All posts by jpages

Cebu vs. Visayas

One school, founded in 1919, will turn 100 years old in two years’ time. The other, named after our city and province, used to be called “Cebu Central Colleges” before carrying its present initials: UC.

These are two proudly-Bisaya institutions with a combined population of over 150,000 students, making them a couple of the largest educational systems in our 7,107 islands.

Founded by Don Vicente Gullas, the University of the Visayas used to called “Visayan Institute.” Its buildings were ravaged by World War II but instead of closing, it flourised; in 1948, it became Cebu’s first university: UV.

The two sons of Don Vicente and his wife Josefina (fondly called “Inday Pining”) took over the headship of UV. They are Talisay City Mayor Eddie Gullas and his brother Jose “Dodong” Gullas. I have been privileged to have collaborated with the two Gullas leaders and they are some of the finest gentlemen that you can meet. The year 1919 is a much-anticipated year for the Gullas family. They will be celebrating two 100-year-old celebrations that year: The Freeman newspaper and UV.

Atty. Augusto Go founded his school in July 1964. It began as Cebu College of Commerce then changed its name to CCC. Then, 25 years ago, it transformed into what it is today, the University of Cebu. Like the Gullas brothers, Atty. Gus Go is not only a visionary and iconic Cebuano businessman, he is simple and kindhearted.

Why this talk of UV and UC? Because after several months of Cesafi basketball action, it will either be “Cebu” or “Visayas” who will be triumphant. At 4 p.m. today inside the Gus Go-owned Cebu Coliseum, the season-ending Game 3 of the men’s collegiate finals will be played.

UV and UC both can claim to early victories this week. The UV Baby Lancers defeated the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles to win the high school crown. For UC, Atty. Go celebrated his birthday with an astonishing gift from his school: the top 12 examinees of the Naval Architecture and Marine Engineer exams all came from UC.

Who will win today? The fairytale ending would be seeing Coach Yayoy Alcoseba’s Webmasters dethroning the defending champions. UC has not won the title since the PBA’s upcoming 4-time MVP June Mar Fajardo donned the blue-and-yellow uniform.

But UV will be the favorites. They led all teams in the preliminary rounds and were heavily-favored before getting shocked with UC’s Game 1 victory. But with their win in Game 2 last Friday, the momentum is back. Who will win tonight? Only one will carry the trophy.

University of Champions? University of Victory?

Star Wars

Only LeBron James can call the U.S. president “U Bum” and be considered a hero. Voted by his peers as “The Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team,” only LBJ can manufacture a “3 in 1” deal: absorb the shocking loss of Kyrie Irving and emerge with three replacements: Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade.

D-Wade? Yes. It’s no secret that the former Miami Heat teammates are best friends. For four years while together in Florida, they made the trip to the Finals each season and won twice. Can D-Wade’s reported entry into the Cavs elevate this squad to rival Golden State? Absolutely.

What we’re seeing is the beauty and defect of the NBA. The strong become stronger while the weak turn powerless. There’s GSW. Has there ever been a stronger bunch in the league’s 71-year history than the formation of Steph, Klay, Draymon and Kevin? Probably not. I’d rank this gang higher than MJ-Pippen.

The NBA has 30 teams. The idea is to distribute the talent so no one team dominates completely. But we know the world doesn’t operate this way. Some have more money. Others have the clout of a Magic Johnson who can lure a Lonzo Ball.

The NBA has entered the era of the “Super Teams.” Of the 29 U.S. cities plus Toronto competing in the NBA, these “super teams” are a handful of squads whose roster includes at least three superstars. And unless you’ve assembled such All-Stars, you’re doomed.

This 2017-2018 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder has emerged as a super team. Joining the MVP Russell Westbrook is Paul George. And if that one-two punch isn’t potent enough, Carmelo Anthony leaves New York to form their Big 3.

The Houston Rockets is another. James Harden is joined by Chris Paul. How about the New Orleans Pelicans, with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis? My question is: Why the lopsided strength of the Western Conference? GSW, OKC, Houston, Spurs. And there’s the Minnesota Timberwolves with Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins.

The East? We might as well proclaim the Cavs as East Champs because of their lack of competition. It’s unfair and lopsided, this West vs. East pendulum.

As for LeBron and Wade, their bromance started in Miami and is continuing in Cleveland. But these two aren’t young; LeBron turns 33 in December and Wade celebrates his 36th birthday the month after.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” James said of his 12-time All-Star best friend. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another playmaker to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

Come October 17 when the NBA’s first regular season game kicks off and, perfectly-scripted, the Cavs face the Celtics, LeBron’s face will be smirking at Kyrie as if to say, I got Isaiah, Derrick and my man D-Wade to replace you, boy!

Fast forward to the 2018 NBA Finals, imagine a line-up featuring Curry, Thompson, Durant, Green and Iguodala against James, Rose, Wade, Thomas and Love. Like the intergalactic movie series, I can’t wait for this real-life Star Wars, Part 4.

President vs. El Presidente

Last month, when Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano resuscitated our nation’s bid to host the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, I thought that unity in sports would follow.

When the DFA chieftain sat in front of the table with the Philippine Sports Commission chairman in one side and the Philippine Olympic Committee president on the other, I thought that partisanship and bickering had ended.

I was mistaken. Politics in sport is lousy. Sport brings unity. (Just don’t ask Donald Trump!) Sport does not care if you’re black or white or Filipino or Spaniard or Roman Catholic or Muslim. Sport transcends all divisions and focuses on a human being’s capacity to endure physical and mental suffering to triumph.

That’s the beauty of sport. It connects people. It joins different personalities and the outcome — who’s the fastest or stongest — is determined by one’s heart and not color of skin.

So I was happy to learn of our SEAG hosting two years from now. We were at the brink of informing our Asean neighbors that we were backing out.. only for Cayetano to assume the chairmanship and say, Yes, we’re hosting.

Now, the question: Given that politics in sport is distressing and ugly, is the latest move headed by PSC Commissioner Ramon Fernandez a good one? Last Wednesday, the 6-foot-5 Cebuano who won four PBA MVP crowns and 19 championship trophies led the community in demanding one outcome: Oust Peping.

It’s El Presidente against the POC President. The PBA’s all-time leading scorer with 18,996 points and all-time rebounder with 8,652 rebounds against the 83-year-old Jose Cojuangco, Jr. who has been the all-time longest running POC president.

My opinion on this battle? As much as I am for peace and unity, especially in sports, I am supporting Mon Fernandez. So are a vast majority of people, including athletes.

Why does Peping want to hang on to a position that has given our nation poor results and where he’s being lambasted by almost every sector in our sports community?

Power. That’s the only reason I can come up with. It can’t be “because I want to improve sports.” He’s had three full POC terms (totaling 12 years) and the results are worsening. He’s presided over seven SEA Games and, counting the total medals by Team PHL, we’ve won… 291 medals (in 2005), 228 (2007), 124 (2009), 169 (2011), 101 (2013), 131 (2015), and last month, 121 medals. Notice the deteriorating pattern? It can’t be “because I promise change.” He and his cohorts cannot win this argument because he is much older than, say, Ricky Vargas, who ran against him in last year’s POC elections.

Power. Given that the Cojuangcos are out of political power, he just wants to hang on to this power, via sports. It’s unfortunate, selfish, unpatriotic.

There’s still time. We are at the early stages of preparing for SEAG 2019. If there’s any good time for a change in leadership, it’s now. If he wants to be remembered as a good sportsman, he should do the right thing. The question begs: Is Peping willing?

Sweet 16

I set the alarm at 4:30 a.m. yesterday but only got up an hour later. When I switched on to Fox Sports (channel 758 in SkyCable), Rafael Nadal was leading 6-3, 4-2. An hour later, dressed in black with pink Nike trimmings, the Spaniard had defeated Kevin Anderson.

Prior to the 2017 start, did you ever think that Rafa and Roger Federer would win all four Grand Slam singles titles? Before January, Roger was ranked No. 17 and Rafa was barely inside the Top 10. Both were over 30 years old and had not won a major in years. That was then. Now, they’ve alternated victories: Roger in Melbourne, Rafa in Paris, Roger in London, and Rafa in New York.

R & R own 35 majors. Comparing tennis with the same individual sport that also has four majors per year, golf has Jack Nicklaus with 18 majors and Tiger Woods at 14. That’s 32 for golf vs. 35 for tennis. But the big difference: Nicklaus is 77 years old while Tiger, who sat in Rafa’s box over the weekend to watch his fellow Nike endorser, is no longer going to win the big ones. Roger and Rafa, while aged 36 and 31, are getting better and will add to their harvest.

Speaking of harvest, Rafa pocketed $3.7 million for winning seven matches at the U.S. Open, the largest purse in tennis. Overall, including endorsements from Kia Motors, Richard Mille and Tommy Hilfiger, Rafa is estimated to have earned over $90 million.

(Photo: AP/Julio Cortez)

With his New York victory, you can say that Rafa is also lucky. Juan Martin del Potro dispatched of his biggest threat, Federer, and he never had to face an opponent who was ranked No. 24 or higher. Since the seedings were increased from 16 to 32 in 2002, this is the first time that a major winner did not face a top-20 seeded player. Also the first time for Rafa to win a Grand Slam trophy without facing Roger, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Stanislas Wawrinka.

The main cause for this less-difficult-to-win Slam for Rafa? One word: injuries. None of the Big 3 (Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka), winners of the four majors in 2016, joined the U.S. Open. Added to the list of non-participants were Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.

Nadal took advantage of this lack of competition and, excluding two four-setters in the earlier rounds and his first set loss to Del Potro, he played near-flawless tennis.

Anderson, who himself came back from injury, praised the 16-major champion, saying, “I know we’re the same age but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life… You’re one of the toughest competitors in the game and one of the greatest ambassadors of our sport.”

I agree. I’ve been following tennis for over three decades now and there is no one with more fire and competitive spirit than Rafa. In my assessment, his 10 French Open crowns (the Paris major is the calendar’s toughest event) is one of the sporting world’s most incredible achievements.

Rafa and Roger, No. 1 and No. 2, will continue to battle for that year-end top spot until the season ends. As for 2018, how exciting can it get? Novak, Andy and the others are returning, well-rested. Plus, there’s Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev. And, having just given birth, Serena Williams will win the Australian Open in January.

  

United States Open

There’s no city on earth like New York. Neon lights blink at noon, yellow cabs zoom past Times Square, skyscrapers touch the clouds, and Broadway shows are $450 real-life movies. The city that never sleeps is forever awake, hungry and restless.

It’s fitting that the United States Tennis Open is not located in sunny Florida or relaxed California but in the Big Apple.

I’ve been blessed to have visited the U.S. Open grounds twice, first as spectator and second as passerby, and it’s humongous. Flushing Meadows in Corona Park, where the 22 courts inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center are found, is sprawling wide at 46.5 acres. At the center looms the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium, named after the 1968 Open champion who succumbed to AIDS in 1993.

Today, it’s the Women’s Singles final (at 4:30 a.m., Philippine time) and the organizers could not have choreographed a better finale. Two American ladies face each other in the only major fought on North American soil.

“Having four Americans in the semi-finals, I think that says a lot about American tennis and where we are right now,” said Sloane Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams in the semifinals.

Sloane Stephens vs. Madison Keys. Who are they? They’re the finalists. (I wouldn’t be surprised if had not heard of them prior to today.) They’re no Sharapova or Bouchard or Halep or Pliskova or Kerber.

The story of Ms. Stephens is incredible. At the U.S. Open last year, she withdrew because of a foot injury. Last January, she watched the Australian Open on TV while her leg was covered with a large cast. When she was able to move, she swatted tennis balls while seated. After 11 months, she returned to Wimbledon ranked 957th. Since then, she has won 14 of 16 matches and is en route to her first Grand Slam trophy. 

“I have no words to describe my feelings and what it took to get here,” said Stephens. “When something gets taken away from you, you kind of are forced to deal with your situation. Having surgery, being on that peg leg, not being able to live my life the way I wanted to, I don’t know if it was like a humbling experience, but it was more of just like—how do you say that—realization? I just needed to just appreciate all the things I had in my life.”

Madison Keys has an equally powerful story to tell. She started playing tennis at the age of 9 at the Chris Evert Academy in Florida. Now 22, she also got injured early this year, missing the Melbourne major when she had surgery on her left wrist. She’s back and, ranked 16, is slightly favored to beat Stephens.

The all-American final is a first not involving Serena and Venus in 33 years, when Martina Navratilova defeated Chris Evert in 1984. You can say that these two are lucky because Serena Williams just gave birth, carrying her own prize in the form of a baby girl (whose name has yet to be revealed).

For the men, Rafa Nadal’s path to a 16th major was cleared by Roger Federer when the Swiss lost to Juan Martin del Potro. After watching Nadal annihilate the Argentinian in the semis yesterday, it’s hard to see the Spaniard losing to Kevin Anderson. In basketball, yes, the 6-foot-8 South African wins. But this is tennis and Nadal is the old king of New York.

Manny in Manila

Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao will turn 39 this Dec. 17. That’s very, very old for an elite boxer. Having fought 68 times in his pro career, he has been a recipient of thousands of uppercuts, body-blows, jabs, head-butts. Given his age and the accumulated physical barrage that he’s absorbed, Pacman is down to his last one or two fights. Why spend these final moments in Brisbane or Las Vegas?

Manny’s request for his next fight to be on Philippine soil is fantastic. This is no longer about money. It’s not about accummulating more belts (he’s the only fighter to win 11 world titles in eight different weight divisions). It’s about giving back to the Philippines.

Of the three times that I have watched Pacquiao fight in person, twice was in Manila. The first was in The Fort in Dec. 2004. Manny was only 25 years old then and coming off upset wins over Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. In that bout, I recall Manny unleashing a barrage of punches that had Fahsan 3K Battery of Thailand flying on the Taguig open air.

In 2006, Pacquiao entered the Araneta Coliseum and faced Oscar Larios of Mexico. It wasn’t an impressive win but the crowd was still noisy and proud. MP won by unanimous decision.

That was Manny’s last fight on home soil… 11 years and two months ago. Since that Quezon City bout, he has traveled to fight in the Alamodome and the Cowboys Stadium in Texas, in Nevada, in Macau twice, and the latest one last July, at the Suncorp Stadium. His last 20 fights have been conducted on foreign soil. It’s about time Manny comes home.

“It will not push through there in Australia,” said Pacquiao. “But we are bringing the fight here in the Philippines.”

Manny is adept at negotiations. He’s been at this game for decades and knows that he has the upperhand. He’s the crowd-drawer. He dictates. The complication, of course, admitted Bob Arum, is in the contract. Prior to the Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight, their agreement called for a rematch clause that would be held in Australia.

Manny doesn’t care. He wants to reverse that stipulation and bring the 29-year-old Brisbane native to Manila. Will it work? I’m sure. If it doesn’t, Pacman has other options.

“This will be good for our country’s tourism,” he said.

Absolutely. While we have been bringing to our shores world-class basketball action (LeBron James was here), our most famous Pinoy has not been seen in real-life action in 11 years.

“We have lots of friends who are supporting us including our tourism department,” he added. “The president is giving his all-out support.”

I’m sure Pacquiao is looking forward to that moment when Pres. Rodrigo Duterte will be seated in the front row to witness him fight and for him to climb the ring to hand him the championship belt in front of 55,000 boisterous fans in the Philippine Arena.

And while the reported $1 million that the City of Brisbane shelled out to finance the “Battle of Brisbane” is too much for the Phil. government to shoulder, we should still sponsor a sizable figure. As for Jeff Horn, if the Aussie’s unwilling to come, why not invite Conor McGregor?

Maria Sharapova

Forbes has named her the “world’s highest paid female athlete” for 11 straight years. Since turning pro in 2001, she has earned nearly $300 million. But as wealthy and famous and beautiful as Maria Sharapova is, has she received the esteem and respect of her colleagues?

No. The reason: Last year, she failed a drug test. She had been taking the drug “meldonium” for many years when it was legal. But when it was banned effective Jan. 2016, she still took it.

Positive! That’s the bombshell that shocked the 6-foot-2 Russian. Maria was banned for two years. While away from tennis, she wrote her autobiography and enrolled in Harvard Business School. She was an intern at an ad agency, spending a week with NBA’s Adam Silver and another at Nike HQ. She promoted her candy business, Sugarpova. “It was just a different way my mind was working for a few months,” Maria said, “and I loved that.”

Her 24-month suspension was reduced to 15. And when she returned last April at the Porsche Grand Prix, her counterparts voiced opposition. Eugenie Bouchard complained: “She’s a cheater and I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play again.. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms.”

Ouch. In reply, Sharapova said she didn’t want to listen to the negative talk and called the women’s locker room “my least favourite place in the world.”

At the US Open in New York, controversy has once again followed the 30-year-old five-time Grand Slam champion. She was given a “wild card.” What’s that? It’s a direct entry into the main draw that’s chosen by the tournament organizers. Ranked a lowly No. 146, Sharapova was given a wild card at the US Open. (At the French Open a few months ago, they denied her that privilege.)

This exemption has troubled some critics. Chris Evert, the 18-major winner, said in response: “I don’t necessarily think that in the grand slams, she should be given a wild card, no.”

Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told CNN, “If someone gets caught for doping, this person shouldn’t be helped to come back faster to the top of the game.”

You can’t blame the US Open organizers. Ms. Sharapova is the biggest draw among the ladies, especially with Serena pregnant. She’s one of the few who can outrival the popularity of a Roger or Rafa. What has angered other players was how they’ve accorded her extra privileges.

In Sharapova’s first three matches, including last night’s win over Sofia Kenin, she played at the Arthur Ashe (main) Stadium. In contrast, Caroline Wozniacki, ranked No. 5, was relegated to an outside court.

“Putting out a schedule where the number five in the world is playing on court five, fifth match on after 11 p.m., I think that is unacceptable,” said Wozniacki. “When you look at center court, and I understand completely the business side of things, but someone who comes back from a drugs sentence, performance-enhancing drugs, and then all of a sudden gets to play every single match on center court I think that’s a questionable thing to do. It doesn’t set a good example.”

I agree. Life is unfair. But Maria is Maria. I’m sure her WTA players would like to sing the Sound of Music song, How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Worst SEAG finish

Our sports leaders projected a haul of 50 gold medals in Kuala Lumpur. They badly missed the target. Instead, Team PHL finished with only 24 gold medals. How bad is this result? Two years ago in Singapore, we collected 29. We pocketed the same 29 first-prize medals in Myanmar in 2013. Prior to that, we performed much better: 36 gold in Jakarta (2011), 38 in Laos (2009), 41 in Thailand (2007) and our biggest harvest in our SEAG history, a whopping 113 gold medals when he hosted in 2005.

What happened? We have been slipping, sliding, sinking and slumping. As each odd year passes, we deteriorate. We sent 497 athletes and 163 officials and got humiliated. Imagine 113 gold medals in 2005 and a dozen years later we’re down to 24? What’s sad is this: there will be plenty of finger-pointing among the POC and PSC and NSAs and many other three-letter organizations but, after months pass, all is forgotten.

The only good news? It’s our hosting of SEAG 2019. For sure, given that we own the homecourt advantage and get to choose the events, our standing will improve. It’s possible we’ll collect 50, 75 or 94 in 24 months’ time.

This Southeast Asian Games practice of allowing the host nation to choose the events it wants is gaining controversy. One of the complainants is Thailand. Back in 2015, Thailand was the overall champion of this 11-nation meet, winning 95 gold medals versus the 84 won by Singapore. This was two years ago. This week, they only won 70 and were clobbered by the 142 gold medals of the hosts. (In contrast, Malaysia only got 62 gold medals in 2015. That’s an increase of 80 gold medals!)

“They organise sports they are good at and do not organise sports other countries are good at,” said Thana Chaiprasit, Thailand’s delegation chief.

Unlike the Olympics which relies on the 90-member International Olympic Committee (IOC) to decide on the events, the SEAG has a different format. The host nation decides. (Speaking of the IOC, the Philippines only has one representative: Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski, the daughter of POC President Peping Cojuangco.)

This I-get-to-choose-my-games arrangment has resulted in the host nation often defying the conventional results. In the last 10 SEA Games hostings, six host nations emerged overall champions.

As examples: Malaysia’s 62 gold medals in 2015 became 142 this week. As for the Philippines’ 24 gold medals today, we have reason to smile in the months ahead. When we hosted in 2005, we garnered an improbable 113 gold medals.

Mr. Chaiprasit of Thailand complained that Malaysia dropped women’s boxing and included squash. Malaysia even included ice hockey and ice skating (a SEAG first), maybe to increase it’s tally. And if you’re wondering why we haven’t heard about Hidilyn Diaz, who won silver at the Olympics? That’s because they scrapped women’s weightlifting!

What does this mean for the Philippines? It means that from the lowliest of scores that we received this week (24 gold), we have a chance to reverse this because of this crazy, almost-unfair rule.

For 2019 and to gain back our No. 1 spot, I suggest we include takyan, patintero, sungka, jack-en-poy, holen, and tubig-tubig.

US Open

(Getty Images)

At the 29th SEA Games, our Philippine netters pocketed two silver and two bronze medals. Clarice Patrimonio reached the women’s singles finals but got clobbered, 6-0, 6-1, by Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand. The heartbreaker was the men’s doubles. With Treat Huey unable to join, our top duo was Ruben Gonzales and Niño Alcantara. They played the Ratiwatana twins, Sanchai and Sonchat, in the finals last Friday. The Pinoys lost a thriller to the Thais, 6-4, 2-6, 10-7. That 10-7 is not a third set but a super-tiebreak. We got two more bronze medals: mixed doubles (Denise Dy and Ruben Gonzales) and women’s doubles (Katharina Lehnert and Denise Dy).

US OPEN. In New York, it’s the final Grand Slam tennis event of 2017. The biggest news? The injuries. Among those who are out include Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Raonic and Nishikori. Why these many withdrawals? Tennis is one-on-one. You can’t get substituted like soccer or volleyball. Coaches aren’t even allowed inside. You play on grass this week, on red clay the next, shift to hard courts after; there are indoor and outdoor venues and you sprint back and forth for 3 hours; all these take a physical toll on an athlete’s body.

Rafael Nadal is the world’s No. 1. This is incredible. At 31, he was battered with injuries last year. He withdrew from the 2016 French Open and from Wimbledon. Ranked as low as No. 9 last January, in just several months, he has overtaken everyone.

Roger Federer is even more impressive. He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon and he’s favored to win a sixth US Open crown next Sunday. Aged 36 and 31, Roger and Rafa are defying the conventional wisdom that athletes can’t last long. Bjorn Borg retired at 26. Pete Sampras left at 31. Federer and Nadal are able to extend their careers because of proper scheduling. Injured? They stop and take an extended vacation. Tired? They don’t play the following tournament. They space out their commitments and listen to their bodies. It’s called wisdom from old age.

How does the US Open compare to the other majors? It’s loud. It’s filled with thousands of people crisscrossing the Tennis Center inside Corona Park, a colossal venue of 363 hectares in Queens. The Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis stadium on this planet, seating nearly 24,000. I remember watching with Fabby Borromeo at the top-most bleacher and Andre Agassi looked like an ant! It’s summer in New York today and the weather can get scorching hot. So the spectators wear sleeveless shirts, baggy shorts and sandals. They drink Heinekin. Because as formal as Wimbledon is, the US Open is the opposite: it’s noisy, high energy, pump-fisting tennis.

Among the men, I’d love to see an Alexander Zverev or Dominic Thiem win the $3.7 million singles champion’s prize money. Among the women, Serena Williams is pregnant. This gives everyone a chance. The first round match to watch? Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova. If my Google research is correct, this match should be shown at 7 a.m. today at Fox Sports.

As for Treat Huey, our best-ever Filipino-American doubles specialist who was ranked as high as 18 in the world (he’s now 62), it’s the same sad news as Djokovic and Murray: Treat Huey has withdrawn due to injury.

 

SEAG in Cebu

The good news is the Phils. is hosting the biennial event in 2019. The bad news is how we’ve performed in Kualu Lumpur. Armed with a reported P300 million budget and having sent 497 athletes and 193 officials to Malaysia, thus far, we’ve only won 15 gold medals and 75 total medals (including 24 silver and 36 bronze).

SEAG has 11 countries joining. Where do we rank? Right in the middle: five countries are better than us and five are worse. The top five are Malaysia (72 gold and 165 total), Vietnam (43 gold and 107 total), Singapore (40 gold and 115 total), Thailand (36 gold and 143 total) and Indonesia (23 gold and 103 total). These are the top five. We sit at No. 6 and below us are Myanmar (27 total medals), Cambodia (8), Brunei (9), Laos (8) and Timor Este with zero medals.

Is this good or bad? It’s definitely not good. We placed in the same middle (sixth) place at the 2015 SEAG. Obviously, there’s no way for Myanmar and Cambodia to surpass our medal tally; so if we can’t beat those top five rivals, this is dismal and miserable news. Two years ago in the Singapore SEAG, we won 29 gold medals and 131 total. With only three days left in Kuala Lumpur, let’s hope our tally increases. And here’s the shocking comparison: back when he hosted the 2005 SEAG, we garnered 113 gold medals and 291 in total to become No. 1. Yes, we had home court advantage but what a disparity between today and 12 years ago.

2019 SEAG. Speaking of hosting, the 30th SEAG edition will be in Manila two years from now. My question is: Which cities will host the games? There are plenty of games to be played. In Kualu Lumpur this week, there are 404 events in 38 sports. We had almost similar numbers back in 2005: we organized 443 events in 40 sports.

Manila, obviously, will host the opening and closing ceremonies. The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex will act as the main venue. Speaking of Rizal Memorial, did you know that it almost got sold? The 10-hectare property that was built in 1934 in a prime Manila property was offered to the market. Estimates for its selling price ranged from P10 to P15 billion. But in the end, PSC chief Butch Ramirez opted to keep Rizal Memorial as a sports hub. Very timely because of SEAG 2019. Many of the events are expected to be played in Rizal: athletics, tennis, gymnastics and baseball.

Cebu played hosts in 2005. We welcomed the athletes from mountain-biking (Danao), dancesport (Waterfront), judo and karate (Mandaue), Pencak silat (Cebu Coliseum) and sepak takraw (USC).

In 2019, we should lobby to host these same sports and more. With MTB, I don’t see any other Philippine city that can rival the one that the Duranos and Boying Rodriguez prepared. That’s why the XTERRA (off-road triathlon) is in Danao. With dancesport, the king and queen are Edward and Eleanor Hayco.

With two years to go before SEAG, I hope our leaders will lobby for Cebu to host more events. In 2005, triathlon was held in Subic. Can we offer to host triathlon here, given the success of the Ironman 70.3? Boxing was in Bacolod. Can we transfer this to the IEC or Waterfront? How about the marathon? Imagine this: Joy Tabal being cheered on by thousands along Cebu’s streets as she defends her SEAG marathon gold. Cebu ought to host more in 2019.

   

Thank you, Cayetano

The name “Alan Peter Cayetano” is not often associated with sports. It’s his older sister of four years, Senator Pia Cayetano, who is always linked with sports.

Sen. Pia bikes and runs marathons with Jane-Jane Ong; she braves the open sea to join triathlons; the woman whose full name is Pilar Juliana is totally passionate with sports.

But today, sports-wise, the Cayetano that we ought to pay tribute to is Alan Peter. A senator from 2007 to 2017, he was recently asked by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to become the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Since May, he exchanged his first name of “Senator” to “Secretary.”

DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano is to be thanked because of the action that he took last week. Because while the 2017 Southeast Asian Games are now on-going in Malaysia, the hosting of the 2019 SEAG was completely in limbo just over eight days ago.

Here’s the backstory: In July 2015, the POC announced to our Asean neighbors and to us Pinoys that we would be hosting the 2019 SEAG. This was welcome news. The last time we hosted was in 2005. Even better news, we topped the medal tally that year with 291 medals, becoming overall champions.

So, 2019 was a go. Go? No!

Because just last month, our national leaders announced that it was backing out of the 2019 SEAG hosting. The reason: the billions to be spent on sports needed to be channeled for the rebuiling of Marawi. That’s the official statement. But behind the scenes, we knew there were other reasons, including this: the POC and PSC were fighting.

And so, with the SEAG hosting, there was a stalemate. Cojuangco was embarrassed to go to Malaysia to inform his POC friends that the Philippines was reneging on its hosting promise. Ramirez reiterated the national leadership’s stance that we couldn’t do it.

Enter Sec. Alan Peter Cayetano. In a stunning press conference just seven days ago, Cayetano stood at the center of the table and was able to bring together the warring POC and PSC factions. We’re back to hosting in 2019 and Cayetano will be the SEAG Organizing Committee chairperson with Ramirez and Cojuangco as his co-chairmen.

“We are so happy that despite the glitches, and only two days before this meeting,” said the SEA Games Federation council president HRM Yam Tunku Sri Imran, “our friends in the Philippine Olympic Committee met with officials from their government to discuss and confirm to us that there are hosting the 2019 SEA Games.”

This is fantastic news. Backing out of a major commitment does not send a good signal to the international community. I’m glad this was resolved. SEAG is good for tourism. It’s nation-building.

Kudos to Sec. Cayetano. Only three months new to his DFA job, he’s been extremely busy. Just days before that presscon, he was hosting the Asean foreign ministers meeting. His responsibility is “foreign affairs” not “sports.” For him to rescue the SEAG hosting from near-certain death is highly laudable.

My additional take on this? We also have to thank his sister. My hunch is that given how sports-loving Sen. Pia is, she was approached by top officials and she, in turn, spoke to her brother to bring everyone together.

Cayetano, Cayetano. Kaya natin ‘to.

Joy to the world

The odds of Mary Joy Tabal winning the country’s first gold medal in Kuala Lumpur were unlikely.

It’s not like she has gotten slower. No. Her performance has improved. When she debuted at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, her 42K time was 3:04:39. Joy placed second. Since then, she has become quicker. In last December’s Milo Marathon in Manila, she clocked 2:47:57. That’s 16 minutes faster than SEAG two years ago. And even better, at the 2016 Ottawa Marathon, she ran a personal best of 2:43:31.

It’s not like Joy doesn’t have financial backing. This is often a huge problem for athletes. With Joy, thanks to the generosity of this gang of brothers named Marco, Andre, Paolo, Chip and Jonel, the 4-foot-11 runner from Brgy. Guba has full support. She has a top coach in Philip Dueñas. She’s able to travel: at the Rio Olympics and for trainings and events in Japan, the U.S., Italy, Canada and Switzerland.

So if it’s not her speed and sponsors, why was the Philippines nearly denied a gold medal yesterday?

Because of the Malaysian organizers. There wasn’t supposed to be a marathon race! Unbelievable to think but of the 38 sports and 404 events listed in the August 19 to 30 games, the 42K run wasn’t originally included. Why? Because of the few participants and massive logistics involved in organizing them. Well, there is some truth to that. In yesterday’s 42K race, there were only 15 male participants (won by Singapore’s Soh Rui Yong) and six women. (As to why very few join, I don’t know.)

Still, the marathon is a must-race race. It’s been part of the SEAG for the last 16 years and it’s an iconic Olympic sport. Thankfully, bombarded with complaints from other national sports associations and from the running community, the marathon was reinstated. In fact, kudos to Malaysia, they invited the general public yesterday by including a 5K and a 15K open-for-all run.

Second reason why Joy almost did not win gold? You know why. It’s spelled PATAFA. Some now call it “pataka” or “ataya!” If it wasn’t for the pressure applied by the Cebuanos through Facebook and the media; if it wasn’t for PSC Commissioner Ramon Fernandez who fought in behalf of the 28-year-old Joy; if it wasn’t for Motor Ace and Jonel Borromeo convincing the PATAFA president Philip Juico (like Jonel did for Joy for the Olympics), there would be no joyous headline news. 

The reason why PATAFA wouldn’t include Joy in their roster of athletes? Because she wouldn’t train in Manila and with their team. Juico said last June: “Ayaw namin sa kanya, ayaw niya sumunod sa amin. (We don’t want her. She won’t follow us).” Crazy. Imagine if you forced every sportsman to forgo of what’s successful just because you prefer Manila? It’s about the results. And athletics is a numbers game. The scoring is not subjective like gymnastics or figure-skating, it’s time-based. And it’s easy to spot the fastest. Just compare their times! Worse, the Borromeo brothers were spending for all of Joy’s travels at no cost to the Philippine government. How lucky can we get with that arrangement?

Anyway, thank you, Lord, those hurdles were overcome. With Joy, what’s amazing is her humility. She is so buotan, smiling, respectful, and, yes, kugihan. Joy’s win is a victory for running and for Cebu. May this first gold inspire the 497-strong Team Pilipinas.

Be Honest

Archbishop Jose Palma (2nd from right) with Guy Ceniza, Alan Larot and Boy Villanueva

Of the dozens of values that are important in life, and these include Respect, Excellence, Compassion, Responsibility, Gratitude and having a Caring heart, the single most important value might be this: Honesty.

In the several companies that we operate, and in the over 1,200 team members that we employ, nothing is more important than integrity. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best waiter or the smartest teacher or you possess exemplary leadership skills, if you’re not honest, you’re out.

This advocacy is at the heart of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals. The BCBP was founded in 1980 with the mission “to bring Christ to the marketplace and to win the marketplace for Christ.” And what is BCBP’s signature campaign?

Be Honest. Even if others are not. Even if others will not. Even if others cannot. And from Proverbs 10:9: “He who walks honestly, walks securely.”

Next Sunday, August 27, it’s the BCBP Be Honest Run. The main goal is to help promote the culture of fairness, fidelity and faithfulness. To be honest at home. To be honest with your people. To be honest in business dealings. To be honest with yourself.

Over a thousand participants are expected next weekend and registration is still open. The distances offered are not intimidating: you can walk or run the 2K or 4K or 8K distances. There are no winners. And here’s a first, possibly for any race in the country: We will award a prize to the fastest finisher… based on honesty! Sure, a clock (courtesy of Joel Juarez of Coco Running) will be hanging on the finish line but there will be no timing chips or U-turn bracelets to check if you’ve passed all the corners. The Be Honest Run will be won by the first placer who is honest!

The August 27 event will be held at the Ayala Center Cebu. The start and finish is at The Terraces and the runners (and, yes, leisurely-walkers) will navigate the streets inside the Cebu Business Park. The run will start at 5:45 a.m. and everyone is advised to arrive at 5 a.m. for the prayer, opening remarks and the warm-up exercises.

The “Be Honest Run” is open to all BCBP members, family members, friends and colleagues. It’s open to all. The registration fee is P300 and this entitles you to a Meyrick Jacalan-designed shirt and a race bib. Raffle prizes will be given and there will be free Thirsty drinks for all.

The registration booth will open tomorrow until the end of next week at the Active Zone of Ayala Center (near Bo’s Coffee). Just bring your P300 and, subject to availability, you may immediately get your shirt. Then we’ll see you at the starting line next Sunday.

More on honesty, I’d like to leave you with these inspiring words: If it’s not right, don’t do it; if it’s not true, don’t say it. Simple. / Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it. Right is right, even if no one is doing it. / If you want to be trusted, just be honest. / Everybody wants the truth but nobody wants to be honest. / When in doubt, tell the truth. / If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. / And from St. Teresa: Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.

SEA Games

The Southeast Asian Games is held every two years. For the 29th edition, Malaysia is hosting 11 nations this August 19 to 30. There are nearly 5,000 athletes competing in 38 sports and 404 events and this will be the sixth time for Malaysia to host.

I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur once. This was 10 years ago to watch Roger Federer play Pete Sampras in the event, “Clash of Times.” Kualu Lumpur is impressive. With the Petronas Towers soaring above Malaysia’s capital, KL was named by CNN as the “world’s 4th best city for shopping.” It is also the seventh most visited city on this planet.

With the SEAG, the opening ceremonies will be this Saturday, the birthday of the best man in my wedding, my brother Charlie. Since Kuala Lumpur was awarded the hosting in 2012, it has prepared relentlessly. The main arena is the Bukit Jalil National Sports Complex, about 20 kms. from the city center, and its 1988-built stadium boasts of 87,411 seats.

An estimated (in Phil. pesos) P19 billion was allocated by Malaysia to prepare the infrastructure of the SEAG host nation. (Of the 36 venues, 19 will be in KL and 10 will be in Selangor; the other host-cities include Putrajaya and Negeri Sembilan.) To help save cost, they’ve upgraded existing facilities instead of building new ones.

There will also be no “athlete’s village” where Mary Joy Tabal, Alyssa Valdez and our flag-bearer, Kirstie Elaine Alora (of taekwondo), will stay in. The host country decided not to spend billions for new facilities that often become “white elephants.” Instead, they’re decided to house all the athletes, coaches and officials in dozens of hotels scattered near the venues.

Major sporting events are all about volunteerism. I’ve seen this first hand in the Olympics. For next week, when the announcement was made asking for volunteers, they received 50,000 online applications. Only 13,000 were chosen. But this tells us of the spirit of volunteerism of the Malaysians.

With the sporting events, there will be a total of 404 events in 38 sports. The choosing of which events to include, largely dependent on the host country, is often controversial.

One example is Indonesia. Back when it hosted the 2011 SEA Games, they included numerous non-Olympic events which resulted to them winning 476 medals, including 182 gold medals. They ranked No. 1. Two years later in Myanmar, their tally dropped by nearly half to 258 medals and, worse, in Singapore 2015, they collected only 182 medals (and 47 gold).

With next week’s hosting, I’m unsure if Malaysia is doing the same. But Thailand’s representative, Charoen Wattanasin, was quoted as saying last year, “Malaysia is taking advantage of other member countries. It has opted for its favourite sports — events in which it has high hopes — in the Games. It has a clear mission to get the medals from every sport in the Games. Even many traditional sports are missing. It is disappointing that Malaysia has ignored some good events as well.”

Speaking of our pride and joy, Mary Joy Tabal, did you know that Malaysia was planning to exclude the marathon in the SEAG? But thanks to an online petition from the running community, the 42K is back. Even better, the organizers will include the general public with 15K and 5K runs on the same marathon day, August 19.

Ironman swim

Two Augusts ago, I joined the individual category of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 race. In years past, I joined the relay: pedaling the Vellum bike in 2012 and running in 2014. But in 2015, I decided to do the full event: a 1.9K swim, a 90K bike and 21K run.

I have been running and biking all my life. I’m a land-based creature. The swim? I know the freestyle stroke but I’m no fish; it took me months to get comfortable. On our open-water sessions in Mactan, I got jittery.

August 2, 2015. It was race morning and we warmed-up. When I dove into the Shangri-La waters at 7 a.m. and emerged one hour and 8 minutes later, it was one of the most challenging 68 minutes of my life. Of the swim’s 1,900 meters, there was a harrowing stretch of 850 meters where the current was so strong. By the end of the swim leg, the organizers had to extend the cutoff time (supposed to be 1:10) by more than 20 minutes. If not, hundreds would not have continued. And despite the extended time, 120 were cutoff.

Betsy Medalla, a top swim coach based in Manila who also organizes long-distance open-sea races, wrote an excellent post-event analysis. The cause of the unusual current was the “spring tide.”

“On August 2, (2015) today, in Cebu, the tidal range was OVER FIVE FEET.  Think of that as a five foot wave of water coming into shore, spread out over six hours,” wrote Betsy in her blog, justaddwaterph.blogspot.com.

That was two years ago. Will it be another “spring tide” this weekend? When I met Brian Lim during the Bike Out last Sunday, he mentioned about the very strong current when they did an open-sea swim on Saturday. It was similar to 2015, he said. This was the same comment of Andre Borromeo, who swam for two kms. and found the Mactan waters tough with high waves.

So, what’s the forecast?

“August 6 (this Sunday) is NOT a spring tide date,” wrote Betsy yesterday in her blog post. “The next spring tide in Cebu is on August 9. So the conditions will definitely not be as bad as 2015, but we are close enough to make things interesting.”

Based on her study, the projected change in tide is 3.2 feet and the fastest surge will be between 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.

“In 2015, the tide change was roughly five feet,” Betsy said. “This year, we are expecting a much smaller volume of water moving in our direction. However, this is the Hilutungan channel and as I mentioned in the 2015 post, currents and tides are amplified when forced through a tighter space. So expect the 850m stretch of the course to be challenging. Hope you did your paddles and pullbuoy work early in the training program.

“As far as timing of the tide shift goes, in 2015 the racers who left in the last few batches suffered worst. This year, it is one for all! Yeay! We are starting and swimming in the thick of it. In fact, the force of it will be ebbing by 7:30am so .. I don’t know if you want to use that information to your advantage.”

Betsy, who was the first Asian (with Julian Valencia) to complete the Robben Island Channel crossing, swimming for 8.6 kms., is concerned with the stormy weather (in Luzon) the past week.

“The habagat and monsoon winds have been whipped up by two successive storms and all of that built up energy may carry into the end of the week,” she said. “It looks to be a windy, gusty weekend and that may lead to surface chop, and possibly swells.”

Coach Betsy offers these suggestions: Focus on your STREAMLINE. Reduce drag as much as possible and that includes: 1) Keeping your hips up; 2) Don’t pull with a straight arm; 3) Don’t lift your head up to breathe, keep it low; 4) Maintain your momentum.

Visit justaddwaterph.blogpost.com.

Ironman 70.3 Bike Out

Early this morning at six, a few hundred cyclists will pedal from the Mactan Newtown to join the annual “ocular inspection” of the Cobra Ironman 70.3 bike route.

It’s called the Bike Out. From Lapu-Lapu City, the cyclists will climb Marcelo Fernan Bridge, pass through Mandaue, glide along SM City, descend down the Tunnel, emerge towards the SRP, gaze at the SM Seaside City, then sprint towards Talisay City before making a few of the same loops. In the end, the bikers will return to Mactan Newtown.

With the IM70.3 race, reports came out the other day saying that Talisay City was excluding itself from the bike route. This is not true. Ever since the Half-Ironman race started in Cebu in 2012, Talisay has been an important and cooperative piece of the program. To back out now, just days before Cebu’s biggest sporting event, is irresponsible.

Talisay Mayor Eddie Gullas is a sportsman. He was a topnotch basketball star, coach, owner of the UV Green Lancers success story, and we played tennis for many years. He loves sports just as much as public service. I’m sure he will not be an obstructionist.

People also speculate: Will this year be the last? I’m sure it won’t. The Cebu IM70.3 event is too successful to be discontinued. The grandeur of Shangri-La. The thousands cheering along the route. The support of Mayor Paz Radaza and Gov. Junjun Davide. The shaded route for the 21K run in Punta Engaño. The open-sea swim in Mactan. Kenneth Cobonpue’s iconic medals. And even the roots of Fred Uytengsu, Jr., who was born in Cebu, are all symbolic in ensuring that “Cebu” and “Ironman” will be intertwined for a long, long time.

What I’m also sure won’t happen here? A full Ironman. While Subic will organize the country’s first IM on June 3, 2018, I’m sure the linked cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu and Talisay will not host the same. Why? The road closure. For an event that includes a 3.8K swim, a 180K bike and a 42K run, it will mean closing the roads the entire day.

Ironman 70.3? Yes. Full Ironman in Cebu? No.

2018 Cebu Marathon

Have you ran a 21K or a 42K marathon before? If yes, that’s terrific; you’re one of a few hundred thousand (from our planet’s 7.5 billion inhabitants) to have suffered, sweated, swallowed the pain of sore feet, and swung your arms up in the arm to declare victory at the finish.

If you haven’t joined a half-marathon or a 42.195-km. race before, now is the time to do it. Make the year “2018” a special one. And start the new year — perfectly-timed with the Sinulog — with a runner’s bang.

Set the date, January 14, 2018. That’s a Sunday. That’s exactly five months and 18 days from today. That’s more than enough time, if you’ve been running 5Ks, 10Ks and 15Ks, to attempt a longer and loftier goal.

It’s the 2018 Cebu Marathon.

What changes are in store for the runners? First, it’s back to Cebu. For the past four years, the Cebu Marathon was organized by RunRio, the country’s largest race organizer that’s Manila-based. It was good. But now it’s time… Bisaya na pud!

The Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC), which founded this event in 2008 when it was first called the Sinulog Half-Marathon, has partnered with top Cebu organizers Kenneth Casquejo and Joel Juarez of Iconic Sports + Events to run this running event. Like it was in the first six years (2008 to 2013), this will be all-Bisaya.

Second, registration will begin tomorrow. And if I were you, I’ll make sure to register this weekend. Why? Because of the incentives in store for all the early-bird registrants.

The Australian brand 2XU, very popular in the fitness and sporting world, will offer a limited edition “2XU Race Tee” for all who register today, tomorrow and Sunday. You may opt to register online (www.cebumarathon.ph) or even better, visit the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu to register onsite.

Discounted “early-bird” rates are being offered this weekend. For the 21K, it’s P1,100 and for the 42K, it’s P1,400.

For this special rate, you get the 2XU Race Tee plus several others: a sling bag, an embroidered towel, accident insurance, and a finisher’s shirt and medal upon reaching the finish.

To be clear to all participants, those who do not register this weekend will get a New Balance singlet — still good but possibly not as special as the commemorative 2XU Race Tees.

Also, those who register much later will have to pay the higher prices: P1,400 for the 21K and P1,800 for the 42K… these are the rates for the participants who register after the early-bird registration.

What more for this weekend? The first 200 who enlist tomorrow will get free Ayala Center Cebu cinema tickets. So be there at 10 in the morning.

And, this time to be given to all who show up at the Active Zone this whole weekend, the organizers will be handing out P500 shopping coupons from New Balance.

Important note: All the race giveaways (2XU race tee, towel, sling bag and others) will be given during the Race Expo from January 10 to 12.

As I said, make “2018” an extraordinary year by gifting yourself (or your spouse, loved ones or business colleagues) with the gift of exercise and sport and running. Having finished a few marathons myself, I guarantee you that a 42K or 21K experience will be life-changing. You’ll be more positive, slimmer, fitter. Make sure you register this weekend!

For more details, visit the Facebook page of “Cebu Marathon” or log-in to the website, www.cebumarathon.ph.

Muay Thai

BANGKOK — Apart from eating Tom Yum and Pad Thai, visiting Wat Arun and the Grand Palace and indulging in that authentic body massage, the one activity I did not dare miss was this: watching Muay Thai.

It happened two days ago inside the Channel 7 Stadium. The venue was inside a TV studio. Every Sunday here, Muay Thai is broadcasted live on television. The venue is open to the public for free and while the room looks to sit only a few hundred, it must have crammed over a thousand bodies. If you’re claustrophobic, this isn’t an open space garden; it’s a side-by-side, no-inch-to-give, windowless room that’s mostly standing room only.

I arrived at 1 p.m. It was early, I thought, because the fights start at two. But, no; I was ushered in to one of the last few bleacher seats available. Overhead, a sign was hung: SEATING FOR FOREIGNERS. One wall lined up with bleachers was jampacked with tourists.

If you didn’t know, Bangkok is the world’s most visited city. Last year, it recorded 21.5 million overnight visitors, edging London’s 19.9m and Paris’ 18m. By comparison, the Philippines last year registered only 5.9 million tourist arrivals. Our whole country generated about one-fourth the number of visitors compared to the city of Bangkok.

Back to Muay Thai: While the band played music, people danced. Finally, after an agonizing wait of 80 minutes, with dozens of new spectators shoving and stuffing their way inside, the fight started at 2:20 p.m. The two fighters were young; they must have been younger than 19. One donned blue and the other wore red. They wore socks bearing the same colors. Each wore a headband (the mongkon) and white armbands. Before the battle started, they knelt facing their corners and bowed. As the fight started, dozens of people were yelling and signaling their bets, much like Cebu Coliseum.

According to the Thailand-muaythai.com: “Muay Thai is a combat sport that finds its origin in a noble art with antique traditions, it is also the Thai national sport. In Muay Thai, competitors fight standing like in Western Boxing, but elbows, knees and kicks strikes are allowed, with the only protection being the gloves; an important part of this fighting style is the clinch (standing wrestle).

“MUAY literally means ‘combat’ and it derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Mavya’ which literally means ‘unite together.’ While the word THAI is an adjective of the thai nation, it’s meaning is ‘free people.’ Therefore, the word Muay Thai is translatable as ‘Thai boxing/combat.’”

I watched two of the five scheduled bouts last Sunday. Each consisted of five rounds of three minutes each and the rest period was two minutes. What’s different is what happens in this 120-second rest period. Two trainers per fighter come up the ring and they massage their warrior. They intensely massage the arms, legs and shoulders; finally, just moments before they’re back fighting, they fully stretch each leg. Thai massage is incorporated in Thai boxing!

The combatants elbow one another. They kick the legs and they kick straight to the face. They punch and grapple. And, the most painful, they use the knee to strike the abdomen or a lowered head. That’s why this sport is called the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it involves using kicks, elbows, punches and knee strikes.. utilizing the eight “points of contact.” Muay Thai originated several hundred years ago and was developed as a type of close-combat that used the whole body as a weapon.

All-sweating from the “close-combat” of the hundreds crammed inside the TV studio, I left the building and, just as I exited, I met the winner of the first bout and was able to congratulate him. After, I joined Jasmin and Jana for their own riot: shopping at Chatuchak.

Tour de France

Of all the games that I play (tennis, running, basketball), the one I enjoy most is biking. Maybe it’s the wind that splashes on your face as you descend at 44 kph. Maybe it’s the sweat that envelops your body as you pedal Maria Luisa. It may be the company of friends, laughing and chatting with Ron, Ronnie, Jourdan and James. It’s like drinking with your buddies minus the alcohol. It’s surely because as a little kid, age 10 and residing in Bacolod, my brother Charlie and I endlessly roamed Mountain View Subd. on BMX wheels.

In Cebu, biking is hugely popular. There are serious cyclists like Jong Sepulveda, Tonyson Lee, Miguel Flores and JV Araneta who would sleep with their roadbikes if their wives would say yes. There are hundreds of recreational bikers who pedal beyond Marco Polo Hotel, past Willy’s and reach the peak called Buak.

Cebu is perfect for biking because of the mountains. Our friends from Manila have to travel two hours to MTB in Tagaytay. In Iloilo, they have to cross to Guimaras Island. In Bacolod, makadto pa sila sa Mambukal or Don Salvador Benedicto. For us Cebuanos, the hills reside in our backyard. Just warm-up towards JY Square and you’re ready to scale Busay.

I write about cycling because “Le Tour” is about to finish. And while many of us pedal almost daily, our regimen is miniscule compared to what these supermen go through. How tough is the 104th edition of TdF, where 198 riders from 22 teams started in Dusseldorf, Germany last July 1 and only 167 riders remain?

Total distance for 21 race days (with two rest days in the middle) is a whopping 3,540 kms. Can you believe that? Pedaling 200K everyday at an average speed of 40 kph. These include climbs like the Col du Galibier at 2,642 meters high. Downhill? They are crazy fast, descending faster than 70 kph.

Some fun facts about Le Tour: This race isn’t limited to France as the riders also pass through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. There are an estimated 12 million spectators along the route. The winner of the tour? He pockets $583,000 (Php30 million). This is large but paltry compared to the $10M of Senator Pacquiao.

Today is the last day of the Tour de France, ending each July in the same area along Champs-Elysees. The final 104-km. flat stage is ceremonial because whoever wore the yellow jersey yesterday will not be challenged or attacked. After three weeks of climbing the French Alps and the Pyrenees, today’s 21st racing day is a relaxing finish towards the heart of Paris.

Yesterday was one of the most crucial stages. I don’t know what happened (Stage 20 starts past my deadline) but it’s expected that the defending champion will gain time over his rivals. It’s the Individual Time Trial (when they bike alone, unaided by teammates) and this second-to-the-last stage runs only 22.5 kms. But because of the speed and skill involved, precious time can be won or lost.

Speaking of time, would you believe that, after 19 race days, the leader is ahead by only 23 seconds? He carries an overall time of 83 hours 26 minutes and 55 seconds and the second-placer, Bardet Romain, is only 23 seconds behind? That gap is about the length of time it will take you to finish this paragraph. Incredible. That’s why Lance Armstrong’s book was entitled, Every Second Counts. Because it does.

The winner? The man who’ll wear that maillot jaune (yellow jersey)? It will be his fourth after wins in 2013, 2015 and last year. Because his parents are British, he rides for the U.K. but he was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. In yellow, It’s Chris Froome.

Edwin Salazar of Oz

It will be 10 years this October since Edwin Salazar moved from Cebu to Australia. A top engineer with a topspin in tennis that mimics Rafa Nadal’s, Edwin works as a Senior Stormwater Asset Engineer for the Gold Coast City Council. He helps ensure that the city’s flood mitigation and stormwater drainage infrastructure performs well.

With tennis, while Edwin used to play five times a week here in Casino Español, now he plays twice weekly. He joins the bi-annual Filipino Tennis Open (playing singles and doubles) and has recently been recruited to a team that plays competition in a club where Sam Stosur picked up the game. Edwin’s weapon of choice: the Volkl V Sense racket.

Gold Coast City is 85 kms. from Brisbane. And so, two weeks ago and together with his wife Pipin, daughter Wren and friend Marevil Gladman, they watched The Battle of Brisbane.

“As early as April, the hype can be felt by the 6,000 Filipinos living in Gold Coast,” said Edwin, of the city that will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. “During my chat with customers at The Filipino Shop (the one-stop grocer owned by the family and run by Pipin), almost all the men bought tickets. At that time, I was told the tickets were selling fast and some sections have been sold out. In the nightly news, Bob Arum said that 40,000 tickets have been sold in the 50,000-capacity stadium.”

At first, Edwin was unsure to watch. But upon the prodding of his parents, Doroteo and Zenaida, and his nephew Carlo, he bought tickets in May. Rushing to buy them before they sold out, Edwin bought four online tickets that were three times the listed price.

Na-ilad pod ko (I also got fooled) just like some of the spectators,” he said with a good laugh, paying AUD$197 apiece plus booking fees for a total $1,012.26 (about Php44,4400) for four tickets.

“Three days before the fight,” Edwin said, “Pipin found out that Pacquiao was holding nightly prayer meetings at Sofitel Hotel, where he was staying. So off we went. Aside from being curious, I was interested to experience what it was like to be at Manny’s prayer meetings.”

Edwin recounts the experience:

“I attended the second prayer meeting of Manny at Sofitel. I was standing beside Buboy Fernandez while the preaching was going on. I also saw Dyan Castillejo milling with the Filipinos inside the function ‘prayer’ room. Everyone was welcome to attend. The limiting factor was the room capacity. My estimate, about 250 curious Pinoys were cramped inside the room. And maybe another 250 more standing on the hall way as the security had to advise the others to leave the room due to the numbers going beyond the design & safety room capacity. We stayed for about 2 hours, from start to finish. At 6pm as we walked in the hotel — the lobby was overflowing of curious Pinoys. When we finally found the function room, all seats were taken except the stairs and a few spaces along the end wall.

What was it like?

I was impressed with how the meeting was well organised. I was expecting for Manny to walk in and preach or a at least a Pinoy preacher to preach. But Manny asked a professional American preacher imported from Las Vegas — apparently the same preacher Manny hires in Las Vegas. A Pinoy choir opened the prayer meeting; Manny just welcomed the Pinoys and said maybe max of 5 sentebces and the pro preacher took over. At the end of the prayer meeting, Manny slipped through and internal door and escaped the hundreds of pinoys standing along the hallway and later at the lobby waiting for the opportunity to see him. But Manny was too quick to be caught.”

Reminiscing on his fight day experience, Edwin was proudest of the moment before the fight started when our national anthem was sung. “I admit,” he said, “that was one of the times that I was very proud to sing the Pambansang Awit.”

Inside the Suncorp Stadium, Edwin recalls the boisterous hometown crowd. “At our section, the Jeff Horn supporters were very vocal even before the fight started,” he said. “And the nosiest one happens to sit (or stand) in front of my seat. As some of them had a few drinks in the nearby pubs, that even made them noisier.”

During the fight, Edwin and his family sensed that Pacquiao was losing. But then Round 9 came.

“Everyone stood up cheering for Pacquiao as he kept pounding Horn at the end of the 9th round,” Edwin said. “Like everyone else, we felt Horn will be finished in the 10th round. But when Horn was announced as the winner in the end, ‘naminghoy ming tanan.’ The ‘ka minghoy’ atmosphere was felt among the Filipinos riding the train going back.”

The following day at The Filipino Shop, Edwin spoke to many Filipinos and they were still downtrodden, in disbelief at the outcome.

“My friends, Eddie and Jaime Murrillo, believe Manny underestimated Horn’s strength and toughness,” he added. “But some thought Manny gave the game away to have a rematch.”