Monthly Archives: March 2016

Why, Maria?

Maria_Sharapova

(Photo by John Russo)

Like Manny Pacquiao, Nike ditched her. Porsche, the German sportscar maker who annointed her their first ever female ambassador, sped away and bid her goodbye. But it’s not about the money. Maria Sharapova has plenty. She is the highest-earning female athlete on this planet. On average, she pockets $30 million each year from prize money, endorsements and her myriad of businesses.

This is about humiliation. It’s about one’s name and reputation being painted red and tainted with the ugly taste of drugs. It’s also about wanting to continue playing tennis — kicking those serves, flattening those forehands and pumping those Russian-born fists inside the rectangle.

This is embarrassing. Her fellow players now wonder: In all those 10 years that Maria digested the now-banned drug called Meldonium, was she cheating on us?

Ms. Sharapova said that, in the past decade, her “family doctor” advised her to take the medicine to cure some heart-related problems (like when she broke up with Grigor Dimitrov?). But who will believe her? It now appears that dozens of champions systematically devoured meldonium. The list includes Semion Elistratov, the 2014 Olympic gold medalist in short track speed skating, and Abeba Aregawi, the 2013 world champion in the 1500-meter foot race.

“I’ve read 55 athletes have failed tests for that substance since January 1st,” said Andy Murray. “You just don’t expect high level athletes at the top of many different sports to have heart conditions. If you’re taking a prescription drug and you’re not using it for what that drug is meant for, then you don’t need it. You’re just using it for the performance enhancing benefits that drug is giving you and I don’t think that’s right.”

Andy’s right. “I’ve used protein shakes since I was 18 years old, energy gels on court, obviously sports drinks when I’m playing,” he said. “Earlier in my career I would sometimes takes vitamins. Now I don’t take any supplements. If you’re taking a prescription drug that you don’t actually need, that’s wrong.”

Agree. It’s clear that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) included this drug among those to be banned (effective Jan. 1) because it was being abused. I’m sure they conducted tests that revealed its effectiveness in increasing sports-related performance.

“Meldonium is added to the Class S4 (hormone and metabolic modulators) of the WADA Prohibited List 2016,” read the official letter of RUSADA, the anti-doping agency of Russia.

In fairness to Maria, prior to this year, her taking the substance wasn’t illegal. So why did she continue taking it during the Australian Open?

Negligence. I believe her when she says that she and her team did not properly read the literature. But given that she’s THE Maria Sharapova, the Golden Girl who employs a battalion of coaches and lawyers and PTs and more, syaro sad. What a blunder. Just last May at the French Open and during the 2014 WTA Championships in Singapore, I saw with my own eyes her team of hitting-partners and assistants and coaches. What an oversight and foulup.

Because of this “unforced error,” Maria risks being banned for the maximum four years. Ouch. Imagine, at the peak of your powers at the age of 28, being deprived of playing the sport that you love (where you’ve accummulated five Grand Slam singles titles) — for 48 long months?

Her press conference earlier this week, facing the world head-on, was a good move. Unlike the greatest swindler in the history of sports, Lance Armstrong, who camouflaged his injections and tricked all of us not to LiveStrong but to Cheat Strong, Ms. Sharapova has been fortright. Let’s hope the ban gets reduced to two years.

While waiting a return to Wimbledon in 2018, Maria can do plenty. She’ll recuperate from her nagging shoulder and leg injuries. And to alleviate the drug penalty’s bitter taste, she can savor and taste her sweet candy Sugarpova.

La Salle vs. Ateneo

DLSU_VS_ADMU_CNNPH

(Photo by Sherwin Vardeleon/CNN Phils.)

Like the Crispa Redmanizers and the Toyota Tamaraws of the 1970s, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics of the ‘80s, like Barcelona and Real Madrid in soccer — there’s no rivalry in Philippine sports that rivals the one between La Salle and Ateneo.

One is green; the other is blue. One holds fort at Taft Ave. in Manila while the other is along Katipunan Ave. in faraway Quezon City. And while La Salle features a Green Archer as its symbol, who better to target the bow and arrow than the Blue Eagle?

Since their first meeting as founding members of the NCAA, the two private Catholic institutions have spiked and dribbled and swam against each other since 1924. Would you believe, that’s a 92-year-long tug-of-war.

I witnessed one such clash the other Saturday. And it featured the most popular women’s sport in the country today; the one featuring lady athletes who are celebrities. Women’s volleyball. And it was the first meeting this UAAP Season 78 between the Ateneo Lady Eagles and the La Salle Lady Spikers.

The Smart Araneta Coliseum was divided into two. In one half of the Big Dome, which seats approximately 20,000, you can see one blue color. In the opposite side are cheerers all wearing green. Drum beaters from both squads exchanged firepower. It can’t get more exciting than this.

With the help of my daughter Jana, who’s a first year ADMU student and who resides in the Loyola Heights campus dormitory named Eliazo, she and her tennis varsity teammate Jana Hernandez were able to secure tickets for their parents: for me and Jasmin and for Danny and Chu Fernandez.

DLSU vs. ADMU: Who was I cheering for? Although La Salle Bacolod was my school in elementary, I have since transformed into a blue-blooded parent, thanks to our only child. And so we were seated in some of the best seats in the Ateneo corner. Before the game started, I greeted Rene Almendras, who watched wearing blue.

Ateneo was expected to win. They won last season. They won the season before. In both of those final encounters, Ateneo defeated La Salle. In all, they carried a 24-match winning streak and La Salle was supposed to be an easy victim as the Lady Eagles closed the UAAP first round.

But, no. Alyssa Valdez was off. On multiple occasions, Ateneo would miss a serve and hand La Salle a free point. While Ateneo expected a quick victory, the result was reversed.

013_DLSU_VS_ADMU_CNNPH

(Photo by Sherwin Vardeleon/CNN Phils.)

First set went to DLSU, 25-22. In the second set, things got worse. La Salle scored the first eight or so points and steamed through the set, 25-14. Finally, in the third, it was the same, 25-18, in favor of the all-jumping and ecstatic La Salle.

I can’t wait for the playoffs, when these two squads hopefully meet again in the championships.

TENNIS. But this wasn’t our only La Salle-Ateneo experience the other Saturday. Earlier that morning, in the tennis courts of Rizal Memorial when the UAAP tennis season finished with the mighty National University Bulldogs winning both the men’s and women’s titles, another duel occured.

In the fight for 2nd Runner-up in the Women’s Division (NU was champion while UST was first runner-up), the scores were tabulated and you won’t believe what transpired.

Ateneo and La Salle were locked in a bout for the trophy. It was one meeting apiece (ADMU won in their first round while DLSU won in Round 2). It was five sets won per team. When the number of sets were computed, it was 10 sets per team. Finally, down to the last figure (the number of games won per team), it was 79-79. A tie!

During the awarding ceremony at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center, it was a beautiful sight. The DLSU ladies in green on the right and the ADMU ladies in blue on the left. Archrivals standing side by side as equals. One trophy shared by two teams.

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Can Manny win our first Olympic gold?

Rio 2016 Logo

Ever since the Philippines competed in this once-every-four-years intramurals called the Olympics (in 1924), we have failed. By “failed,” I mean we have not triumphed at claiming the ultimate prize: the gold medal.

Onyok Velasco reached the finals of the 1996 Games in Atlanta but lost in the men’s light flyweight division. Same with Anthony Villanueva in 1964. In totality, we have accumulated two silver medals and seven bronze medals.

Will this year be different? When, finally, after 92 years of wait, Senator Manny Pacquiao will raise his General Santos-bred arms in Rio de Janeiro, applauded by over 100 million of his fellow Pinoys?

If we look back eight years ago in Beijing, the flag bearer of our nation then was Pacquiao. But he didn’t compete. Will he participate this August?

Manny Pacquiao Beijing 2008

(Getty Images)

Maybe. A massive piece of news erupted just a few days ago. For the first time in Olympic history, boxing is considering the entry of professionals.

If we examine the other sports, they all include professionals in their rosters. Take basketball. It was in 1992 when the entry of the NBA stars was allowed. That’s when the “Dream Team” was formed and Michael, Charles, Larry and Magic annihilated the competition, besting all enemies by an average margin of 44 points per game.

Today, every sport invites both amateurs and professionals to compete in the Olympics. Remember Lionel Messi representing the team in blue-and-white stripes to win the gold for Argentina in 2008? For golf, which will be reinstated in the Olympics, the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will battle on the Rio links.

The only sport that excludes pros? Boxing. And so the International Boxing Association (AIBA) has proposed a radical move to include the pros in Brazil. This ruling is not final yet. An AIBA congress will be convened in the next few months and a final decision on this matter will be conducted.

But one man is pushing for its inclusion: the AIBA president Dr. Ching Kuo Wo.

“We want the best boxers to come to the Olympics,” said Dr. Wu in a recent Phil. Star article by Quinito Henson. “It is AIBA’s 70th birthday and we want something to change, not after four years but now. It is an IOC policy to have the best athletes in the Games and of the international federations, AIBA is probably the only one without professional athletes in the Olympics.”

Granted it gets approved, no less than Dr. Ching Kuo Wo himself has offered the 37-year-old Pacquiao a wild card (direct) entry — not having to pass through the tedious qualifying process — in the main draw of the Rio Olympics.

Will he compete? Maybe. Maybe not. But if he does, there appears to be two divisions that he can choose from: light welterweight (141 lbs.) or welterweight (152 lbs.).

Olympic boxing, as we’ve observed on TV in the past editions, is vastly different from pro boxing. During the tournament proper (to run from August 6 to 21), Olympic boxing does not involve rankings or seedings. The competitors are paired off at random and it’s a knockout system. You lose and you’re out. Each fight consists of three rounds and each round has the same three minutes.

Previously, the scoring involved five judges who would hold electronic buttons and they’d press each time a boxer connects with a hit. When three out of the five press the button, a score is counted on that boxer. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins.

Not anymore. Since 2013, it’s a 10-point must system (similar to pro boxing) and the scores of three of the five judges (randomly selected by a computer) will be chosen at the end of each round. Head guards, previously a must-wear item, will no longer be used. Is MP open to competing?

“OK naman,” he said, in a GMA News interview with Mav Gonzales two days ago. “Pinag-aaralan pa kung pwede tayo (We are still studying it if it’s possible).”

Now, just imagine with me for a moment: Imagine if Manny wins next month in Las Vegas, wins in May as one of the Lucky 12, and trains to join and wins gold in Rio.