports because I love the adrenaline rush.”

When asked if he was ever scared, he replied, “I’m not afraid of anything. That’s just the way I am. That’s the way my grandfather was. He used to race cars and he had the first 160-mile-per-hour Ford Falcon in the San Fernando valley. And my dad was a two-time Golden Gloves winner, and now he’s into downhill mountain biking and white water rafting. I guess you could say I come from a family of thrill seekers.”

He’ll be missed. And may his motto resonate with all of us: “Get in a sport a day… it’s the best way to live.”

Golden Milo and the elusive gold

Not again. I recall, last year, looking at the face of Ricardo Ballesteros, Jr. We were standing on the oval of the Marikina Sports Complex. It was a Sunday. It was supposed to be an evening of celebration.

Ricky’s face explained it all: a dry smile that transformed into an unhappy frown. We – the Visayas contingent – had won the last three overall championships of the Milo Little Olympics National Finals from 2009 to 2011. The trophy was ours. But, as we stood there in Metro Manila, we had to relinquish it to the hosts. Manila won. Cebu and the Visayas lost. By a mere 11 points! This was last year.

Two nights ago, history did a rewind. This time, by an even more painful margin: six points. NCR garnered 615 total points; Visayas, 609. Ouch.

“Are you sure?” I asked Brando Velasquez, when I heard the miniscule difference. “Did you compute it properly? What if there was an error in addition?” Ha-ha. Wishful thinking. Of course they had tallied the scores correctly.

On home soil, inside the Cebu Coliseum last Sunday, on venues that we’ve practiced on for years, we were beaten. Again. By the National Capital Region. (I hope that next year – after reducing the gap from 11 to 6 points, a five-point margin – we don’t lose by one point!)

Despite the pain, despite the nearness of victory for our nation’s middle region, despite the beautiful ending that should have transpired given Visayas’ twin earthquake-and-typhoon calamities – it wasn’t meant to be.

Despite the loss, Ricky, this time, smiled. I guess he’d gotten accustomed to accepting both failure and triumph with positivity. Plus, he had wowed the crowd.
Last Friday during the Opening Act of the Milo Games, Ricky and Co. welcomed the thousands who arrived from all part of the archipelago to a greeting that only Cebu can offer. Fireworks. Glittery costumes. Acrobatic dance moves. A heart-stopping torch lighting. That was the Opening.

During the Closing, it was just as grand. Inside the Cebu Coliseum, as warm as the arena was, the performances were even hotter. They were terrific.

Nobody – and I mean this with zero bias and this will not be contested by any other sports official – nobody can put up a show like the Cebuanos. We may have lost the games but we won the crowd.

It started with the song “Gold” by Spandau Ballet. One of my all-time favorite bands (from the 80s), dancers covered in gold, including masks in gold, did a rousing opening intro. They brought out two numbers, “5” and “0.” Why these digits? Formed together, they spell out “50.” This number is golden, right? We celebrate 50 with gold. Next year happens to be the 50th anniversary of Milo in the Philippines.

Go for gold. Nestle’s top executive, Andrew Neri, gave an inspiring speech, talking of how these games have touched little kids and inspired them to excel through sports.

The Most Outstanding Athletes – a couple of dozen of them – were called and honored on-stage. (On a personal note, my daughter Jana won, for the 2nd straight year in tennis, the Most Outstanding Athlete trophy after she and her Bright Academy tennis squad blanked NCR, Luzon and Mindanao.)

Apple Abarquez was next called to perform. The song “Go The Distance” (by Michael Bolton) was perfect. Read the lyrics. It was made even more perfect by Apple’s amazing rendition of the tune. Right behind Apple on-stage were the three giant LED screens that showed HD-quality photos of the past weekend: boys sprinting, girls spiking the volleyball.

Towards the finale, three groups of dancers (New Friends, Don Juan and Disco Jammers) strutted and did break-dances and hurled themselves on air as they pumped extra excitement to the crowd.

In the end, the song “Celebrate” by Kool & the Gang was celebrated by boys and girls, coaches and parents, Milo executives and Cebu organizers, Mayor Mike Rama and Milo’s top official Robbie De Vera.

We lost but, by hosting possibly the best-ever Milo Little Olympics in history, we were victorious.

After “7.2” and Yolanda, Milo inspires

milo_little_logo

I’m typing this while facing one of the most picturesque views that our eyes can survey in Cebu. I’m seated on the balcony of Alta Vista Golf and Country Club gazing at southern Cebu. From this porch, a slice of green earth glistens right below; it’s the elegant Alta Vista golf course. But I’m not here to swing golf putts. Instead, we’re here to observe smashes and volleys. It’s tennis and the 2013 Milo Little Olympics National Finals.

My daughter Jana and her Bright Academy team are representing Team Visayas. Like they did last year in Marikina, we hope they’ll score gold at home. These Milo games energize the youth. They’re contested nationwide. A total of 13  sports are being played with 1,600 athletes (from the 22,000 who competed regionally nationwide) here to compete.

Two nights ago, on a perfect Friday night that showcased clear skies, it was the Opening Ceremony.

Ricky Ballesteros, the indefatigable architect of the Sinulog, is the man spearheading Cebu’s hosting of Milo. Ricky promised a subdued, toned-down Opening. Nope. Instead, it was spectacular. Like it should be. With thousands who landed in Cebu to do sports battle for two days, it’s essential that they be welcomed with a rousing Opening. That’s what Milo and Ricky showed the audience.

On the football field of the Cebu City Sports Center, there sat a giant stage — just like the Sinulog. Three large-size LED screens formed the backdrop. We arrived at 5 p.m. A band of dancers performed upbeat songs. Moments later, two of the top VIPs that the crowd awaited descended: Mayor Mike Rama and Nestle CEO John Miller.

Let the festivities begin! Song numbers were rendered. Dance presentations were flaunted. The entire Abellana sports grounds were covered in one color. It’s the same color of the Boston Celtics: Green. It enveloped our sports complex.

Team Visayas, struck by twin mega-calamaties the past two months, wore the appropriate shirt with these designs: On the front were the words “Signal 4” (typhoon) and on the back was “7.2 Magnitude” (earthquake). It was a reminder both to these shocking events and to the resilience of sports that, despite the distress, the battle on the sports arena will live on.

Mayor Rama not only joined the activity, he literally joined — walking with the Visayan contingent as it made its way from the oval bend to the front stage. The sportsminded mayor, like he often does, greeted the visitors with his “Maayong Gabii” version spoken in multiple dialects. He then talked about the importance of sports, especially during these times of adversity.

Chosen to do the Oath of Sportsmanship was last year’s Most Outstanding Athlete in Tennis: my 15-year-old daughter Jana. After that, Dr. Vivian Ginete, one of the chieftains of DepEd in Region 7, inspired the audience with her speech.

Then, the most thrilling portion happened: after Mario Ceniza, Glen Ramos and Alex Ballesteros dribbled the football to “get the ball rolling,” it was the lighting of the torch — culminating when a footballer lit an “arrow” that zoomed fast and lighted the urn. It was dazzling; our version of the Barcelona Olympics.

Danielle May Ozaraga sang “Power of the Dream.” She emerged from the back of the stage and was slowly lifted by a mechanized small stage. While singing with her beautiful voice, images of the athletes were exhibited in the back. Breathtaking. Goose-bumps inducing. A production that only the likes of Junjet Primor and his gang can concoct. It makes you feel proud to be Cebuano.

But, just moments prior to The End, a silent minute was observed. Fittingly so, Ricky and the Milo organizers showed a montage of photos of the destruction of “7.2 and Yolanda.” Lights were dimmed. Only the three LED screens were illuminated. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” blared on the loudspeakers. Reminiscing on that moment now, I get goosebumps. It was painful yet inspiring.

Then, after a moment’s silence, the finale: Since next year will be Milo’s 50th year in the Phils., songs from the 1960s to the present were rendered.

Through sports, Milo uplifts.