Monthly Archives: August 2014

Michael Aldeguer: ALA flies to Dubai

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Over 450,000 Filipinos reside in Dubai. Working in the fields of construction, retail, I.T., tourism, medicine, architecture and more, our fellow Filipinos comprise a huge population in Dubai. With this backdrop, the Antonio Lopez Aldeguer Promotions has decided to launch its first-ever international event at the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates.

“The Middle East is one of the areas where we get the highest ratings every time we stage Pinoy Pride Events,” said ALA Promotions CEO/President Michael Pastrano Aldeguer.

The foresight of the Aldeguer father-and-son tandem of Tony and Michael is bold: After organizing dozens of promotions on Philippine soil, it’s time to fly elsewhere and go global. “Our vision has always been to bring boxing closer to the Filipinos,” said Michael, “and to showcase the talents of Filipino fighters to the world.”

If older brother Jay promotes our country via the Islands Group locally (Islands Souvenirs, Islands Stay Hotels and more), it’s younger brother Michael who’s showcasing Pinoy talents abroad, via boxing.

Next Friday on the 5th of September, it’s the 27th edition of Pinoy Pride called “Duel in Dubai.” The venue is the Dubai World Trade Center and three of ALA Boxing’s top names are ready to brawl: Boom-Boom Bautista fights Jose Martinez of Mexico; Arthur Villanueva tackles Henry Maldonado of Nicaragua; and, in the main event, it’s Genesis Servania vs. the former two-time world title challenger from Mexico, Jose Cabrera.

As far back as five years ago, the ALA Promotions group had planned to go international. With the Middle East, said Michael, it’s “one of the biggest continents with a great number of Filipinos and one of the regions that we first looked at.” He added: “Considering the program’s ratings there, we feel that Dubai, distinctively being known for world-class events, is the perfect first international venue for Pinoy Pride.”

Dubai owns the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa with 163 floors) and the world’s largest airport. They hope to be the sports capital of our planet. Tomorrow, August 29, the One Fighting Championship (One FC) will showcase Ana Julaton and several other mixed-martial fighters in Dubai’s top MMA event called “One FC: Reign of Champions.” The Friday after, it’s Pinoy Pride in what will be an inaugural: the first time that the World Boxing Organization (WBO) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) will have sanctioned championship fights in Dubai.

Michael Aldeguer credits their TV partnerships with ABS-CBN and TFC-Middle East as important. Yet, he admits that it wasn’t easy coordinating the entire promotion. “The planning has proven to be challenging,” he said. “It’s a different story organizing (an event) in another place, let alone a country as huge as Dubai with an equally huge population of boxing fans. There have been numerous teleconferences, emails, and overseas calls just to put everything together.”

With the Bacolod-bred Villanueva and Servania, “they are both 100% prepared,” said Michael. “They have been training very hard, as both have tough opponents. Being their first in Dubai, Servania and Villanueva aim to give impressive results to the boxing fans that will be watching them live and through the worldwide telecast.”

On the TV telecast, I got this message from SkyCable top official Ronnie Pacio: “Watch Pinoy Pride 27 ‘Duel in Dubai’ LIVE & Commercial FREE via SKYCable Pay-Per-View in Standard and High Definition on Sep 5 11pm Phil Time for Php199 ONLY! Visit us or call 421-1818.”

I asked Michael about Rey Bautista. “Boom Boom is doing great,” he said. “He’s determined to win and give a good show. He hopes to let the Dubai crowd witness the same power he had in his first fight in the country last 2010. Right now, Boom Boom is more dedicated to his training compared to the last few years and we hope he’ll show the world what he trained so hard for on September 5th.”

From Cebu to Dubai, we take pride in the Pinoy.

Ice Bucket Challenge

It’s become a social media sensation. The question today isn’t “Who has taken the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge?’ it’s “Who still hasn’t?” Everybody from Oprah Winfrey to George W. Bush to Lea Salonga to Lady Gaga has been viewed in YouTube with the same act: They say a few words, “I’ve been nominated by so-and-so..,” they get dumped a pail-full of water and ice cubes, then, all drenched and freezing cold, they end the short video by nominating two others.

The world has not seen a phenomenon like this before. Only Barack Obama and P-Noy Aquino have yet to be doused with ice. The “Ice Bucket Challenge” started last year in what was then called the “Cold Water Challenge.” It was meant to raise funds for cancer: you either donate money or jump into cold water. This concept evolved.

Today, the focus is on ALS. I’m no doctor like Albert Santos or Ronnie Medalle but the term stands for “Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” and it’s an affliction that affects the brain and the spinal cord. According to Wikipedia, ALS is “a neurodegenerative disease with various causes… characterised by muscle spasticity, rapidly progressive weakness due to muscle atrophy, and difficulty in speaking (dysarthria), swallowing (dysphagia), and breathing (dyspnea).”

The “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” first became popular in June 30 — less than two months ago — when a TV program in the U.S. decided to do an on-air Ice Bucket Challenge on Golf Channel. Since that televised episode, celebrities have followed.

Have you watched LeBron James? He’s sitting on a moving speedboat in Greece and, shirtless and muscles all toned, gets smothered with a bucket of ice. He nominates his son LeBron, Jr. and Barack Obama.

Bill Gates? He’s not an athlete but his video is one of the funniest. David Beckham is on his knees. Shirtless and his chest and arms revealing a full canvas of artful tattoos, three men pull not a bucket but a barrel full of ice and water and pour it on the football star. He smiles in cold delight.

Kevin Durant’s is simple. Sitting on the porch of a high-rise building, he’s relaxed and ready as a friend pours cold water. I like Ronda Rousey. Instead of a beast-like-looking UFC attire, she’s sexy in a body-fitting dress complete with high heels. Michael Jordan is classic MJ, cool and classy; he challenges Phil Jackson and his 1992 “Dream Team” co-players to both “cash and ice bucket.”

A fun tandem that will give you all-smiles: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. You’ve got to watch their 39-second video. The best one? It’s got to be the NHL hockey player Paul Bissonnette. I’ve never heard of this athlete before but his act (I won’t spoil the crazy video but will tell you that it involves a helicopter and some colorful underwear) is the best I’ve seen.

So far, all these fun acts have also contributed a huge amount in a short span of time: over $42 million raised in less than a month — a huge figure considering that, for the whole of last year, the amount of $64 million was raised. That will surely be eclipsed in the coming weeks.

“This is something we could have never imagined,” said Barbara Newhouse, the president and CEO of the ALS Association. “This has taken us to a whole new level.”

She credits one sector as most helpful in raising awareness (and money) for the disease. “The sports community has played in key role in making this what it became,” said Newhouse. “We’re very thankful of everything athletes and teams have done.”

It’s fitting that the plight to help ALS is assisted by the athletes because ALS is also popularly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Lou Gehrig was the first baseman of New York Yankees baseball team and he played for 17 seasons from 1923 to 1939. At the age of 36 and stricken with ALS, he retires from baseball and, shockingly, just two years later, at the young age of 38, he dies. That’s when ALS was named “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

Todd Entner writes about Brasil

It’s been over a month since the Fifa World Cup ended in Rio de Janeiro.

Todd Entner is a friend whom I’ve known since our late 1980s tennis-playing days at the Cebu Tennis Club. He’s American but was born in Manila and lived here for 13 years. Now back in the U.S., he visited Brasil last month with his son Josiah. It wasn’t Todd’s first WC watch; he’s been to the last four WC Finals. Plus, he’s watched Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and — take this, sports fans — he’s been to the last five Olympics! When Jasmin and I visited Beijing in 2008, guess who hosted us for China’s first Games? Mr. Entner.

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Here’s Todd’s World Cup review:

“My first World Cup experience was in 1990, listening to the Final by radio in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, holding the antenna to get better reception as Germany defeated Maradona for the trophy. In 1994 in America during college, I watched on TV as the hosts USA narrowly lost to Brasil in the 2nd round. France in 1998 was also just a TV spectacle for me, but in 2002 in South Korea I was able to see several games in person, followed by another experience in Germany four years later.

“After that I was hooked, and so in 2010 my (then 7-year-old) son Josiah and I flew down to South Africa for the first major event on the continent. This year we knew Brasil was a must-see, so we used frequent flier miles to fly down for 2 weeks. Landing in Sao Paulo, we took buses around the country, visiting 4 cities and seeing 3 games. A massive country (5th largest in the world in area and population), Brasil is a beautiful land, reminding us of a mix of the Philippines and America – rolling mountains covered with jungle, lovely beaches, and good highways.

“A largely Christian people, Brasilians are very hospitable (we never needed to spend a night in a hotel), generous and friendly – some of the local fans even gave ‘free hugs’ – and the food is fantastic – flame-roasted barbecue skewers loaded with chicken and beef. Though it was winter, the weather was excellent, mostly sunny and cool, with scattered rain and sunshine. The infamous crime does exist (my camera and our Australian friend’s wallet were stolen), the joy of the crowds and the great competition made up for the difficulties.

“The games were exciting, and we all agreed it has been the best WC ever, in terms of history (the first Cup in South America since 1950) and excitement (goals scored, comebacks, upsets, and goal-keeping). The highlight was seeing Messi in person leading his team to victory over the Swiss.”

Top 5 blessings in Brasil: “1) Wonderful hospitality from our brothers and sisters – we stayed with friends and never needed a hotel, enjoying great fellowship,  food and culture. 2) Safety in travel (flying from Dayton to Chicago to Toronto to Sao Paulo) and going around by bus, subway, train, van and lots of walking. 3) Wonderful weather – when we arrived the forecast was for 100% probability of rain – miraculously, it dropped to zero and stayed dry! 4) Free flight tickets using our frequent flier miles, and a free Brasil visa. Our colleagues also made it there okay, despite cancelled flights and late visas. 5) Many ministry contacts, with well over a million tracts and 400 DVDs given out to fans from over 30 countries.”

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Top 5 burdens in Brasil: “1) The country is vast, so travel was exhausting – we spent 84 hours on buses going between the 4 cities of Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Sao Paul and Rio. 2) Always on the go, we had few times to lay our heads, literally – only 5 nights in a bed, 2 on planes, one in a car, and 5 overnights on long-distance buses. 3) Brazilian food is fantastic – alas, so busy, we had but 4 real meals, the rest were snacking on cereal, snacks and sandwiches – but the meals were great! 4) The notorious crime is a sad reality – our new camera lasted less than half a day before being stolen on the subway, and Matt got his wallet pick-pocketed. 5) Since it was winter there, germs and cold and rainy weather led to virus bugs.”

Todd’s next stop? Back to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Bread and butter, boxing and basketball

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I’ve played basketball with Manny Pacquiao. He’s good. But PBA good? As in ready to compete against Marc Pingris, PJ Simon, Jimmy Alapag and Paul Lee? Ha-ha. It’s like the reverse question: Can Calvin Abueva don boxing gloves and fight in the ring? The answer is Yes. But ready to brawl in an ALA Promotions undercard? Absolutely not.

Same with Pacquiao. He can jump 10.5-feet high, elevate his 141-lb. frame and strut an acrobatic lay-up. In our basketball games back in 2007 when he trained against Marco Antonio Barrera, when he would sprint down the lane, our defense parted like Moses parted the Red Sea. The reason: We didn’t want to harm him. Imagine MP getting injured not inside the 23’ x 23’ ring but on the basketball floor? Kita sad-an sa injury.

That’s what happened in Cebu Coliseum. His Team Pacquiao battled our Sportswriters Association of Cebu. In one moment I’ll forever remember, Manny dribbled the ball as point guard. While moving forward, I flicked the rubber ball for a steal. The ball bounced away from Manny and towards the open court. He sprinted. I sprinted. We both lunged forward, diving on court, eyes fixed on grappling that ball. Imagine if Manny had gotten injured and called off the Barrera multi-million-dollar bout?

In the upcoming PBA season, you’ve read the news: Apart from the 10 existing PBA teams, the league is expanding and will accommodate two more squads. There’s Blackwater Sports and Kia Motors.

The head coach for Kia? The boxer who’ll be fighting this Nov. 23 in Macau. Why, of all people, did Kia ask Manny? At this point in his career when he hasn’t retired yet?

Why not Cebu’s pride, the nation’s most decorated coach who has yet to coach the pro league, Raul “Yayoy” Alcoseba?

Why Manny? Publicity. Promotion. To attract fans. This is obvious. And when the PBA Rookie Draft is unveiled next Sunday (Aug. 24), will Manny be selected (out of 95 hopefuls), not just as head coach but also as player, ala today’s version of Robert Jaworski? Yes. Because what Manny wants, Manny gets. “We welcome the application of Congressman Pacquiao,” said PBA commissioner Chito Salud. “We wish him luck. He will go through normal procedure.”

Kia has two picks in the second round of the draft. Will they sign him? Sure. Long ago, he announced that he wanted to be both PBA coach and player. The critics questioned the legality. He’ll get his wish nonetheless.

Quinito Henson has a prediction and I believe it will happen. Quinito wrote this last Friday: “If the plan to stage the PBA’s 40th season-opening doubleheader at the 55,000-seat Philippine Arena in Bulacan pushes through on Oct. 19, playing coach Manny Pacquiao will make his debut with Kia against Blackwater in the first game…”

Manny has always been impatient. Whether it’s knocking-out opponents (Ricky Hatton) or doing his multi-tasking extra-curricular activities (remember those days?), he’s always relished juggling multiple jobs. “Basketball is my first love,” said Manny, “but boxing is my bread and butter.”

True. But couldn’t he have waited after his boxing career to shift to basketball? Focus on one target at a time? It’s not as if these world titles fights are tiny goals, right? He’s earning over a billion pesos per bout. But then again, if Manny waits after boxing, that’s nearing 2016 — and won’t he run for Senator? That’s even better. Then, his credentials will read: PBA coach-player. Boxing world champ. Billionaire. Senator.

Will his boxing suffer at this time? He knows that if he loses this November, that’s the end of his boxing career. The wise man that he is, that’s why he chose a nobody in the name of Chris Algieri who, despite his 20-0 record, is unheard-of.

With the PBA, what a team name: Kia Kamao. If my research is correct, “kamao” has two meanings. In Bisaya, it means “skillful;” in Tagalog, it’s “fist.” Exceptional choice of name. The initials are easy to remember (“KK”) plus both meanings describe their coach/player.

Kamao gyud ni si Manny.

The Jose “Dodong” Rivera Gullas Tennis Cup

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The year 1919 was when the University of the Visayas was founded. Same with The Freeman newspaper, it was in 1919 when the first publication was printed. The Gullas Tennis Cup? It’s now on its 19th year.

A bit of history: Jose “Dodong” R. Gullas is a sportsman. With basketball, he was the co-captain of the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers that captured the 1957 national title. They defeated the NCAA champs, Ateneo Blue Eagles, in the country’s first-ever televised game. He was later invited to join the Philippine team that included Carlos “The Big Difference” Loyzaga. Basketball dribbles in tandem with the heartbeat of Dodong Gullas.

But there’s another sport that’s even closer to Sir Dodong’s heart: Tennis. One of the most-recognizable events in the Philippine tennis calendar bears his name: The Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup. It is the longest-running junior tennis tournament outside of Manila.

This started at the two clay-courts of the Cebu Country Club. A regular tennis player, Dodong Gullas would often play doubles with his brother, Congressman Eddie. One afternoon in early 1995, we talked at the CCC.

“What can we do to help youth tennis?” Mr. Gullas asked. “Let’s organize a tournament for kids,” I replied. We met at his office. We booked a weeklong date during summer. We discussed the categories (there would be nine – from 10 to 18 year olds). The action-man that he is, Dodong Gullas was soon announcing to the Cebuano community the launching of this major sports event.

Today, the Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup is the most sought-after junior tennis tournament in the Visayas and Mindanao. It was the first event to garner a Group 2 ranking. Through the years, we have cultivated dozens of national champions – all of whom have been winners at the Gullas Cup. The names Jacob Lagman, Fitzgerald Tabura, Sally Mae Siso, Oswaldo Dumoran, and even Francis Casey “Niño” Alcantara – the 2009 Australian Open junior doubles champion – have, in their storied careers, all been called “Gullas Cup champions.”

Tennis is a sport that’s close to Mr. Gullas because, for many years in the 1980s and ‘90s, he personally swung backhands and smashed volleys. His son Johnvic was also a tennis buff – and has been present since the very first serve of the Gullas Cup. In collegiate tennis, the UV squad also boasts of the strongest players in the region. Led by Fritz Tabura, they’ve been multiple
Cesafi champions – and national collegiate winners.

Yesterday afternoon at the Inday Pining Teatro II room inside the UV Main Campus, we officially launched the 2014 edition. Before the start of the Press Conference, as Dodong Gullas and I were chatting, in walks his beloved brother, EddieGul. We talked for a few minutes.

With the Jose R. Gullas Tennis Cup, here are the important details: The event will be next week, from August 21 to 24, and is open to all junior netters aged 18 and younger. There will be nine categories for singles (10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 – Boys and Girls) plus five divisions for doubles (10, 14 and 18).

Venues: the CitiGreen Tennis Resort in Punta Princesa and the Alta Vista Golf & Country Club in Pardo. For the first time, it will be an all-indoor tournament. Good idea considering that August is a rainy month.

Registration fee is only P300 per entry (double entry is allowed). This includes all the court & ballboy fees, tennis balls, the Welcome Dinner on Aug. 21 (a holiday), and a free sports JRG shirt. Winners get trophies and gift certificates.

How to register? Visit the “Gullas Cup” Facebook page and post a message. Or, text/call directly our tournament co-organizers, Em-Em Siso (0923-9609117) or Jun Tabura (09278788686). After you’ve registered, visit the FB page the next day to check if your name is enlisted. The deadline for registration is this Tuesday, August 19. Join the smashes and volleys. Register now!

After the split, he recommits

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The two world number ones were scheduled to get married. One was the top-ranked female tennis player. She held that spot for 67 weeks. The other was No. 1 in golf. Imagine a tennis-golf wife-and-husband partnership for life, two of the best at their respective games, living a made-for-Hollywood romance?

The couple: Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy. The wedding: this Nov. 8 at the Rockefeller Centre. Sadly, the wedding is not pushing through. Happily, Rory McIlroy is winning — thanks to the breakup.

Here’s the story: Rory and Caro first met three years ago. Since then, they’ve been together, Wozniacki doing caddy work on the golf course and McIlroy swinging forehands at play. Nice. It culminated with McIlroy asking his Danish girlfriend, “Will you marry me?” last New Year’s Eve. Of course, Caroline jumped with joy. By Jan. 1, she tweeted: “Rory and I started 2014 with a bang! … I said YES!!!!”

As photographers snapped pictures, on her finger glittered a huge diamond ring. But while the romance of the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. McIlroy was on high, their respective games turned southward. Wozniacki tumbled out of the Top 10 and had still not won a Grand Slam singles title. McIlroy? The “Boy Wonder” had fallen to 10th in the world.

Love life, excellent. Sports life, poor.

Last May, wedding invitations were sent to the elite crowd. That’s when fireworks erupted. Rory, in a heartless way, phoned his fiancee and, in all of three minutes, told her the wedding was off. Caro thought the call was a joke. He wasn’t kidding.

“There is no right way to end a relationship that has been so important to two people,” said McIlroy. “The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realize that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.”

Wozniacki’s Twitter account previously wrote: @CaroWozniacki: Fiancee, daughter, sister, tennis player. Mother to our dog Bruno. The day after the separation, one word was deleted: “fiancee.”

Ouch. That was 10 weeks ago. What happened next were some of the most incredible moments in golf. Hours after announcing the split, McIlroy joined the BMW PGA Championship. He won that title in May. In July, he participated in the Open Championship. Having led the entire way, he beats Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler by two strokes to capture his third career major trophy. Then, a couple of weeks back, he wins again — the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

From 10th-ranked a few months ago, he deletes the “0” and vaults to No. 1. And, yesterday, you know what happened. Every Filipino golfer who has cable TV watched the live drama that unfolded early yesterday until about 8:45 a.m.

I did. Arising before 6, I quickly googled “PGA winner” only to be surprised that McIlroy, the leader heading into Sunday, was down by two strokes. They were in the 9th hole. I sprung up from bed. Perfectly-timed, minutes later I watched McIlroy sink that eagle putt on the 10th to tie him with Fowler and Phil Mickelson. He would birdie twice more as his two adversaries succumbed to bogeys.

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What a final last few holes in the year’s final major. A 331-yard drive by the Irishman on the 16th. Phil nearly holes an eagle on the 72nd hole. And Rory could have stayed conservative in the 18th but he still smothers that ball with his driver — resulting in his ball landing just a few feet from the water. He saves par as nightfall descends.

Four victories in as many months. The No.1 ranking. Two straight majors. Rory credits one move for this resurgence: the breakup.

“I think it has happened to me for the better,” he said. “Just seems like over the past couple of months I’ve just buried myself in my golf game and it seems to be working. What else do I have to do? I get up in the morning, go to the golf course, go to the gym. It’s just my life at the minute.”

In tennis, love means nothing. Rory agrees.

Fittest Fifty

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How do you define a “fit person?” Is a skinny man weighing 135 lbs. who can run a 10K in 50 minutes fit? But what if he can’t bench press his body weight? How about, at the opposite end, a muscleman with biceps size 14” who can lift a Kia Pride but can’t finish a 15K Run?

What is fitness? Sports Illustrated, the leading sports magazine, came up with a criteria of four: speed, strength, agility and endurance.

This makes sense. The fittest person is the one who excels not in just one or two areas but in all four. Visiting the SI.com website, this is how they explain it: “Fitness. For the professional male athlete it is the very foundation of success. But even among the pros, some athletes stand head and sculpted shoulders above the rest. The natural question, then: Who is the fittest male athlete in sports?”

For the first time since the SI magazine started in 1954, they have come up with the “Fittest 50.” With SI’s editors and writers as judges, they’ve used a 40-point scoring system to assess the world’s top sportsmen; each of the four categories has a scale of 0-10.

From SI, here are the criteria: STRENGTH: the pushing power of a lineman or the force of an ultimate fighter. SPEED: the top end of a sprinter or the burst of a running back. ENDURANCE: a runner’s bottomless reserve or a boxer’s ability to keep going in a bout. AGILITY: the balance of a downhill skier or a euro step at full.

So, among the planet’s 7.25 billion inhabitants, who is that one athlete who is the fittest? Drum roll, please…

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He’s Cavalier No. 23! Yup, in all four categories, SI scored LeBron James a perfect 10. His total is 40. Based on this analysis by their experts, he’s the only top-notch athlete to score a perfect mark. LBJ is strong and fast; he can endure a lengthy contest (except that cramps in Game 1, right?), plus his balance and agility are incomparable.

The second best: Christiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese scored 10 in three areas but only 8.5 in strength. Understandable because a footballer needs speed, endurance and agility — minus the bulging muscles which will slow him down. Ronaldo scores 38.5.

Third on the list is Usain Bolt. The fastest human being ever (his 100-meter WR is 9.58), he scores a 10 in speed (of course) but lower in strength (9), agility (8.5) and endurance (9). Bolt scores 36.5.

From fourth to 10th place are: Floyd Mayweather (score: 36), NFL’s Dez Bryant (35), NFL’s Calvin Johnson (34.5), NBA’s Serge Ibaka (34), NFL’s Adrian Peterson (33.5), Jon Jones of the UFC with 33, and at No. 10, the world’s most decorated swimmer, Michael Phelps (33).

If you run through the list of 50 athletes, many names are unfamiliar. That’s because many are American football players. Not including these NFL stars and others that are not too familiar, here are some recognizable names:

Blake Griffin, the LA Clippers slam-dunking Hulk, sits at No. 14. He totaled 30. A bit perplexing is how he scored only 8 in strength (he got 7 for speed and 7.5 for agility and endurance). Isn’t Griffin one of the league’s strongest?

Among the tennis players, only two made the list: Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal is ranked 20 while Fed is 31. With Nadal, another head-scratching number: the man who can battle for five hours and five sets only scored 8 for endurance. Ha? Nadal’s total is 28.5. As to Roger, he got a lowly 5.5 for speed and his total is 26. But why no Novak Djokovic?

With the MMA fighters, only one other star is included apart from the 9th-ranked Jon Jones. He’s GSP or George St. Pierre. The Canadian is middle of the pack, No. 25, for a total of 27.5. He scores a high 9 for strength but a low 3.5 for speed.

Among the NBA players, the six total include Ray Allen (30), Nate Robinson (33) and Dwight Howard (36). Cyclist Chris Froome is 45 and marathoner Meb Keflezighi is 46.

Pinoy? Yes. Adjudged the 39th fittest with scores of 6.5 (speed and agility), 6 (endurance) and 5 (strength) for a total of 24 is the planet’s only eight-division world champ, MP.

Ironman motto: Know pain, know gain

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Question: Would you pay $325 to suffer nonstop for seven to eight hours? That’s what the triathletes did last Sunday.

Imagine swimming for 50 minutes the open-sea waters spanning 1.9 kms. Then, after maneuvering past the jellyfish and kicks of your fellow swimmers attempting to dislodge your goggles, you sprint towards your P254,000 carbon-fiber bicycle.

You pedal, amidst the sun that will cook your skin from 7:30 to 11 a.m., climbing the Fernan Bridge. You soon descend into darkness inside the abyss called the Tunnel, emerging to confront the buffering yet unseen crosswinds at the SRP — all of 90 kms., the distance from the Capitol to Bogo. Finally, returning back to where you started at the seaside property of Megaworld, you change from cleats to running shoes — and you stare at your watch: it’s 11 a.m.

Time for a half-marathon! Crazy? No. How about lunatic. At first, the run traverses along shaded portions of Punta Engaño. Good. But wait until you reach Amisa and the winding, open air subdivision where you have nowhere to hide for shade. You walk — but you really want to crawl. The tough part: the run isn’t a point-to-point, from A-to-B route. It’s two loops. Meaning, after circling one entire lap, it’s not over yet; you’ve got to do it all over again. And it’s past 1 p.m.!

This, to the non-Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 participant, is a snapshot of the suffering and difficulty of finishing all 113 kms. of last Sunday’s race. And you pay a fee of nearly P15,000 (in December for an event that’s in August) to willingly absorb this affliction.

Yet, thousands banded together in this modern-day version of hazing, all for the personal satisfaction of saying, Yes, I’ve done it!

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Plenty, prior to August 3, were obese and elephantine; many were sedentary and slothful. Not anymore. That potbelly evaporated into a six-pack. What a transformation; not only of the physical but of the entire mind-and-body.

Why? Because, said Bob Dylan, “Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” Because, reads a famous saying, “Without pain, how could we know joy?” For what is life unless we pass through aches and burns and, after overcoming that, emerge to raise one’s arms up to God at the finish line?

The Ironman is about pain management. During training. Facing the sun. Running with cramps. Battling the wind. Fixing a flat tire. Crouching low on the bike for 220 back-breaking minutes. It’s Winston Churchill’s dictum that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

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It’s not about the eradication of pain — because that’s impossible, even for the Canadian named Brent McMahon who won in three hours and 59 minutes. It’s about absorbing the pain and transforming it into that unexplainable feeling of ecstasy that can only be described by one person: you yourself.

Nobody can define this “misery = jubilation” formula but the person who’s actually out there, fighting for his or her quest to cross that finish line.

It’s like Atty. Jess Garcia, minutes after crossing the finish line, telling me, “I’ll never do this again!” Yet, with his wife Leslie beside him, he said those words with an overjoyed tone.

You know who I applaud the most? The IronWomen. Yes, the ladies who braved the same distance of this event named after ‘Man. Comprising only 15 percent of all participants, now the women can claim and say, “We don’t only iron (clothes) well, we can also do the Ironman!” A thunderous clap for all finishers; but a standing ovation for all the lady participants.

The great Helen Keller, who couldn’t see or hear but became one of humankind’s most inspiring figures, once said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Cebu is the ideal stage for triathlon

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.43.58 AMSen. Pia with Team Jack Men

Hosting of the Ironman 70.3 race is supposed to rotate every three years. In 2009, this event featured over 500 triathletes in Camarines Sur. The race lasted for three years in Camsur. Next, with much shock and disappointment from then-Gov. LRay Villafluerte, the organizers moved it south, to Cebu. Now, our three years are up. After Luzon first hosted and, next, us representing the Visayas, will the 2015 edition move elsewhere, maybe in Mindanao (Davao, starting the swim in Samal Island?), to hop on all three Philippine regions?

Maybe. But I doubt it. I’m willing to bet my Vellum bike that Cebu will host again next August, and at least for two more Augusts after that.

First, Shangri-La. Is there a venue elsewhere that can provide a more shangrila-like experience than Shangri-La? None. Well, maybe Boracay, but where can you pedal for 90 kms. around Boracay?

The past three days — Friday to Sunday — we spent plentiful hours in Shangri-La (on Friday to get our race kits and carbo-load during the Welcome Dinner, on Saturday to do the bike check-in and attend the Race Briefing, and two days ago, for the actual race) and, repeatedly, friends would say, there’s no more ideal spot than Mactan. The beach and water are pristine; the added space of Megaworld, near Portofino, where the bikes were parked and where the Transition Area was situated — was ideal.

Second, the crowd support. I ran the 21K relay run and the thousands who cheered along Punta Engaño were tremendous. I’ve never ran with so many people cheering. This provides an immense boost to one’s weary legs. The same was true for the 90-km. bike ride: in many areas, fans stood side-by-side to shout, “Piolo!” and students clapped for the zooming cyclists.

The availability of dozens of hotels — this is a major plus. Our international airport. Mayor Paz Radaza’s assistance with the bleachers, the dancers during the Welcome Dinner, and more. The cooperation of the police, traffic, medical teams (led by Dr. Peter Mancao), of the Cebu Province (led by Atty. Mark Tolentino) … all contributed to a let’s-help-each-other, We’re-One Cebu united front.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.43.11 AMWith doctors Ron Eullaran and Peter Mancao

So, to yesterday’s headline, “Will Cebu host again?” Absolutely. Not that we’re irreplaceable but the set-up and organization and geography of Cebu will make it very, very, very difficult for Sunrise Events, Inc. to pullout of our province.

Still, Fred Uytengsu’s pronouncement of “Maybe… but it’s not sure yet” is good. It forms a leverage for the one problem that’s not difficult to solve: the bad roads. The stretch from Parkmall to the SRP Tunnel is the problem. And when you’re running 44-kph on a time-trial bike, you’d want a glossy pavement. This area is rough and awful. But can it be smoothened, in time for 12 months from now? Absolutely.

The race last Sunday? Ahh-mazing! It started last Saturday night when Kuya Kim (Atienza), who did the Weather Report during the Briefing, announced that weather conditions would be sunny. Afraid of the incoming typhoon, the Shangri-La Ballroom erupted into cheers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.46.07 AMRace Briefing with 3D glasses: Ron, John, Jonel Borromeo and Dr. Tony San Juan

Sunday morning brought perfectly-clear skies. The sea water? Placid and serene. Compared to just a few days earlier when waves tormented Mactan, two mornings ago at 6:28 a.m. when the starting gun was fired, the water was tranquil. Triathletes couldn’t have asked for better swimming conditions.

At the 23rd minute, would you believe, the pros were out of the water after 1.9 kms. and sprinting towards their carbon bicycles. They’re jetskis made of human flesh. One by one, wetsuit after bikini after tri-suit, the thousands of fishes pulled out their goggles to turn amphibious and start their long pedaling journey towards the SRP.

Inspiring? That’s a mild form of description. You see females and males of all sizes, the young ones and the once young, all braving this crazy sport.

Within an hour or so, all bikers disappeared from Mactan, climbing the Marcelo Fernan Bridge, en route to the “M & M” route at the SRP, crossing  the Tunnel eight times.

Iron-willed men and women

Mike Limpag said it best: This weekend is the biggest in Cebu sports. It’s a triumvirate: the Tri’ called Ironman 70.3, the Little Olympics of Milo and the Cesafi opening.

With the IM race, imagine the growth: six years ago in Camsur, less than 600 joined; this morning, it has quintupled.

Of the 2,500 attendees today, based on what my eyes witnessed two afternoons ago in Shangri-La, a huge majority are from outside Cebu. Including the family members accompanying the visitors, this is a massive tourism boost for Cebu — and a testament to the influence of sports.

Last Friday, we trooped to Mactan. I rode with Dr. Ron and Raycia Eullaran and we were joined, meandering through heavy traffic, by triathlete Rap Sios-e. The Marquee ballroom of Shangri-La teemed with super-fit bodies. Six packs did not have the San Mig Light logo — they were implanted on the bellies of the skinny athletes.

Our “Jack Men” team, with Rap as swimmer, Ron as biker and me as runner, waited to secure our race kits. While standing in line, we saw three doctors (as one team): James Guardiario, Tito Macarasig and Elmer Po. The process was a breeze. We received our shirts, snapped-on our wrist-bands, and our number “3360” plastered to both arms. Photos were clicked; smiles beamed aplenty. The Expo was impressive, from Aqua Sphere goggles to Saucony footwear to Cervelo P5 displays.

The pros sat on-stage during the press conference. This is what’s remarkable about this event — some of the world’s best are here. The former Kona Ironman world champ Pete Jacobs is here. (We asked for his photo during dinner but he was busy getting food.) If you’re an IM70.3 participant, you can gloat, saying, “I swam, biked and ran alongside the world’s best!” How many sports can boast the same?

Jenson Button, back after two years, joined the pros on-stage. I looked for Jessica Michibata and, yes, found Jenson’s fiancee standing just meters away. “Hi, Jessica!” I said, as we spoke for a few moments.

By 6 p.m., with a few goodies in the bag for Raycia, we paraded to the open grounds for the Carbo-Loading Party. It was a party! Lining-up the walkway were dancers from Lapu-Lapu City who donned colorful attire. Two large-screen LED screens stood to welcome the athletes. With perfect no-rain weather, the Shangri-La garden transformed into a… shangrila; a sprawling oasis perfect for dinner. A few cocktail tables stood but majority sat on the grass, covered by cloth, to carbo-load on green salad, pasta, chicken and pizza. Lechon? Ha-ha. Not yet. Not until the celebration after the race.

Dr. Tony San Juan got hefty servings, getting ready to do the full 113 kms. We ate with Jun Angeles and Darwin Herbas. Kudos to Lapu-Lapu City, led by Mayor Paz Radaza and the city’s head of sports and tourism, the marathoner Hembler Mendoza, for a superb welcome dinner.

Of today’s weather and because this is an outdoor race that may span up to seven hours, the sun-or-rain hide-and-seek plays a vital role. The past week has been difficult for the swimmers. “We swam for 25 minutes and were still stuck at the same spot,” Ken Salimbangon, who’ll do his second full IM race, told me. The waves and current have been strong. But, thankfully, the past day or so have seen sunny days — and hopefully more calming waters, especially in the early hours (before 7 a.m.) when the swim leg begins.

Rain is preferred to the sun. The best: overcast, cloudy skies. For the run portion, many will be battling the 21K between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — the deadliest period of the day. A drizzle would be welcome.

Finally, some statistics for the race: 40 countries are represented with the most entries coming from Singapore (141). The U.S. is next with 54 followed by 45 Australians. Although women are most welcome, the ratio of individual participants (not relay) is disproportionate: 85 percent are male. This means extra kudos to the women in this male-dominated event that is, after all, called IronMAN.