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.

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