Monthly Archives: May 2014

Top TENnis Tips

images-4

To the multitude of French Open-watching, smash-hitting and forehand-spinning players, here are pointers that I’ve compiled in my nearly three decades of playing tennis…

1) Practice your serve. The only shot in the entire game that’s completely under your control is the serve. Think about it. All other shots flying to your side of the court originate from your opponent’s racquet. The lesson: practice your serve. Very few do. They swing backhands and volleys but rarely spend quality minutes on that toss and serve.

2) Run Around Your Forehand. Most of us have a “weapon.” To many, it’s the forehand, and rightfully so. It’s the more natural shot that offers plenty of power. Develop a Federer-like attitude, one where you can hide your weakness (backhand) by attacking with your forehand.

3) Play with better players. This sounds obvious but we often neglect it. How often are we afraid to challenge, if you’re Class B, a Class A netter? Go ahead. If you stick on playing with those who are in your caliber (or those not as good as you), it will be them who’ll improve. The way to advance is to play with better players.

4) Slide. If you play on clay, like in Roland Garros, you’ve got to learn to do this. It’s the fastest way to get to the farthest shot. Glide like Novak.

5) Rally. I know many of us jump straight into playing a singles or doubles match. It’s fun. Your friends are waiting. And don’t we all want to compete? Right. But if you really want to improve, you’ve got to step away from “competing.” You need to rally. By rallying, I mean doing nothing for 45 minutes but trading shots with a trainer. Focus on a specific shot and practice that single shot 109 times. Take time off matches and rally with a coach/trainer.

6) In Doubles, keep a high first serve percentage. It’s not important to serve like John Isner. What’s more important is to put more first serves into play. Why? Because the opponent knows that you’ll have a weaker second serve and he/she will pound on it. Better to have a 3/4-speed serve which goes in than a 202-kph serve that hits the net.

johnisnerserve

7) Try different racquets, strings, tension. Like Federer, who recently shifted to a bigger piece of equipment, you should try the same. I know change is difficult, but it can improve your game. The best advice on new equipment? Try it out first from friends. Don’t buy the latest Babolat AeroPro without sampling it for 15 minutes. Also, try new strings and a new tension. If you want more power, lessen the string tension. You want more control, increase it. Experiment.

8) Videotape yourself. I know this is extreme but the best coaches do this to their pupils. Only after you’ve watched yourself in real action can you visually know what changes are needed. Use your iPhone. Play it in Slow-mo. Golf pros do this. Jana’s coach, Tommy Frederiksen, does this. It helps.

9) Spin your 2nd serve. Many of us smother that first serve and, when we miss, we flick our wrist for that super-slow second serve. I think it was Pete Sampras who once said, “You’re only as good as your second serve.” Develop an excellent 2nd serve by adding spin. The kick (American-twist) serve is best.

10) Mimic your favorite player. I recall, back in the 1980s when I first started to play at the then-Cebu Tennis Club, how I improved best: I copied. I’d watch Ivan Lendl’s matches (he was my idol) and I’d copy his wicked forehand. I’d turn my shoulders, pull that right arm back, point the elbow outwards, then fire that bullet forehand.

France Tennis French Open(Photo by Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Who, if you were to ask me, would I recommend that you follow, among today’s men’s players? According to strokes and based on who possesses the best mechanics, the undisputed winner is Roger Federer. Every single shot that he executes looks perfect. His serve is classic and no-frills with a very relaxed motion. His forehand is one of history’s best. Volleys, smash, slice backhand — everything. Follow Fed. If you’ve produced 17 Grand Slam titles and two sets of twins, then you must be truly gifted.

‘Banilad Boys’ and the Giuseppe U-11

Sebastian Lacson was, during college, the Ateneo Blue Eagles team captain. He swam from Europe to Africa (Strait of Gibraltar) and, just last Feb., he finished the Tokyo Marathon. But today, I yield this space because the top VECO executive writes about football. Here’s Basti’s full piece:

images-5

Few things can equal the real-life drama that sport provides. On occasion, the drama reaches such a high note that it leaves the spectator breathless, wanting no more and yet wishing it would never end. Such was my experience in Bacolod City, of all places, watching a well-coached bunch of Cebuano boys, all aged 11 or less.

Football (sorry, I cannot get myself to refer to it as “soccer”) tops the world in terms of popularity and viewership. In the Philippines, thanks to the resurgent Azkals, it is only recently that the sport has taken on a more widespread appeal. Quite possibly it is the difficulty of scoring goals that is the appeal worldwide, and the scarcity of goals (as compared to high-scoring basketball) that makes us Filipinos prefer basketball to the beautiful game.

I’m certainly no expert in football. As for live football matches, I have only seen a pair of Spanish league games and also the two times the Azkals played in Cebu. But none of them were as thrilling and delightful as the matches I saw the Giuseppe Under-11 team play at the recently concluded Ceres Cup seven-a-side invitational.

Call time was 7:00 am and the Giuseppe boys played all day until the final, which ended at 9:30 in the evening. Neither the scorching sun and the dust it conjured from the ground nor the intense afternoon shower that drenched them could wipe the determination from their little faces. They started cold in the first few games but hit their stride in the successive afternoon matches, winning one after another and making it to the semi-finals.

They beguiled all opposition with their disciplined spacing on the field, deft triangle passing patterns, sudden bursts of speed and brilliant final flourishes from prolific Yoji Selman, who scored a staggering 21 goals for the day and earned a unanimous MVP award.

It would be difficult to find a team more endearing than this one. Five of nine on the lineup in Bacolod are the Banilad Boys, so called because they study in Banilad Elementary School, next door to the Sandtrap football pitch where Giuseppe trains. These boys are as scrappy and hardy as they come. They may not have the latest in cleats or apparel, but they can outrun and outlast anyone their age or even slightly older.  If they had a motto, or if I could make one up for them, it would probably be along the lines of: play hard, complain none, and things will take care of themselves.

Rounding out the team are four boys from various schools that either don’t have a football team or who would rather come to Giuseppe to learn a more European style of playing. The glue of the team is Rachel Genco and her true passion for the game, keeping the various Giuseppe teams going through her sheer strength of character (and coffers) as well. Coach Bing Bing Colina keeps the boys in check with a studied combination of encouragement and hard work at practice.

The semi-final match was set for 7:30 pm at the well-lit North Point Ceres pitches. Standing in Giuseppe’s way was Marist School from Manila and, on average, the opposition taller than our boys. Hardly two minutes past when Yoji broke through on a pass from Enrico Yap and stroked a beauty with his left foot into the corner of the net. This match ended at 4-1, with the only opposing goal coming from a penalty kick.

By 8:15 pm, it was time for the final against a tough Corinthians team, also from Manila. Once more, our boys were dwarfed by the counterparts from Manila. Then the barrage began. Another four goals from Yoji and one from Stephen Soria and the final tally was 5-1.

So high was the quality of this display for the age of the team that a number of non-Filipino looking Ceres La Salle semi-professional players stopped our boys and sought them for pictures. Our boys being asked by the semi-pros. Yoji, for his part, had more than a few female admirers maybe twice his age all making a beeline for selfies with the young star.

After the game, an exhausted and famished Rachel could only comment that she saw an Italian-style football that day from her boys. And she liked what she saw.

Bright and colorful

images-3

I’ve joined hundreds of runs before but nothing like the one last Saturday. It started at 7:30 p.m. What run begins at that primetime, traffic-infested hour, on a Saturday, the busiest of nights? Aren’t all races on an early-morning-Sunday, when everyone’s lying in bed and the roads are asleep?

The Color Nite Run was different. It’s a “party” run. By that, I mean this: loud Avicii music, powered by the Party Truck of Nature’s Spring, flooding the open air as laser lights swirled; everybody wore black — but what illuminated the darkness were neon sticks. All runners were given glow sticks. Some wrapped the neon bands on their necks, arms, wrists. I saw pairs of colored shoelaces. A foam stick — which emitted neon glows — was handed each runner. We waved the stick, carried it like a baton on a 400-meter relay; we ran like Darth Vader with lightsabers.

The venue was the South Road Properties (SRP), with the start/finish area at the Il Corso in Filinvest. Imagine the sight of 1,800 participants — which included many friends, Lester Tabada, Steve Ferraren, Derek Dytian, DJ Fortz (aka “Michael Jackson”), Allan Delantar, Jeson Guardo — running in the gloom, all carrying yellow bands and orange sticks and glow-in-the-dark accessories?

Boom! As the gun was fired to signal the start, we all shuffled our feet and waved our colors to trek 10 kms. Half of the SRP road was closed. Perfect. With the calm waters of the SRP to your right and the vibrant lights of Cebu to the left, how unique could this run be? Looking at the lights of our city, what stood brightest was Crown Regency, all 40 storeys with multi-colored glowing lights that danced and bounced. The run was “cool” — and, at night, cooler than the 36 degrees Celsius of summer sun to bake your skin.

Organized by Jay Em of ProactiveSports and assisted by Joel Juarez of Coco Running, these guys are experts. Starting with the registration, after paying you’re given a plastic card. You go online and register. The run was well-managed. Hydration stations were plenty. Signages were clear. Tents stood at the finish with food/water. What I found unique was the fee: it was the same P750 for the 3K, 5K and 10K distances. All got a good-quality black shirt plus the neon adornments. Also, since this was a fun-run, no prize money was involved (which saved the organizers plenty); it also meant that they could deploy fewer marshals at the U-turn slots — if you booked for a 3K but felt strong and wanted to go 10K, why, nobody would stop you. Nice.

The only bad parts? Glow Eyeglasses were promised but not given. Worse, no medals were distributed at the finish. For some reason, the medals were locked-up somewhere and they could not be handed-out. This turned many smiling faces into frowns.

Personally, the race was extra special because the entire way, I ran alongside a person who bore me in her womb and helped raise me the past few decades: my mom, Maria Elena. Stride for stride, running short bursts then strolling to walk as the water stations approached, my mom Allen and I forged ahead as one. Best of all? It was my mom’s birthday, her 46th! (Okay, you can interchange the numbers but given her looks and slim physique, she can pass as my sister.) We ran. So did dozens of my mom’s relatives: her four brothers, Ric, Eton, Ondoy and Paul; and dozens of my cousins who flew in from Iloilo — including my “older brother” (cousin) Dindin Zaldarriaga who ran the 10K with my wife Jasmin. We also had over 50 of our teachers from Play House and Bright Academy.

20140517_192011Dindin, Allen, Jasmin and John

At Lantaw Native Restaurant, led by my brother Charlie, we set-up a tent with plenty of food. Prior to the gun start, I did something I’ve never done before: I tore a few cracks off the skin and munched on lechon… before a 10K.

At the finish, after a leisurely one hour and 19 minutes, my mom and I crossed the line with arms raised, holding hands. Minutes later, fireworks erupted as we sang Happy Birthday. What a colorful night.

What’s wrong with Rafa?

images

This is the problem when you’re No. 1. When you’ve won 90 percent of your clay-court matches. When you’ve triumphed in every French Open, except one, from 2005 to 2013. This is the problem when you’re Rafael Nadal. His middle initial is P. That stands for Perfect. (It’s actually “Parera.”) You can’t make a mistake. You. Can’t. Lose. A. Single. Match. Because while your socks get brown-colored-dirty, when you’re Rafa you’re supposed to be without blemish. You are Spain’s Superman.

Rafa has been invincible. At the Barcelona Open, he won eight titles. Same in Monte Carlo, eight trophies. In Rome, it’s seven championships. These are records that even Bjorn Borg couldn’t achieve; even Thomas Muster couldn’t muster. I’m unaware of any other athlete who’s been as dominant as Rafa has been on clay.

But remember the cliche, “All good things come to an end?” Is this the End of Rafa? No, he’s not retiring after the French Open ends on June 8. But is he having difficulty dominating like before? Absolutely. This 2014 has been his most challenging year since he burst into the scene as a 19-year-old to win the French Open.

He turns 28 this June 3. “At this age, (Bjorn) Borg was doing other things,” Rafa said last week. “It’s not possible to win for 10 years with easy scores and easy matches.”

Three weeks ago, Rafa lost to Nicholas Almagro. The week before, he succumbed to the topspin of David Ferrer in Monte Carlo. Last January, when he was expected to romp to his 14th Grand Slam title, he melted like Swiss cheese to Stan Wawrinka. Despite an ATP-leading 34 wins on the tour this year, he’s already lost six times. Not bad. But not Rafa-good.

In his titanic rivalry against Novak Djokovic, they seem to have these see-saw moments when one sweeps through several victories before losing a quartet of matches. Thus far, Nadal has lost his last four encounters with Djokovic. In the game of the mind, this is bad for Rafa. And so was this statistic in their final yesterday: Nadal had 15 winners/27 unforced errors while Djokovic had 46 winners/30 unforced errors.

images-1(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Which brings us to Roland Garros, the official name of the French Open. It starts this Sunday and will run for two weeks. It’s one of tennis’ four majors and it’s the only one played on clay.

What’s clay? It’s like the surface of most of our courts here — Baseline, Alta Vista, Cebu Country Club. Among the various surfaces (hard-courts, grass in Wimbledon, indoor carpet), it’s the slowest. Why? Because when the ball touches the ground, it doesn’t skim on a slippery surface like cement; on clay, the ball settles and plunges, often taking some soil to intertwine with the fluffy yellow ball.

I’ve been inside Roland Garros. This was in 2001. With the family of Jack Mendez, my beloved father-in-law, we opened the gates that September and roamed the site where Rene Lacoste was victorious three times. I touched the clay in Paris. It’s thick and red — slower than our “anapog” courts here. (Next week to commemorate the Paris major, I’d love to play in the CitiGreen indoor courts in Punta Princesa, Cebu — they’re red clay!)

Back to Mr. Nadal, is he most vulnerable this year? Yes. The only clay-court event that he won prior to Paris was in Madrid. And he should have lost that. Trailing Kei Nishikori in the final, it was only after the Japanese got injured that the Spaniard surged.

Also, if you recall their semi-final meeting last year, Djokovic led Nadal, 4-1, in the fifth set before that infamous net-touching incident by Novak. The Serb ended up losing to the Spaniard, 9-7, in the fifth.

Next week? Wow. They can only meet in the final and it will be a colossal finale if the world’s top two face-off.

Still, Rafa is Rafa. He’s won 59 of 60 matches in Roland Garros, translating to a 98.3 winning percentage. He’s the King of France from Spain. The memories, the triumphs, the surroundings, the roaring French cheers, the green backdrop with the “BNP” initials — all these will energize the lefty. Vamos.

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2014 - Day Six(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Pacers-Heat vs. Spurs-Thunder

nbaplayoffs

Of the 30 NBA teams, 29 reside in the U.S. while the Toronto Raptors are, obviously, from Canada. The 2013-14 season started last Oct. 29. Now, seven months later, it’s down to the last four.

It’s No.1 vs. No.2, in both conferences. This hasn’t happened since 2005 — when the top four seeds advanced. In fact, during the first round last month when five of the eight match-ups reached Game 7, we thought there’d be some upsets; but no, the best squads advanced.

LeBron James. Is there any doubt who’s the best? Ha-ha. Yes. There’s Kevin Durant, the undisputed MVP. But when the Playoffs arrive, nobody rises higher to the expectations than Miami’s No. 6. In the first two rounds, the Heat scored 8-1. And this was the Florida-based team that was criticized for being weaker than their previous two years? “On the outside, there’s more doubt,” said Udonis Haslem. Well, after compiling a 54-game winning record in the regular season (12 less than last year), it’s understandable for fans to be insecure. But there’s no one more secure than the South Beach players. “Within here,” adds Haslem, “we’re still confident in one another. We still know what we can do.”

It’s a rematch. Pacers-Heat. During this time 12 months ago, they reached Game 7. Twenty four months ago, Indiana led Miami in the playoffs, 2-1. But they couldn’t overtake Dwayne Wade’s team. Now it’s different. Why? Right after their Game 7 loss last year, Pacers coach Frank Vogel huddled his downtrodden players and vowed to accomplish a mission: grab the No. 1 seed and gain that home-court edge over the Heat. Mission accomplished. Will their goal to “Beat The Heat” be realized in the coming weeks?

Let’s see. What we can foresee is another nail-biting series. With games 1, 2, 5 and 7 to be held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this changes the dynamics of the contest. The question is: Which Pacers will show up? At the start, they won 16 of 17 games. Unbeatable, the journalists proclaimed. But in the end, they sputtered, closing on a 10-13 collapse and barely escaping Atlanta in the first round.

Miami is great, that’s a given. This is NBA’s version of “The Avengers.” If Indiana, led by the erratic plays of Paul George and Roy Hibbert, don’t elevate their game, it will be a routine six-game-series win for the two-time defending champs.

“In their fourth season together, the Heat know exactly who they are,” wrote John Schumann in an NBA.com piece. “They have the best player in the league, who draws the attention of the entire defense. He doesn’t force anything and he trusts his teammates. As a group, they take what the defense gives them. More importantly, the Heat don’t panic. And when you have talent, teamwork and resolve, you win big games.”

That’s in the East. Over at the West, it’s a repeat of the 2012 confrontation. It’s Tony Parker vs. Russell Westbrook; Kawhi Leonard vs. Kevin Durant. “The Spurs don’t make mistakes and instead capitalize on their opponents’ all the time,” said Adi Joseph of USA Today. “They will look to divide and conquer, forcing Westbrook and Durant onto islands without help scoring while attacking the Thunder’s inconsistent role players on both ends.” He believes that’s the key for San Antonio, who have the home-court advantage. Plus, Serge Ibaka is injured.

Still, Oklahoma has to be confident, having passed two tough rounds against Memphis (4-3) and the Clippers (4-2), including the distractions swirling around racist Donald Sterling.

“Durant and Westbrook are two of the five-or-so best players in the world,” said Adi Joseph, this time arguing in behalf of the Thunder. “No one on the Spurs can match them individually, and Leonard is the only player on the team with hopes of defending either one-on-one. The Spurs have struggled against elite athleticism this season, and the Thunder are chockful of that.” As evidence of the Spurs’ struggles, they lost all four regular season games against Durant & Co.

In all, this will be another amazing few weeks for the NBA whose slogan reads, “Where Amazing Happens.”

Pete, Ana, Novak, Serena, Andre, Rafa…

Can you believe this? The news that has gotten tennis fans excited? Yes, they’re coming. The date: Nov. 28 to 30. The venue: MOA Arena or the Araneta Coliseum.

It’s called the International Premier Tennis League. It’s not the usual ATP or WTA tournament. There are no ranking points offered. Cash? Oh yeah. For these celebrity athletes to come, surely there are plenty of Euros. How much? I don’t know; but players of this caliber are given “appearance money.” Which means that, win or lose, they bring home $$$$$$.

This is team tennis. It’s not a common setting. Usually, players play for themselves. Or, if it’s a team format, they play for their country (Davis Cup or Fed Cup).

The brainchild of former world doubles No. 1 Mahesh Bhupathi, this is the inaugural season. There are four teams/cities: Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai and Bangkok. But, wait. What’s unfortunate for Thailand has turned fortunate for our country. Because of the political instability in Bangkok, the venue has been transferred to our capital.

Mahesh Bhupathi_Wimbledon_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0_0Mahesh Bhupathi

Yehey! This is fabulous for tennis. Because while the NBA’s Rockets-Pacers dribbled inside MOA last Oct. and David Beckham kicked the ball here with the LA Galaxy and, well, we have Manny Pacquiao, we’ve never had a Top 10 version of tennis.

Well, we did, but it was over two decades ago. Inside the Araneta Coliseum, I was there when Ivan Lendl played Stefan Edberg. A baseliner, Lendl rushed the net to practice his volleys. There were plenty of laughs as the exhibition setting was relaxed. That was called “Fire and Ice 2.” The first one was a classic: Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe. But since those legends landed in Luzon, we haven’t had a Sampras or Becker or Agassi visit us.

Until six months from now. Ours will be the first leg. After our Nov. 28 to 30 date, the venue moves to Singapore (Dec. 2-4), Mumbai (Dec. 7-9) and Dubai (Dec. 11-14). We’re lucky because all the attention is focused on the first stop.

The format is innovative. Reads the website: “Each match comprises five sets, with no-advantage scoring. There will be one set of men’s singles, one of women’s singles, one men’s doubles, one mixed doubles and one men’s legends singles. Every game counts because the winning team is the one that wins the most games in total. In the event of a tie, the match will be decided on a tie-break.”

TEAM MANILA is bannered by Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Carlos Moya, Daniel Nestor, Victoria Azarenka, Kirsten Flipkens and our own Treat Huey. TEAM DUBAI (called the U.A.E. Falcons) is led by Novak Djokovic, Nenad Zimonjic, Janko Tipsarevic, Goran Ivanisevic, Malek Jaziri, Caroline Wozniacki and the Swiss Miss, Martina Hingis. TEAM MUMBAI (Indian Aces) has Rafael Nadal, Gael Monfils, Pete Sampras, Rohan Bopanna, Fabrice Santoro, Sania Mirza and the beauty, Ana Ivanovic. TEAM SINGAPORE (Lions) has Andre Agassi, Llyeton Hewitt, Nick Kyrgious, Pat Rafter, Tomas Berdych, Bruno Soares, Daniela Hantuchova and the indefatigable Serena Williams.

fe38f36472b64ddc579ea4b718a7463fSerena and Andre (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Amazing list of names, right? But the question is: Will all of them come to Manila? The answer is No. It’s a team event. It’s possible that Murray will be here but only Monfils, Berdych, Ivanisevic, Rafter and several others will land in Manila. Our hope is that the big names — Rafa, Serena, Andre, Novak, Pete — will come. But there’s no guarantee. They might; they might not. And we’ll probably never know until the actual start. What’s guaranteed are a few things: This is world-class tennis, whoever comes. These aren’t your usual exhibition matches where they giggle all-day and still receive that $1 million fee.

“The games will be relaxed and fun but very competitive,” said Randy Villanueva, a good friend of Bhupathi (they played each other in the juniors).

So, dear fellow tennis addicts, start saving up. You don’t have to travel to Paris or Melbourne to watch these stars. Let’s go. Sadly, to all R. Federer fans, he can’t make it. He’ll be busy with a couple of sets… of twins.

Showbiz and Sports: A foul mix in Laguna

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.34.20 AM

Laguna Governor Jeorge “E.R.” Ejercito Estregan should be applauded for the staging of the 57th Palarong Pambansa. It was Laguna’s first-ever hosting of the country’s biggest sporting party and, based on what my eyes witnessed from May 4 to 10, the event was a mammoth success. But here’s the catch: It was a self-promotion. Let me explain.

First, there’s the “Magic Bag.” Each of the thousands of athletes received from the host province a bag. Great! But guess whose name and photos were prominently advertised outside and inside all the contents of the backpack?

Gov. E.R. Estregan. On the bag’s outside was his photo. Inside, there’s a ballpen bearing his face. Same with the fan (paypay). The coffee mug? His picture adorns it. There’s a sleeping mat/foam — very nice. Only that when you sleep on it, you will (literally) be cheek-to-cheek with the governor as his photo is on both sides of the mat, at the exact spot where your head rests.

All throughout the Palaro host cities/towns of Los Baños, Sta. Cruz and Pagsanjan stood innumerable billboards that promote the Games. This is good. But what’s bad are the giant images are all decorated with the governor’s face — as if personal money was spent.

In the sports complex, the moment you enter, his name is plastered on the entrance. Standing on the track oval, when you gaze throughout the arena, at the top of each of the bleachers and the grandstand is his name proclaimed.

Gov. E.R. — a nephew of Manila Mayor Erap — attended several awarding ceremonies. I watched a few. While he’d shake the winners’ hands and pose with the medalists, right beside him would stand a mascot with a giant-size head. Whose large head did the mascot reveal? Of course, who else but the head of the province. In the Closing Ceremony last Saturday, while the real life Gov. E.R. congratulated the champions, his two Gov. E.R. clones/mascots were walking about, shaking hands!

unnamed-8

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 7.13.52 PM

In business, this is called marketing. Promotion. Publicity. This is good politics. The tens of thousands of Laguna residents and the thousands more from all over the nation will know the star — the movie star turned politician. But using sports for political gain? This is showbiz.

The funniest of all? The boy mascot. The logo itself of the Palaro has this boy pictured everywhere. Need you ask who the mini version is? He’s a bespectacled kid with black-rimmed glasses — the 12-year-old version of E.R. complete with a mustache! Yes. I rarely see a boy with mustache. But this boy sports one.

palarong-pambansa-2014

Even our car pass with the CVIRAA name has the logo with Little Boy E.R. The orange plastic chairs at all the sports venues, including those found at the Unson National High School — on each chair were engraved two initials: E.R.

All the Palaro sponsors are required to place the logo and the mascot/boy’s face. Greenwich Pizza had a “Visit our Booth” banner with the governor’s photo.

Speaking of pictures, a great idea of the organizers was the Photo Booth. Log-in your Facebook account and you get to pose with your friends and you receive a printed photo for free. The catch? Gov’s smiling face, complete with him pointing the “No.1” sign, stand behind you in the photo. Some athletes told me they received a free gift — a DVD with E.R.’s movies! Incredible.

I recall then-governor Gwen Garcia promoting herself through sports via the GUV Cup (volleyball), Horse Barrel races and Airsoft games. I remember the Mandaue reclamation lined with banners of Gwen. That was nothing. This screams 50 times more advertising.

Isn’t there a law prohibiting the excessive use of an official’s pictures and name to promote a government-organized activity?

In the weeklong Palaro, I know that hundreds of elementary and high school girls and boys were awarded medals. But, in the game of self-promotion, there is only one gold medalist. The kid with the mustache.

Palarong Pambansa: Post-event thoughts

palaro2014laguna

LAGUNA — “Welcome to the Great Province of Laguna!” declared Gov. Jeorge “E.R.” Ejercito Estregan.

“Laguna, the ‘Resort Captial,’ ‘Detroit,’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Phils., the Land of Enchanting Wonders and Refreshing Waters and your host province for the biggest, grandest and most extravagant Palarong Pambansa in history!” said the Laguna governor in the Games’ official brochure.

“The National Athletic Meet… serves as a fulfillment of our aspirations of becoming the Sports Development Capital of the Phils,” he added. “Sports is not just a game; sports is a way of life. For seven months, we have painstakingly worked round-the-clock to prepare for the country’s most important sporting event. We have exerted our fullest effort in rehabilitating our 19-hectare Laguna Sports Complex, redeveloped at a cost of almost P1 billion.. we have constructed our very own Athletes Village, the first of its kind in the country.. we have also constructed the tallest Jose Rizal bronze monument on earth, standing at 26 feet symbolizing our national hero’s expertise in fencing which we built to inspire our sportsmen. We have established the first Laguna Sports Development Academy..”

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 7.19.23 PM

CENTRAL VISAYAS. Our delegation stayed at the Unson National High School in Pagsanjan — about seven kms. from the sports complex. Although we did not stay in the school, we visited plenty of times. The school provided ample of classrooms for our CVIRAA athletes. At the center sat a covered gym that served as both dining and meeting area. Last Thursday night was fun. It was the Pasalamat Night and all athletes were required to climb the stage and dance. The best performers? The swimmers. While others simply wore their blue-and-yellow CVIRAA jackets, the swimmers were led by an athlete wearing only trunks and a cap and goggles who, standing at the front, led his delegation to swimming dance moves… backstroke dance strokes, breast-dance moves. The event was a welcome laugh-filled few hours for the battle-weary players.

unnamed-6

DEPED. You’ve got to give a big hand to the DepEd teachers. It’s a major feat organizing these Games. Imagine an event bringing together 12,000 athletes — plus thousands more of officials, coaches, parents and spectators. Special kudos to all the officials who take care of the athletes. Arranging for the boat transfers, Yokohama Bus transport, food, daily 5 a.m. mass schedules at Unson, uniforms, P1,000 allowances per athlete, the safety of every delegation member, the recording of the results — all these take sleepless nights and all-day-long hard-working days. Well done, teachers!

RESULT. Our CV delegation could not match the outstanding results of the other regions. I’m not sure with the previous Palaro Games  but this is what I heard: the host province decides on the points system. Here in Laguna, it’s the Olympic version. This means that one event equals one gold. A major sport like football receives only one Gold — just like the 10-second-quick 100-meter-dash. This is the Olympic scoring. Obviously, this favors regions that have powerhouse Athletics and Swimming competitors — not the strength of CV as we’re noted to be strong in ball games. (Other scoring formats, like the Milo National Little Olympics, allocate bigger points for sports like basketball, volleyball, etc.)

NIGHT. The 19-hectare Laguna Sports Complex — a site that would make Cebu envious — is not only well-designed because dozens of sporting events are housed under one venue, it’s also an entertainment and tourism showcase. Upon entering the venue lies a boulevard that’s lined, left and right, with all-things-Laguna. Every town and city is represented. Waterfalls are replicated. Giant shoes are displayed. Thousands of people are buying souvenirs, eating, taking photos, cheering. There’s a large stage with every-night concerts. Fireworks erupt almost nightly. It’s a festive sports arena.

FALLS. Our best non-sports trek? Yesterday, when we braved the rapids and swam underneath the Pagsanjan falls. This has to rank as one of the country’s best excursions.

Pagsanjan Falls? No, Pagsanjan/Laguna rises

LAGUNA — We’re here for the Palarong Pambansa. It’s our country’s largest, inviting 12,000 athletes from 80 provinces to compete.

My daughter Jana and her Central Visayas team won Silver in tennis last Tuesday. They nearly got the gold. After beating the girls high school teams from regions X (Cagayan de Oro), CAR (Baguio) and VI (Western Visayas), they faced Region XI (Davao) in the finals. Jana blanked Davao’s top netter, Jeni Dizon, 8-0; but we couldn’t sustain the momentum, losing in the doubles and 2nd singles. Still, winning Silver in a field of 17 regions is commendable.

unnamed-7CV high school tennis players

Here are nine other thoughts:

1)    Laguna is prepared. It’s the first time for this province to host the games. According to my readings, they spent P1 billion in infrastructure. The centerpiece, the sprawling 19-hectare “New Laguna Sports Complex,” is located in Sta. Cruz. At the center sits a football field encircled by a maroon-colored track oval. Bleachers surround the field. Two softball fields park at the left. Nearby are the indoor basketball and volleyball courts. At the back of the grandstand are four tennis courts. An Olympic-size swimming pool is meters away.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.06.50 AM

2)    Surrounding the Sports Complex are various shops, all showcasing the beautiful province of Laguna. Each city and municipality is given a space in a 600-meter stretch of road. Places like San Pablo, Calamba, Majayjay, Liliw and others have constructed elaborate designs depicting their land. Los Baños has plenty of buko. Paete has wood carvings. Pagsanjan, naturally, has the Falls. This is why sports and tourism are a perfect doubles tandem. They complement. People flock to an event to watch the athletes — but they also spend a lot of time (and money) digesting the local culture.
3)    To all parents: This is the added bonus of joining these events. You get to travel. You get to visit places that you’d normally not visit. Although Jasmin and I have been to Los Baños before (my Lola Bing and Jasmin’s uncle both taught at U.P), it’s our first in the farther areas of Pagsanjan and Sta. Cruz. Thanks to our daughter Jana’s exploits, we’ve trekked to so many spots that we would otherwise not have visited.
4)    Jose Rizal hails from Laguna. He lived in Calamba. In honor of our greatest hero, photos of Rizal are everywhere. At the heart of the complex towers a 26-foot-tall gold-colored figure of Rizal — in a sporty pose holding a fencing blade.

unnamed-4

5)    We did not attend the Opening Ceremony last Monday, opting to forego of the morning heat to preserve our players‘ energies. What I heard from everyone was the same: It was boring. Endless speeches lasted for hours. Luoy ang mga bata. They had to stand on centerfield listening to all these politicians rant their spiels.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.07.42 AM

6)    Manny Pacquiao was a no-show in the Opening. Days prior to the start, the organizers were advertising his attendance. Imagine the nation’s hero attending the largest sporting party in the land of Rizal? He didn’t show up. Instead, Manila Mayor Erap Estrada landed in Sta. Cruz via helicopter.
7)    Speaking of “Openings,” I can’t help but talk about Ricky Ballesteros, Junjet Primor and our Cebu group who organize the best — and this is undisputed — Opening ceremonies of sporting events. Because of their immense experience hosting the Sinulog, our games’ opening (SEA Games, Milo Olympics, CVIRAA) are unbeatable. Which brings me to…
8)    When will Cebu host the next Palaro? It’s been 20 years since we last hosted. Visiting these not-very-near spots is good Phil. tourism, but I bet you that athletes would love to compete in Cebu. Mayor Mike?
9)    I reserve the last for the best: After watching four days of competition here, the ones that brought me nearly to tears was seeing the handicapped join. It started after hearing mass in the Pagsanjan Church last Sunday. As we were exiting, we met a group from Cagayan de Oro. One child had no arms and was limping. She only had one leg. And she’s joining the swimming event. (In Dumaguete last year, she won gold.) Speaking to her coach about this child got me teary-eyed. Last Tuesday, I saw two dozen boys and girls lining up. They formed a line, each athlete holding the shoulders of another. The front-most child was guided by a DepEd official. He was advised to bend down and touch the floor. Then, after a slight bend, he’d jump. They’re blind. It was the standing long jump competition. Some jumped five feet. Some barely a foot. It didn’t matter. What mattered was this: These children, deprived of sight, were joining the nation’s largest sporting meet and could hear thousands cheering them on.

One FC is Asia’s No. 1

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.03.45 AM

MANILA — If America has UFC, Asia has One FC. If the U.S. has Dana White, Asia has Victor Cui.

It’s loud. It’s a dark coliseum brightened by swirling lights. It’s young, fanatical 25-year-olds clenching their fists. It’s brutal. It’s girls screaming. It’s blood gushing from the nostrils. It’s half-naked men climbing on top of each other.

It’s the One Fighting Championship. Last Friday — thanks to the help of Salven Lagumbay — I was lucky to be inside the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena for the One FC: Rise of Heroes. I stayed for five hours starting at 7 p.m.

First, it was girl to girl. The first fight of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event was between Jeet Toshi of India vs. our Filipina, Jujeath Nagaowa. It was lopsided. Toshi ran. Our Pinay nicknamed “Bad Girl” won. I’m not sure about the others in attendance but it wasn’t pretty. I don’t mind men attacking each other, brawling and wrestling. But with girls, I squirmed and frowned. I know, in this day of gender equality, women can do all things men can — but, for me, it’s just too vicious and ferocious, watching two bloodthirsty girls inside the cage.

Screen Shot 2014-05-14 at 11.04.26 AM

One FC is world-class. The whole organization is topnotch. With the list of competitors — 20 of them — 15 were non-Filipino. Of the five Pinoys that fought, we won all bouts.

Ana Julaton was the star. A famous WBO boxing champ, it was the first time for the California-based Pinay to do battle inside the MMA cage. The Philippine flag was draped around her shoulders as she entered the stadium. I was seated on Row 2 — with a perfect unobstructed view of the circular-shaped One FC cage. Julaton easily defeated Aya Saeid Saber of Egypt. They boxed, kicked and tumbled to the floor. Elbows were thrown to the face. With the near-capacity crowd cheering on their California-based Pinay hero, Julaton delivered a win then said to the crowd, “Love you Philippines!”

I don’t do “selfies” but when Julaton passed my way, I quickly pulled out my Samsung phone and requested for that face-to-face. We posed as I pressed the shutter. Thanks, Ana! I said. She smiled. Unluckily for me, the photo was blurred!

The most impressive showing was Leandro Ataides of Brazil, who won over Japanese Tatsuya Mizuno. These 200-lb. giants, loaded with muscles like Schwarzenegger, swung uppercuts and hooked punches.     MMA. What I like about MMA is it’s fast. It appears to be more barbaric than boxing — but it’s often not. That’s because, while in boxing a fighter can be at the receiving end of numerous blows, in MMA it’s often one knee to the chest or elbow to the body — and that’s it. Game over.

It’s wilder. As fighters enter the arena, the announcer would scream the names so loud. At the side entrance where the players emerge from the dugout, smoke machine and fireworks cloud the stage. The biggest HD screen I’ve ever seen stands at the top. Rap and hip-hop music shake the place. Everybody in the house sports a tattoo.

Take the James McSweeney – Chris Lokteff heavyweight fight. These guys are massive! While Lokteff fired several punches that could have put Sweeney to sleep, none connected. But with one perfectly-delivered knee to Lokteff’s head, McSweeney won. Painful, yes. But painfully-fast.

Eduard Folayang was the one I wanted to watch. In my first MMA watch in Cebu, he starred in an incredible performance. Then, I likened his massive legs to Veco posts. Now, it wasn’t just his legs that did the kicking. He dominated Kotetsu Boku. He’d jump to do a flying turnaround kick. He displayed multiple MMA skills. He won.

I saw Renault Lao there. The organizer of the URCC fights held every January in Cebu, I told Renault to help bring this to Cebu.

I’ll repeat what I said before: I hope the SCA rises in Cebu. If it does, we’ll be witnesses to NBA exhibition games, Beyonce concerts, Maria Sharapova-Li Na matches, and this world-class production by a remarkable man whose roots come from Cebu: Victor Cui, the CEO of One FC.

What’s SCA? It’s Seaside City Arena. We hope these two come together: SCA and One FC.

Cebuano golf ace Chuck Hong is the champ

Imagine your daily job to be this: You walk amidst tall pine trees, smell the pink roses that circle the pond, stroll on green natural carpet as the blue skies and white clouds dance above; you inhale fresh wind, smile, appreciating God’s beauty as you hear the birds chirp while you chip.

Ahhh… the day in the life of professional golfer Charles “Chuck” Hong.

This scenery was made more perfect last weekend when the Cebuano ace aced a giant tournament: the ICTSI Sherwood Hills Classic at the Sherwood Hills Golf Club in Cavite.

Firing a four-under 68 in the final day last Saturday, Chuck wound up with a 12-under 276 total to emerge victorious in a strong field that included international pros. “I feel great,” Chuck said. “When the 2nd victory was coming or whether it was coming at all was always on my mind.”

spo2_zpse1ed8c52Charles with ICTSI PR head Narlene Soriano and Sherwood GC manager Shin Paul Chan (Photo: The Phil. Star)

Hong’s first professional victory happened in September of 2012 when he won the Pueblo de Oro Championship in Cagayan de Oro City. That was nearly 20 months ago. Then, Chuck pocketed P200,000 for the first prize. Last weekend, it was P650,000. “It’s all in the bank,” he said. “Just have to focus on the future and not spend on unnecessary things.”

Asked about the secret of his triumph — which elevated him to the No. 2 spot, behind Tony Lascuña, in the ICTSI Phil. Golf Tour Order of Merit ranking — he answered: “I’m a firm believer that there’s no substitute for hard-work. Of course, those 3 eagles on the 3rd day helped out a lot. I still think that it was just hard work. I increased my practice for the past 3 weeks after missing the cut in Baguio by 1 stroke. I guess that got me fired up.”

Hong, 25, is the golfing pride of the Cebu Country Club, where he first learned how to putt as a six-year-old. By the age of 12, he was winning most jungolf events and, at 15, he snatched 2nd place at a Phil.-Japan Friendship event. In college at DLSU, he emerged as “Collegiate Player of the Year.”

“My mindset was not to rest on my previous achievements,” he said. “Like my last win and Resorts World for the Asian Tour. It’s always easy to lean on those but I changed my mind on improving on them rather than sitting on them.”

Chuck is not all-golf, all the time. He swims and goes to the gym. He did yoga but said, “I find it a little boring although I know it’s good for my game.” He also follows the NBA but his favorite team (Lakers) is out. A diehard Bryant fan, he said, “Kobe does his own thing and doesn’t get affected by what people say about his game. In the end he proves his critics wrong, which is a trait I admire. You control your destiny not what others say.”

Now on his fourth year as a pro, Chuck is living a dream — playing golf for a living. But there are drawbacks. “I’m based in Manila. I’m away from family and some relationships have suffered because of the travel and time it takes away from my personal life. This will always be a negative. But the tremendous support I have from those people keep me going. And for that I am blessed.”

What’s next for this Tiger Woods fan, who continues to admire (“I like his swing and focus”) the world no. 1? He’ll join the PGT event at the Valley Golf and Country Club. But his ultimate dream is to qualify for the PGA Tour. But before that, it’s the Asian Tour and, he adds, “Now that the Order of Merit is in reach, I’d like to give that a go. It’d be nice to take that distinction away from Tony Lascuña since he’s had it for two years now.”

As for his final tip to golfers, here’s a good one from Champ Chuck: “Most people think that you need to focus 100% of the time out there, but my key is the opposite. It’s to keep yourself distracted at times; like, you don’t need to be thinking when you’re walking. But when it’s time to hit the ball, then you turn on your focus switch. Four hours can take its toll on the mind if you’re thinking about the results all the time. Just focus on the shot and accept whatever the outcome will be and walk forward unto the next one.”