Monthly Archives: January 2014

In cold Cebu, an even colder Sochi

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The Olympics are held every two years. The Summer and Winter Games alternate. Two years ago, it was London. Two years from now, it will be Brazil. Those are the Summer Olympics that include games like basketball and archery and beach volleyball and BMX cycling.

Next Friday, starting February 7, it will be the Sochi Olympics. It’s the 22nd time that the Winter Games will be organized — and a first for Russia since the USSR was dismantled (they hosted the 1980 Moscow Olympics).

Sochi is a little-known Russian resort city. If you look at Google Maps, you’ll find it far away from big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Russia. Together with Atty. Jacinto and Malu Mendez — my wife Jasmin’s parents — and their whole family, we rode the oversized ship named Princess Cruises in September 2011. We visited a dozen European Baltic cities including St. Petersburg. In what was formerly called Leningrad, we docked for two nights and three days in St. Petersburg and toured historical spots like St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the world-famous Hermitage Museum.

Russia is exerting all it can to make the Sochi Games a success. It is billed as the most expensive Olympics ever — costing over $50 billion. Their supreme leader, Vladimir Putin, is hoping that sports will be a way to show the world the might and glory of his nation.

After the Olympics are done, the city of Sochi will also be hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. This is the first time that Russia will host Sebastian Vettel & Co. The Russian Grand Prix is set on October 12, 2014. Not contended with these twin events, Russia will host an even larger sporting milestone: the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Next to Brazil, we can say that Russia will be the face of sports in the coming years.

The Sochi Olympics will host 15 winter sports disciplines and 98 events. And, continuing the tradition, immediately after the Feb. 7 to 23 Winter Games, the Paralympic Winter Games will run from March 7 to 16, also in Sochi.

Pinoys? Though our temperature is relatively cold these days, do we have any who’ve qualified to join the snow-filled events in Russia?

Surprisingly, yes. Michael Christian Martinez, only 17, is the first homegrown Pinoy to join the Winter Games. He hails from Muntinlupa City and will be competing in the figure-skating routine. Based on my research, he started skating in 2005 as an eight-year-old at the SM Southmall Skating Rink in Las Piñas City. In the Phil. Star article “Pinoy skater to join 2014 Olympic Winter Games” last Jan. 22 and written by Chiara Mapa, Martinez was quoted as saying, “I didn’t really expect that I would make it to the Olympics. But while at Colorado Springs (in 2008), I saw that I was actually capable of doing the jumps and spins and was successfully learning the right techniques, so I thought, maybe I can make it to the Worlds…maybe even to the Olympics.”

The second Pinoy qualifier is 23-year-old Christopher Caluza. Born in California, the Fil-Am is the 2012 Philippines national champion — also in figure-skating. (There is a third Pinoy in the Sochi list — but the Canadian-born Gilmore Junio chose to represent Canada.)

The Philippines actually holds the distinction of being the first nation in the tropics to join the Winter Games. This was back in 1972 during the Sapporo Olympics when two skiers joined the giant slalom. But we have not sent a delegation since 1992. And so, 22 years after, this is welcome news.

Given the distance between our nation and Sochi — plus the endless terror threats that surround the Games — I doubt it if any Cebuano will make the trek to Russia to watch the games as a spectator. But the great news is that the Winter Games will be broadcast via TV5’s Sports 5 channel beginning 12 midnight on Feb. 8.

During the Opening Ceremony, with the Olympic flame burning amidst all the snow, I can imagine Pres. Putin saying… From Russia, with love.

Stunned! Stan wins… Fi-Na Li!

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The odds of Stanislas Wawrinka upsetting Rafael Nadal were so slim that Jourdan Polotan, my wife Jasmin and I bet a Tonkatsu dinner not on whether the Swiss would beat the Spaniard but on what set he’d lose: straight sets (my pick), 4th set (Jasmin’s) or an unlikely 5th set (Jourdan).

It was unlikely that Stan would be The Man. In their 12 previous matches, the score was 12-0. Every previous set they played was won by Rafa. Plus, if we factor in the semifinals demolition job over Roger Federer, then we had a sure RN-engraved trophy in the making.

But this is sport: There are no guarantees. A “lucky” punch by Marquez can put to sleep a sure-win by Pacquiao; a Chelsea football team can shock Bayern Munich in Germany (2012); a 42-1 underdog named Buster Douglas can KO an overconfident Mike Tyson.

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Prior to us discovering the back injury that Nadal was sustaining, Wawrinka was Swiss perfect. In the first set and a half, he walloped the ball via his beautiful one-handed backhand. He served 217-kph aces. He putaway volleys. If he had continued that level of play, even if Nadal was not injured, he’d still have won. It was a pity we didn’t see that happen.

Nadal’s back problems, him wincing in agony, was a painful sight. This was the finals. On the cusp of his 14th major — with the 14-major winner Pete Sampras ready to gift him with the Oz Open crown — he tumbled. It was one of those mega moments that turned sour. At the end of that 2nd set, I thought Nadal would quit. Barely able to serve, what’s the point in continuning? But he continued. The pain killers must have worked. The vigorous back massages must have taken effect. Because Rafa came to life. From a low of 114-kph serves, they strengthened. He won the third set. Imagine if, by some miracle, he escaped with that 4th set win to bring the finale to a 5th set ending? And he won it? For him, it would have tasted sweeter than any Swiss chocolate.

But Stan wouldn’t be denied. He mentally refocused, ran his ailing opponent corner to corner, and secured that break of serve to finally — pardon the pun — break Nadal’s back.

The tattoed letters inscribed in his left arm — “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” — have come true. Always the best man at these Grand Slam weddings, he’s now the groom — with the Norman Brookes trophy as his prize.

FINALLY. It’s Li Na! I can imagine the hysteria in China today. A nation of 1.35 billion people, just a three percent increase in youth tennis players — buoyed by the victory of their own heroine — translates to 45 million new tennis players.

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This happened to Sweden. After Bjorn Borg became the most famous Swede with this tennis performances, there began a boom in Swedish tennis. The likes of Edberg and Wilander were born from the popularity of the game sparked by Borg.

Can Li Na inspire the hundreds of millions of Chinese girls to learn forehands and backhands? I think so. She may not have won Wimbledon, the grandest of them all, but she won the only major that’s labeled the “Grand Slam of Asia and the Pacific.”

While still at her prime, I hope she extensively tours her native land to inspire the children. Maybe develop “Li Na Tennis Academy” schools from Shanghai to Guangzhou to Xiamen — today, while she’s at the summit.

What stands out about Li Na is her personality. You should listen to her awarding speech last Saturday. She’s funny. Always has been. She’s the favorite of the media during the press conferences with her witty responses. Of her real life partner of eight years, she told the crowd, “Now, of course, my husband, you’re famous in China. Thanks (to) him with everything, travelling with me as my hitting partner. (He) fixes my drink, fixes my raquet… So thanks a lot, you’re a nice guy … Also, you’re so lucky, you found me.”

In the Nadal-Federer contest, it’s no contest

Roger F. has achieved records in tennis that may never be broken. 17 majors. The world number ranking for 302 weeks. Twenty three consecutive trips to the semis or better in Slams. But the one record that will forever haunt the Swiss maestro is the one he has against Rafael N.

Match after championship match, Federer has this mental collapse against Nadal. You notice it in his body language. The confident head of Roger — held up-high against all the other earthlings — is absent when he faces Rafa. It was the same last Friday. After playing some of his best in years, Roger was tipped to beat Rafa, especially given the Spaniard’s awful left-hand blister.

But, sadly to the millions of RF fans, the answer is “No es posible.” That one-handed backhand can’t beat the lefty topspin. Those rush-to-the-net exploits resulted to passing shot winners for RN. He attacked. He ran around his backhand. He listened to Stefan Edberg’s advise to take risks, sprint to the net and smother those volleys.

Against anybody else, Roger would have won. But against one — the No. 1 — he’s beaten. Again. And again. And once more.

The Australian Open semis was billed as a heavyweight fight. With 30 Grand Slam singles titles between the two, it was — only, it wasn’t. Because it was lopsided. Nadal dictated play. He chased down shots that would have been unreachable for you and me. He’s Usain Bolt wearing Nike, not Puma. He’s Lance Armstrong-mentally-tough minus the drugs.

What does Roger have to do to defeat his close buddy? He has to play perfect and Rafa has to be subpar. But this combination doesn’t happen. What happens is this combo: Rafa’s forehand versus Roger’s backhand. That’s a painful exchange to witness. And time’s running out for the 32-year-old. This would have been his best chance. Imagine an all-Swiss final. And Roger’s record against Stanislas Wawrinka is 13-1.

But it’s Rafa vs. Stan in today’s 4:30 p.m. (Phil. time) men’s final. I just hope there’s no RF-like psychological collapse. I hope the Swiss doesn’t say… Wawrinka: Wow-Rafa.

Their record is 12-0, all in favor of Rafa. Every single set that they’ve played (26 sets), Rafa has won. Will it be 13 straight matches for Spain? I know Spanish Consul Anton Perdices wishes so. Or will “Stan the Man,” by evening later, be proclaiming to the world, “Nobody beats me 13 in a row!”

It’s hard to bet against Spain in his encounter versus Switzerland in Australia.

The past two weeks have shown us terrific excitement in Melbourne. Upsets. Breakthrough stars in the beautiful blonde not named Maria but Eugenie. And I hope, as do her 1.3 billion fellow Chinese, that Li Na won the Ladies Final last night. For an Asian to win the only “Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific” will deliver a strong boost for tennis in the Far East.

Li Na’s finals opponent last night, Dominika Cibulkova? It shows us that a 5-foot-3 player can reach the finals. I recall her standing beside Sharapova when they met — a 6’1” giant in a “David vs. Goliath” moment — and Cibulkova didn’t stand a chance, height-wise. But she won. This tells us Filipinos that we have a chance.

The big missed moment was Treat Huey. He and partner Dominic Inglot reached the quarterfinals (and had a relatively easy draw onwards) but lost.

The Australian Open, decades back, was considered a “non-major” by many. The top netters didn’t bother flying nearly 24 hours from American or Europe to Melbourne. But today, it has become one of the favorites.

Ken Salimbangon, Fabby Borromeo and I met early this week and vowed to make that Melbourne trek in 2015. Before R & R retire! (Fabby and I were together with our dads 15 years ago at the U.S. Open.)

Maybe then, when it wasn’t possible last Friday, Roger will find a eureka moment to beat Rafa. But for now, it’s Rafa who, in all likelihood, will tie Pete Sampras for his 14th Grand Slam singles trophy (14 this 2014). Add a 15th in Paris this May and he’s halfway through a calender Grand Slam and just two wins away from tying his beaten foe, Federer. Vamos, Rafa.

Lloyd Jefferson Go is CCC’s ace

He was born in Cebu Country Club. His parents, Charlie and Lily, allowed him to call the 52-hectare, 1928-founded Banilad garden as his playground. He started swinging putts by the age of seven. When he was 13, he scored his first ace — a hole-in-one in CCC’s 15th hole. Putt after putt, divot after divot, he improved, leading his team to PAL Interclub trophies, winning junior championships, setting records and being called “the best junior talent CCC has produced.”

LJ Go turns 19 in February 2. He’s now in college, enjoying a golf scholarship at the prestigious 157-year-old institution called the Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

Two weeks ago, LJ accomplished a feat that every jungolfer dreams of accomplishing: He won the 2014 Philippine Amateur Open. Against a field of international stars, he scored rounds of 72, 72, 71 and 76 to win by a whopping 11-stroke margin, the largest in tournament history.

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(Photo from Gilbert Mercado)

Now back in Seton Hall after his recent trip here, I interviewed LJ. Here’s our Philippine ace…

VICTORY. “Winning the Philippine Amateur felt great because it is the biggest amateur tournament in the Philippines and I got to win it with a great field. This is my biggest win. I didn’t know I won by a record margin until Jovi (Neri) said so. I didn’t expect the win. I came in with a different mindset. I said to myself, ‘No expectations.’ The only thing I placed in my mind was not to make a double the whole tournament. I only had one and that was good. I knew that if I played well on the 3rd day, winning the tournament would come true. I had a 7 stroke lead going to the last day and I wanted to start the day well and avoid trouble and I was able to do that.”

PREPARATION. “I wasn’t able to play a lot of golf here in New Jersey because the weather is cold. I was hitting balls into a net for awhile. When I got to Cebu I played everyday so I could prepare. I focused on my short game because Wack Wack was a difficult course and the short game would be the key. My practice paid off. My short game was unbelievable that week and I was able to hole out a lot of chip shots.”

COLLEGE. “Life in the States is harder than at home. You have to do everything on your own. But that helps you become independent. It prepares you for the future. During the week, I have class in the morning and we practice golf or workout in the afternoons. We also run before our class starts three times a week. The weekends, we are free. That’s the time I catch up on school work and rest a bit or go out and play a round of golf.

“Playing College golf helped me mature as a golfer. My course management improved significantly. I don’t force a lot of shots now. I calculate everything more. I take a bit more time. Caddying myself made me realize that I can’t play too fast or I will make stupid mistakes. I still play fast but those extra 10 seconds thinking before you hit helps.”

FELLOW PINOY. “The only Filipino I know in school is the President.” (The president of Seton Hall Univ., which has nearly 10,000 students, is Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban. Two years ago, he was installed as the first-ever Asian-American president of the Catholic university. He also became the first-ever Fil-Am to be president of a major U.S. university. For LJ Go to have the university president as his fellow Pinoy gives him good company.)

TIGER. “My favorite player is Tiger Woods. He makes the game very lively. I love watching highlights of him winning because the crowd gets energized.”

GOALS. “My goal this year is to be able to play in the US Amateur, Asian Amateur and hopefully my team could win the Big East Conference. I want to get stronger to be able to hit the ball farther. With my coach Andrew Ong, I want to perfect my golf swing so I could strike the ball consistently. My long term goal is to be a Professional golfer and hopefully be the first Filipino to play in the PGA Tour.”

Can Huey treat us to an Aussie win?

Treat Huey is Pinoy. His mother, a consultant of the United Nations, is Manina San Pedro-Huey. If you’re a tennis fan and watched one of the five Davis Cup ties held at the Plantation Bay Resort and Spa (thrice in 2013 and twice in 2011), then you must have seen Mr. Huey.

Here’s some good news: Treat (pronounced “Tret”) is in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. With partner Dominic Inglot, they defeated the seventh seeds (Bopanna/Qureshi) in the Men’s Doubles 4th round. Even better good news? Their next opponents are not the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike.

Huey and Inglot were en route to face the Bryans but, just yesterday, the American twins lost. It was their earliest exit in 11 years. Hurray! While I’m a fan of the Bryans, I’m a bigger fan of Treat. Here’s hoping that they broadcast their next match(es) on TV and that the Pinoy-British duo win three more matches to hoist that Aus-Open trophy.

On the Singles category, the twin shockers were Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both losing. She had been dubbed Serena The Unbeatable. But against Ana Ivanovic, she became Serena The Beaten. It was refreshing to see the former world No. 1 from Serbia (Ivanovic) win a major fight. Since she won the French Open in 2008, Ana had been absent. She’s been on a decline. But after beating the local favorite Sam Stosur and Serena, she hopes to go all the way to the final this Sunday. Standing in her way in the Quarters today, the new favorite of my daughter Jana: Eugenie Bouchard, only 19 but with the looks and backhand to match Ivanovic.

Among the men, I wouldn’t bet against another Rafa Nadal and Nole Djokovic ending.

CEBU SPORTS AWARDS. Very soon, our group — the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC) — will release the names of the awardees of the SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards. Led by our SAC president Rico Navarro, we had a meeting last week at the NL Cafe near SM City to deliberate on the nominees. The list includes world boxing champs, triathletes, ballplayers, martial artists, runners and more. Thanks to San Miguel Brewery, Inc. (led by Girlie Garces), we’ve jointly hosted this honoring of superstars every year. This March 2014 will be the 32nd edition.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL. If there’s one sport I’d love to watch live, it’s the NFL. Last Sunday in the U.S., they had the “semifinals.” The winners: the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll meet in the biggest sports night in America: the 48th edition of the Super Bowl. In the American Conference final, Denver defeated the New England Patriots. It was a contest between the two most popular quarterbacks: Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. In this rivalry, Manning led the Broncos with the winning score, 26-16. In the National Conference final, Seattle defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17.

The Super Bowl is set on Feb. 2 in New York. Apart from an exciting game, the world can expect the most expensive TV advertisements to be aired and the best halftime show. The performers? Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

FLOYD. For now, Manny Pacquiao should just forget about Mayweather. He should just concentrate on his April 12 rematch bout against Timothy Bradley. Beat the undefeated (31-0) American convincingly, preferably before the 12th round, then see what happens next. The Manny-Money mega-fight will come at the right time. Now is not that moment.

Speaking of Pacman, I read Atty. Frank Malilong’s column last week about the Marco Polo Hotel dinner for a cause on Thursday night. The Sarangani congressman will share his life story. Tickets are reportedly selling for P1,800 to P2,200 with all the proceeds going to the Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation efforts. The following day, according to Atty. Frank, the life sharing of Pacquiao will move to the Hoops Dome in Lapu-Lapu City.

From a wild and reckless previous life, Manny is now a changed man devoted to his constituents, boxing, family and God.

Cebu is a sports island

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To all visitors and balikbayans, maayong pag-abot sa Cebu! Welcome to the Land of Sports. In our city and province, sports is a major influence. Through the years, Cebu has played hosts to some of the biggest events of our nation.

Davis Cup tennis. Antonio L. Aldeguer (ALA) Promotions boxing. Ironman triathlon. Dancesport championships. The Cebu Marathon. Kopiko motorcross racing. Philippine Azkals exhibition games. The Xterra offroad mountainbike experience. A Guinness world record in Chess. Name the sport, Cebu offers it. Our island is ideal for sports because of several reasons.

First, the central location. If you’re looking for a venue that’s the midway point for those flying from Manila and those coming from Cagayan de Oro or Davao — then this province is perfect. Because of it’s location, Cebu is also home to some of the country’s biggest universities. These schools have invited and developed thousands of top-caliber athletes. To name two Cebuano giants of the PBA, we have Greg Slaughter and June Mar Fajardo.

Two, the excellent partnership between the private and public sectors. Last year, Cebu had the rare privilege of hosting three Davis Cup tennis ties. Our Philippines battled Syria, Thailand and New Zealand. Thanks to the partnership of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, the Phil. Tennis Association (Philta) and the Lapu-Lapu City govt., these triple major events were possible. This doubles tandem (private + govt.) is ideal in sports development because, quite often, one sector can’t handle everything. Cebu is one example of this amazing partnership.

Three, the selfless and passionate sports movers. Take Edward Hayco. He’s the chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission. Because of his devotion to sports, the name “Cebu City” is imprinted in the annals of the Guinness World Records. We’re proud to own two world records: the largest dance class and the biggest chess tournament. (Soon, there’ll be a third in Archery.) Ed Hayco’s passion to help — at zero cost to the city but millions poured from his pocket — is called volunteerism.

Four, Cebu is a sports-hungry crowd. Take ALA Boxing. Almost every other month, a mega-promotion is held inside the Waterfront Cebu ballroom. Filled to the rafters, devoted boxing fans scream and cheer for the courageous pugilists. Cebuanos love sports. Always have, always will. The large crowds in boxing events is a testament to this. That’s why we’re home to three world champions: Donnie Nietes, Johnriel Casimero and Merlito Sabillo. Even Manny Pacquiao frequents Cebu — and trained here in 2007 prior to defeating Marco Antonio Barrera.

In basketball, the CESAFI — our version of the UAAP and NCAA — draws a huge following. The recent rivalry between UV and SWU has elicited major crowds.

Five, Cebuanos love is running. In the past six or so years, thousands of previously sedentary, no-exercise individuals have become runners. A few hundred of them have turned marathoners. This is excellent! Running is the easiest of exercises to do. Just tie a pair of rubber shoes, wear shorts (or even Levi’s jeans).. then off you go. These days, hardly a Sunday passes when there’s no road-racing event. Seven days ago, a few thousand runners braved the 21K and 42K distances in the Cebu Marathon.

Six, the brand “Cebu” elicits a positive image. Let’s talk about the Ironman. For the first three years, it was held in Camarines Sur. Fine. It drew plenty of participants. But this number was nowhere compared to the volume of triathletes who trooped to Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort to join the Cebu editions. The brand “Cebu” is thought of by foreigners as positive because of our many advantages: the nearby white-sand beaches, the friendly and eager crowds. These draw sports-goers to Cebu. Apart from the Ironman, there are multiple triathlons that will grow bigger each year. One notable event is the Tabuelan 111. Again, welcome to Cebu. Pit Señor!

u65b(The Freeman photo/Ferdinand Edralin)

While Cebu rains, it’s scorching hot in Oz

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If there’s one country I’d love to visit, it’s Down Under. Located down under our Philippines, Australia is famous for kangaroos, the Great Barrier Reef and open-sea swimming (plus the occasional shark attack), the Sydney Opera House, and this favorite pastime of Australians: sports.

Cricket. Rugby. Ian Thorpe. Soccer. The 2000 Sydney Olympics. Triathlon. Cycling. Name the sport and, chances are, some Aussie excels in that game.

Tennis? Absolutely. Let’s take Rod Laver. He’s considered the greatest tennis player of all time. (The photo I had with him many years back is one I’ll forever treasure.) He’s won the Grand Slam — all four majors — twice, in 1962 and 1969. Roger Federer’s never achieved a Slam. Same with Nadal. That’s why the center court of Melbourne Park is named after their best-ever. It’s called Rod Laver Arena.

It’s the 2014 Australian Open. It started last Monday and will shower all of us tennis aficionados with smashes and volleys for two weeks ending next Sunday.

It’s the first Slam of the season. It’s broiling. I checked the temperature reading and it exceeds 42 degrees. That’s sweltering hot; more roasting than our summer. Victoria Azarenka termed it “like you’re dancing in a frying pan.” The Canadian Frank Dancevic, who fainted midway through his match, warned: “It’s hazardous to be out there. It’s dangerous … Until somebody dies, they’re just going to keep playing matches in this heat.”

No wonder Rafael Nadal was sweating as if he emerged from the pool two nights ago. And that was a night match. If you saw that encounter against Bernard Tomic, you’d pity the young Aussie. It was billed as The First Round Match To Watch. It ended up being an easy walk in the Melbourne Park for Nadal. Tomic, the former world No. 1 junior, got injured. He lost the first set 6-4 and promptly shook Nadal’s hand while he limped.

I’ve had a few friends — Atan Guardo, Ernie Delco, Bacolod Mayor Monico Puentevella, Oscar Hilado of Phinma — who’ve watched the Oz Open and they swear it’s one of the best events to visit.

The fans are relaxed. Many are shirtless. Melbourne is relatively near Cebu. Ticket prices, compared to Wimbledon, are cheaper. And the people are friendly, smiling and sports-crazy. (Graeme Mackinnon will give a thumbs-up on this.)

Novak Djokovic is still the man to beat. He’s the three-time defending champion. Plus, in his arsenal this week, he’s included a familiar blonde: Boris Becker. It was a wonderful sight to see the German Boom-Boom sit in Novak’s coaching corner. As to how this partnership will transpire, we’ll see. But no doubt it’s a high-powered combination.

Andy Murray’s got Ivan Lendl. Federer’s entourage includes Stefan Edberg, his idol. This simultaneous entry of former No.1s is a first. It increases the public’s appetite for tennis. Imagine if, in the NBA, Michael Jordan coaches the Bobcats, Magic Johnson replaces Mike D’Antoni for the Lakers, and Larry Bird returns to coach Indiana.

More than adding star power to one’s team, the mentor’s entry helps the student’s mind: “If Lendl believes in me, then I CAN DO IT!” That’s what I imagine Andy Murray saying to himself. That’s why Murray won Wimbledon. And the Olympic gold. And the US Open. Belief. That’s what Lendl imparted in him. And no ordinary coach can provide this mental boost than one who’s been-there, won-that.

Among the ladies, Serena Williams is unbeatable. Unlike her sister Venus. Serena has now amassed 17 major singles titles and this stockpile will continue to increase. She feels young at 32. Her mind is as robust as her biceps. And she’s drawing closer to the all-time record (22 slams) of Steffi Graf.

As to doubles, we’re hoping that one player will go far in the draw: Treat Huey. We’ve watched the left-hander play in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa several times in the past. Last year, he came here three times during our Davis Cup ties. With partner Dominic Inglot, the No. 12 seeds just won their first round match. We’re hoping they reach the later rounds.

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Back home here in Cebu, what’s best is the TV coverage. We get complete and live tennis action. If you’ve subscribed to High Definition — as Ronnie Pacio, SkyCable’s Visayas chief, reminded me last Monday — it’s even better. In channel 761, the clarity is amazing.

From windy Cebu, let’s enjoy the sizzling tennis in Melbourne.

What makes CCM different

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Call it “Cebu City Marathon” or “CCM” or the “Safeguard Active Cebu Marathon,” it’s the same footrace that’s held along the streets of this Queen City of the South every second Sunday of the new year.

Teamwork. Cooperation. Volunteerism. One group helping another. It’s rising at 1 a.m. on a cold day to barricade the roads so everyone’s safe. It’s called bayanihan. Tinabangay. My mom Allen did it. Bikik Besavilla did it, too. So did Gerard Tan, Mike Enriquez and Carlo Suarez. Same with the Primary Group of Wally Liu. A couple of thousand of women and men braved the rain to help.

Dr. Wyben Briones, the model of Service Above Self, drove his all-terrain AMRO vehicle to the SRP at dawn to lend his medical expertise.

Same with another prized surgeon, Peter Mancao. A New York City Marathon finisher (among his several 42Ks), as the event’s Medical Director, Dr. Mancao agreed to carry the burden of all medical concerns. For free.

“Rain helps,” said Doc Peter, as we stood near the finish line. “Less cramps, heat stroke and injuries.” He pointed to the empty chairs in the Medical Tent that would have been filled had the sun torched the Sunday.

Rain. To many, it’s a curse. But, as long as it’s not a typhoon-like deluge, it’s a welcome “blessing from the skies.” It rained. It rained on Saturday. It rained at 2 a.m. when we arrived at the Cebu I.T. Park. It rained at 3 a.m. when the 42K brave-hearts started their agonizing trek; it rained at 4 a.m. when the 21Kers were set for the firing gun.

The rain, though, didn’t bother the Hydration Booth sponsors who took care of the 14 stations along the route. Their goal was, well, to supply water — and the water-from-the-sky wouldn’t stop them.

Thanks these groups, the Hydration deployment was near-perfect. Gatorade drinks. Cold Nature’s Spring water. Sponges by Safeguard. Bananas. In order of start-to-the-tip, the CCM hydration partners were: Brgy. Lahug, Cebu Grand Hotel, Captain A’s, Honda Motorworld, Holiday Gym and Spa, Thirsty Juices and Shakes/Bright Academy, Aeolus Tires, Cebu Bionic Builders, Filinvest, Cebu Parklane Intl. Hotel, and the Primary Group.

They said Yes to our request for assistance. Providing manpower and entertainment (the CCM trademark of music and dancing), they’re the unsung heroes of CCM.

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(More photos at cebumarathon.com)

Special mention goes to my high school best friend Jonel Borromeo. He not only easily finished the 21K (his first) but his Honda Motorworld sponsored a Hydration Station plus they gave away the raffle grand prize: a Honda Scoopy motorcycle.

CITOM is to be applauded. The Tunnel was promptly closed by 12 midnight. They stood at every intersection to ensure that runners had access. Our salute to Atty. Raffy Yap, Joy Tumulak, Ulysses Empic and the whole team.

Mayor Mike Rama joined. Running under gushing rain, he ran 5K until the finish. Wet and refreshed, he cheered on the finishers, “Pit Señor!”

Councilors Richie Osmeña and Mary Ann de los Santos should be given special citations by the City Council. Not only did they help CCM (prize money, Lahug entertainment, etc.) but they showed Cebuanos this: We run in politics as well as on the road.

Kudos to the Talisay City government for annual partnership with Cebu City. To the police and to the hundreds of barangay officers who helped, salamat.

Finally, I had lunch yesterday with Rio de la Cruz. We’d like to announce the date: “1-11-15.” That’s the next CCM. Online registration will start by March and we’ll introduce several new “pakulo.”

Until then, to all the marathoners and half-marathoners… Rest well. Sleep plenty. Shine your medal. Have a massage and reward yourself. You’ve done it.

As Fred Lebow, the NYC Marathon founder, once said, “The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.” Congratulations!

The “lingaw” marathon of Sugbu

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(More photos at cebumarathon.com)

Like I do each Friday night before the Cebu Marathon, I gave a speech. Fronting a couple of hundred runners who had just landed to participate in today’s race, it was the Pasta Party at The Terraces of the Ayala Center Cebu.

Cebu City Councilors Richie Osmeña and Mary Ann de los Santos — who’ll join the 21K race today — were in attendance. Mayo
(See r Michael Rama arrived later during the Program to deliver his own inspirational message. A lady Disc Jockey (DJ) was flown in by the title sponsors Safeguard from Manila to rap music and energize the crowd. Pasta and pizza prepared by Shakey’s was served. A giant-sized LED screen stood on center-stage. Local rock bands serenaded the hundreds of spectators.

In my Welcome Message the other night, here’s what I said:

“Fellow runners, Maayong gabii kaninyong tanan! Welcome to the Carbo Loading Party of the 2014 Cebu Marathon. Especially to our friends from out-of-town, welcome to our beautiful island of Cebu.

“This event started in 2008. In the first two years, we had the Sinulog Half-Marathon. This Sunday (today) will be the fifth edition of the full 42K marathon. In all the previous years, this race had been locally-organized. Together with the Cebu City government, our group — the Cebu Executive Runners Club or CERC — organized the race. I’d like to acknowledge the CERC members who are here tonight.

“Each January after the race ends, we always ask ourselves the question: How do we make the Cebu Marathon better?

“I’d like to announce the answer tonight: RunRio. The answer is to partner with the best race-organizing team in the whole Philippines. That’s RunRio. I’d like to acknowledge Rio de la Cruz and his team, led by Ms. Ally Lim, the event manager.

“Because of RunRio, this event has turned international. There are thousands of road-running races around the world but only a few are accredited by the IAAF/AIMS or the International Association of Athletics Federations/Association of International Marathons and Distance Races. We are proud to say that the Cebu Marathon is one of those races.

“Speaking of international, this 2014 we are hosting the most number of visitors in our marathon history. We have foreign runners representing 23 nations who will join us this weekend. This list includes 17 elite marathoners from Kenya. We have a few dozen flying from the United States. Nations as distant as Mexico, Switzerland, India, Netherlands, Iceland and even Haiti will be represented. Also, locally, there are hundreds from Manila and Cagayan de Oro and Bacolod and Davao and from many parts of the country who are here to run.

“But tonight, we are happiest to welcome the contingent of 70 runners coming from Tacloban, Palo, Leyte and Samar. They deserve the loudest applause. We salute their perseverance. Despite the tragedy, they are here to show the world, ‘We are running forward!’ Their cry is not only ‘Bangon, ‘Pinas.’ It’s ‘Dagan ta, Pilipinas!

“Finally, what makes the Cebu Marathon different from any other race is this: the Sinulog. When you run this Sunday along the streets of Cebu that will be passing the iconic spots like the Magellan’s Cross, the Provincial Capitol, Colon St., Plaza Independencia, the Tunnel and the SRP — you will not only be handed out Gatorade drinks and Nature’s Spring water, you’ll also be cheered-upon by dancers, loud music, live bands, drum beaters.

“With the Cebu Marathon, our aim is for you to experience a run that’s festive and lingaw. A Sinulog marathon. Welcome to Cebu, good luck and God bless!”

Cebu Marathon

On Jan. 12 — next Sunday — the streets of Cebu will be littered with runners. Hundreds from Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Davao and other cities are landing in Mactan to run CCM. Even better news: more than 60 from Tacloban, Palo and other Yolanda-stricken places will be here to start the year running! We’re all looking forward to cheering and providing the loudest welcome to our neighbors from Samar and Leyte.

I’ve been in constant touch with Lester Tabada, whose articles and photos in his blog (lapiskamay.wordpress.com) have provided much inspiration to us. We were able to raise at least P70,000 to help the Leyte group with their various expenses. Thanks to The Brick (Noy/Amale Jopson), Chris/Nia Aldeguer, Jane-Jane Ong, Jacs/Perl Jacalan and Pork Shop (among others) for the cash donations.

Important reminders for all CCM participants? First, it’s time to taper down. For the 42K runners, no runs beyond 10K are advisable. Drink plenty. There’s a saying that holds true: it’s better to be undertrained than overtrained. Relax.

Visit the website. At www.cebumarathon.com, check your name among the list of runners.

The Race Expo will run from Wednesday to Friday at The Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu. A huge set-up has been built by Safeguard, the event’s title sponsor, and Ayala Center. (Out-of-town participants can claim their race packs on Saturday.)

On Friday night at The Terraces, it’s the Pasta Party. There will be music and entertainment. There will be last-minute briefings by Rio de la Cruz. It’s that one chance before the main event to mingle with the other long-distance runners.

On race-day Sunday, the 42K brave-hearts will start at the Cebu I.T. Park at 3 a.m. The 21K (half-marathoners), who’ll also receive medals and finisher’s shirts, will commence at 4 a.m. In all, the target of 3,000 participants was achieved — all vying to cross that finish, with the others, especially our Kenyan and Ethiopian friends, attempting to win that P100,000 first prize.

As to the Cebuano public: the race organizers would like to request for patience on the road. The inconvenience will not be as bad; the Cebu Marathon (traversing the cities of Cebu and Talisay) starts while you’re still asleep and will be finished around 11 a.m.

The SRP Tunnel will be fully-closed from 12 midnight until 9 a.m. Unlike the SRP area where half of the roads will be open to vehicular traffic, it’s not possible to have vehicles using the tunnel because the fumes will be intoxicating for the runners.

Advance thanks to Joel Juarez, whose CocoRunning outfit is leading the CCM operations, and to Dr. Peter Mancao, who is heading the Medical Team in coordination with ERUF, AMRO and many other groups.