Category Archives: Olympics

2020 vision

This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)
This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)

TOKYO — Akemashite omedetou! Happy New Year. When you visit sporting goods shops here like Asics or stroll along the corridors of the Metro Subway, the ever-present sign reads: Tokyo 2020. Exactly 1,300 days from today — from July 24 to August 9, 2020 — all of the world’s YouTube and Sony TV eyes will be transfixed on the capital city of Japan.

Back in Sept. 2013, when the rigorous Olympic bidding process ended and Tokyo subdued of the two other finalists (Istanbul and Madrid), preparations started.

Tracing back history, the first Olympics in Tokyo was scheduled in 1940. But we know our history class. During that time, Japan invaded China and helped usher the horrendous moment called World War II. The Games were moved to Helsinki. After the dust cleared from war, including the rehabilitation of Hiroshimi and Nagasaki, this nation bidded again.

In October 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were played. Then, only 93 nations and 5,000 athletes participated. Three years from now, an estimated 207 countries and 12,000 Olympians will join.

Jana, Jasmin and I got the chance to get a glimpse of the National Olympic Stadium. When we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Bldg. last Wednesday, we climbed the 45th floor. From that vantage point and with perfect visibility, we saw the country’s tallest peak, Fujisan. And, set amidst the Meiji Jingu Gaien park in Shinjuku, we saw portions of the stadium construction.

The Olympic coliseum is located in the same spot where the original stadium of the 1964 games was held. They demolished the old structure in 2015 and built a new one with a seating capacity of 80,000. This structure has been controversial. The design was awarded to British architect Zaha Hadid, who envisioned a futuristic stadium; but the estimated costs spiraled beyond $2 billion — and the design was scrapped. In the end, they went nationalistic and voted for Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The Tokyo Games are expected to be the most high-tech in history. They’ll include the use of hydrogen-powered buses and self-driving taxis. Instant language translation will aid foreigners. And they’ll utilize facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. But as computerized as Tokyo will be, for the Olympic Stadium, the architect has gone natural.

“I want to express a new, 21st century Japan,” the architect Kuma said. “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Japan of the 20th century, an industrializing society, and it was a great symbol of that. But we are now in a post-industrial society and I want to symbolize the new era.”

Kuma will use wood, saying: “In the industrial society of the 20th century they used concrete and metal. In the post-industrial era we make use of natural materials. Even though you are using wood, techniques in that field have advanced. It’s not the case that using wood means it won’t last for a long time. In fact it’s precisely because you are using wood that it does last for a long time.”

I agree. We got to visit the city of Nara (40 minutes from Osaka) and found the Daibutsuden — the world’s largest wooden building — built many, many centuries ago.

COST. How expensive is it to host the Olympics? When Beijing organized China’s first ever Games, they spent $40 billion. That’s an enormous pile of money; in pesos, that’s P2 trillion. But that’s not the most exorbitant. The title goes to Sochi, Russia, who hosted the Winter Games in 2014 and spent $50 billion.

With Tokyo, they’re targeting “only” $13 to $15 billion. The original estimate was $30 billion but the organizers were able to substantially trim down the figure. This budget includes $5.5 billion for the venues and facilities (including the $1.5 billion Olympic stadium).

How did they cut the budget? Originally, they wanted a compact games (meaning, all the sites were nearby). That has been scrapped. My two favorite sports have been moved faraway: cycling will be in Izu (two hours from Tokyo) and basketball, an hour away in Saitama.

Adto ta!

Peping and Buddy

I agree with Michael Jerome Limpag, our SunStar Cebu sports editor, in his piece last Friday, “It’s time for change, replace Peping in POC.”

Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. turned 82 years old last Tuesday. It’s time for him to relinquish his throne and turn-over the baton to somebody else.

It’s funny how people want to cling to power forever. Isn’t this being selfish? Instead of thinking of one’s self, isn’t the greater good — Philippine sports — more important than a solitary person’s quest to hang on for life… like Peping’s mission atop the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC)?

Peping hasn’t even accomplished much. It’s not like our 100-million-strong nation has produced gold medalists. If not for the silver medal achieved by Hidilyn Diaz last month, we were zero for zero in Sydney, in Athens, in Beijing and in London.

He has been POC president since 1994. It’s been a dozen years of despondent Olympic success and he wants another term?

The same I-want-to-cling-to-power scenario is happening in tennis.

Salvador “Buddy” Andrada, one of Peping’s closest buddies and who’s nearly the same age, also wants to return to head the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta). Andrada headed Philta from 1986 to 2006. That’s 20 very, very, very, very long years. He eventually stepped down as president of Philta and later because a commissioner at the Philippine Sports Commission.

Now 81, Andrada wants to return as Philta president.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but praises and love and respect for those who are older. My Lola Bebe Alcoseba is turning 96 next month and we still text each other and she still sports that infectious smile and laugh. Same with my dad’s mom, my lola Bing Pages, now 93. The grandma of my wife Jasmin (Corazon Gayanilo) is 105 years old! And I love them.

But, like the saying goes, there is a time for everything. And clinging on to power forever is unwise and awful.

With tennis, here’s what happened: It started last July when Edwin Olivarez, busy with his concurrent duties as mayor of Paranaque, asked to step down as Philta top honcho. Now, like in any organization, once a president steps down — and as stipulated in the Philta rules — the Vice-President takes over.

The VP is Randy Villanueva — the most active of tennis practitioners. (Randy heads the Davis Cup team as administrator and brought the Davis Cup sorties to Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu five times.)

But, no, like Peping, Mr. Andrada wouldn’t allow the 41-year-old Randy Villanueva to head Philta. Andrada supposedly called for a “special board meeting,” unanticipated to several board members, and had himself voted as president. It was a slick, dexterous and ludicrous move.

Here’s a funny but true story. Back in 1986, I was a newbie in tennis and I flew from Cebu to Manila to join my first tournament at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center. The Philta president then, when I was a 14-year-old? Buddy Andrada. Fast forward to today, I have a beautiful and bright 17-year-old daughter named Jana who joins national tournaments in Manila. The person who still wants to head Philta.. 30 years later? Same guy.

My guess is that Peping must have called his buddy to return to Philta so the latter can vote for him anew in the POC elections this November. (The National Sports Association or NSA heads vote for the POC president.)

Prior to our country’s presidential elections, wasn’t this country’s mantra: “Change is coming?” We have a new president. Manny Pacquiao is now a senator and brilliantly asks simple yet sharp questions. Win Gatchalian is in; so is Risa Hontiveros.

With Philippine tennis, three weeks ago I attended the first-ever Philippine Tennis Summit.

Jean Henri Lhuillier, the largest benefactor for tennis in the country and a Class A netter himself, was in attendance. So was Bobby Castro, the CEO of Palawan Pawnshop, which sponsors dozens of tournaments around the archipelago. Coaches, parents, sponsors (of all the major sporting brands), champions (like Christine Patrimonio) were all in attendance. Randy Villanueva presented a new vision for Philippine tennis that got the hundred or so in attendance very excited.

As for Peping and Buddy? It’s time to rest, go on vacation, spend time with their grandchildren, take hour-long naps and surrender their selfish desires to new sports blood.

Change isn’t coming. Change is here.

Who’s happier: the silver or bronze medalist?

The above question sounds preposterous. Of course, you’d say, second is much better than third! Well, that’s true. But as to who’s “happier,” the answer might surprise you.

During the Rio Olympics, plenty of post-race footages were snapped and, obviously, the gold medalist grinned the widest smile; but when they examined the faces of the 2nd and 3rd placers, oftentimes the one who took bronze beamed a more jubilant face.

“Winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games brings glory, but a bronze makes people happier,” wrote Stefan Klein in “The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy and What We Can Do to Get Happier.”

Mr. Klein continued: “While the runners-up imagine themselves on the top step and are upset, having missed their goal by a few tenths of a second, the bronze medal winners feel terrific, as the social psychologist Victoria Medcec discovered at the Barcelona games in 1992. Those in third place were happy that they won a medal at all and made it into the record books, whereas the silver winners were mainly aware of what they’d just missed.”

Makes sense? Yes. Back in 1995, a study was conducted by the psychologists Victoria Medvec and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University and Scott Madey of the University of Toledo. They asked their students to evaluate video footages of athletes who joined the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

From a score of 1-to-10 (“1” being “agony” and “10” being “ecstatic”), the students ranked the happiness level that they perceived the winning athletes scored. The result? Those who won silver scored 4.8 while those who got bronze scored 7.1.

Stunning result! Isn’t this why they often refer to the 2nd placer as “the first loser?” Based on psychology — a topic that I relish and enjoy reading a lot about — the term is called “counterfactual thinking.” In simple words, it means that people compare their achievements to “what might have been.”

A silver medalist thinks… sayang, I missed being No. 1. A bronze medalist realizes.. salamat, I won a medal!

This happened in the 100-meter race in Brazil. After crossing the finish line first, Usain Bolt exhibited the happiest of smiles. He then uncorked his “Lightning Bolt” pose. The third placer Andre de Grasse looked equally overjoyed. The sad one? Justin Gatlin, silver medalist.

William James, the philosopher, wrote these words in 1892 and they still hold true today: “So we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn’t do that nothing else counts.”

In Rio, this also happened in golf between Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. All the way to the 18th hole, Rose and Stenson were tied. But when Rose birdied the final hole to triumph, Stenson was downtrodden. He lost, Rose won Olympic gold and Kuchar celebrated his bronze.

“We are not suggesting, of course, that finishing second or coming close to a cherished outcome always leads to less satisfaction than a slightly more modest performance,” the study, led by the psychologist Medvec, continued. “Finishing second is truly a mixed blessing. Performing that well provides a number of direct benefits that increase our well-being: recognition from others, boosts to self-esteem, and so on. At the same time, it can indirectly lower satisfaction by the unfortunate contrast with what might have been.”

China has one such example: her name Fu Yuanhui. The Olympic swimmer is now world-famous not because of her achievement last month but because of her reaction after the 100-meter backstroke. Minutes after her Olympic swim — all captured in YouTube and with views exceeding a million — you can see Fu Yuanhui completely ecstatic and happy. The reason? She won bronze.

What’s the lesson for us non-Olympians and mere mortals? The meaning of success often depends on one’s expectations.

Golden boy of swimming

schooling-win(Photo: Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler)

Singapore is tiny. Based on land mass, it has an area of 719 sq. kms. — that’s one-sixth the size of Cebu province or a little over double the size of Cebu City. Singapore is diminutive — but in terms of economic prowess, it ranks third worldwide in per capita income!

In sports, because Singapore’s population is a measly 5.5 million (of which only 40 percent are permanent residents), they have not achieved as much glory as, say, Japan or South Korea. This is understandable because Japan, with its 130 million residents, is huge. Japan has accumulated 142 Olympic gold medals and 439 total Olympic medals. South Korea (population: 50+ million) is equally impressive; it has garnered 90 gold and 264 total medals in the Olympics.

Back to Singapore: Prior to the Brazil Games last month, our ASEAN neighbor had won a meager four medals: three in table tennis and one in weightlifting. Their four Olympic medals were nothing to brag about compared to the nine that our Philippines won and the six that its next-door neighbor Malaysia won (prior to Rio).

But what a difference one event makes. All it takes is 50.39 seconds to change everything. That’s because, last August 12 during the 100-meter butterfly finals, Joseph Schooling became its nation’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist.

Today in Singapore, Joseph is a national hero. If Brazil has Neymar and the U.K. has Andy Murray and Australia once boasted of Ian Thorpe (and we, obviously, have Manny Pacquiao), the Republic of Singapore has their hotshot.

What makes his achievement even more astounding were numerous things. He defeated Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever, handing the American his only loss in Rio. And his time of 50.39 was not only an Asian record but also an Olympic record.

Three days after his golden performance, he arrived in Singapore to a welcome never seen before. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took a selfie with him, saying “Usually people ask me for selfies, but today I felt so proud to ask Joseph for one!” He was exempted from the mandatory four-year military service. He received one million Singapore dollars (or P35 million) as monetary reward. 

Hundreds of fans waited for six hours at the airport last August 15 to welcome him. The TV screens at Changi Airport changed from showing flight schedules to announcing the words, “Thank you for making us proud.” Hundreds carried flags, signs and banners.

And Joseph Schooling is only 21.

Schooling was born and raised in Singapore. His amazing story started at the age of six when he was told about the story of his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg — who happens to be Singapore’s first Olympian (1948 London). Inspired by that revelation, he tells his dad Colin that he wanted to be in the Olympics.

He trained in Singapore. A life-changing moment in his life happened in 2008. That’s when the US Olympic team visited Singapore and he had an iconic picture — the then-13-year-old boy beside a shirtless, off-the-swim Michael Phelps.

michael-phelps-joseph-schooling-reuters

The next year, at the age of 14, he moved to the US for more extensive training. His high school: Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. (I have fond memories of that school because two Decembers ago, when I joined the Jacksonville Marathon, it was in that campus where we started and finished the 42K race.)

After Florida, the six-footer moved to the University of Texas, where he now studies college (incoming junior).

Speaking of college and prize money, there’s an NCAA ruling that prohibits their collegiate student/athletes from receiving prize money because of their amateur status. But there’s an exception for Olympic medalists: if the athlete’s country of origin rewards the prize. In this case, it’s one million (Singapore) dollars — the largest Olympic prize money offered by any nation.

Congratulations, Singapore. I can’t wait until our Philippines, an Olympic participant since 1924, wins its first Olympic gold.

Brazil: spectacular victory or catastrophe?

Only 33 days remain before the August 5 to 21 contest in Rio de Janeiro that’s called the Olympics. Over 10,500 athletes representing 207 countries will be flying to Brazil for this once-every-four-years spectacle. The Olympics will feature only 28 sports — including golf and rugby sevens — with a total of 306 sets of medals.

Rio de Janeiro is the main stage with 33 venues but it’s not the only city to welcome the athletes; there will be five others, including Brasilia (the country’s capital) and Sao Paulo, the nation’s largest.

What makes Rio special? First, it’s the inaugural Summer Olympics to be held in South America. When the final decision was announced in October 2009, Rio bested three other world-renowned cities (Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid) for the prize.

Second, Brazil’s hosting means that it is organzing two of the world’s greatest tournaments one after the other. Back in 2014, the FIFA World Cup football games of 32 nations were played in 12 cities scattered around Brazil. Now, just 26 months later, it’s an even grander gymnasium: the Olympics.

Which brings me to ask this query: Is it too much-too soon for Brazil, the world’s fifth most-populated nation with 205 million residents?

Maybe. While the allure of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics just two years apart was appealing many years back, now, with so many issues involving their financial woes, the Zika and dengue virus, the political turmoil that suspended Pres. Dilma Rousseff, the security breaches, the unfinished Olympic venues — is Rio headed not for gold but for a stumble?

The problems just keep on rising. Days ago, CNN reported that human body parts were found on the shoreline fronting the Olympic Beach Volleyball Arena. The Zika virus has prompted Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to back out; this is sad because golf is making an Olympic comeback since its last showing in 1904.

Money problems? A mammoth headache. Brazil has been struggling with its worst recession since the 1930s. They rely on oil revenues and we know how this commodity’s price has plummeted. Their economy, Latin America’s largest, shrank 5.4 percent in the first quarter.

How much did the World Cup and the Olympics cost Brazil? Roughly $15 billion was spent for the WC while next month’s 16-day tournament is estimated to cost $10 billion — not including cost overruns (which, as any good builder will tell you, is sure to happen). They may have overspent. Remember Athens? They hosted the 2004 Games. Now look at Greece.

Worse, protests have sprouted. The police staged demonstrations over unpaid salaries and a banner read: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” Reports have surfaced that robberies increased by 43 percent in Rio because of the lack of security services.

Scary. This is the bad side. But, like what has happened in Beijing and in several other cities of major sporting events, at times, this negative press is exagerrated. Let’s hope this “low expectations, high aspirations” mantra of the Brazilian organizers unfolds.

As to our beloved Philippines in Rio? There’s Eric Shauwn Cray, the 27-year-old Fil-Am and SEAG gold medalist, who’s slated to hurdle the 400-meter hurdle event. In boxing, our best chance of pocketing that elusive gold medal, we have two entrants: Charly Suarez (lightweight) and Rogen Ladon (light flyweight).

We have Ian Lariba for women’s table tennis — the first time that we’ve entered a competitor for this game we call ping-pong. Kirstie Alora will fight for our nation in taekwondo. She’s entered in the formidable women’s heavyweight division. In weightlifting, our two representatives are Hidilyn Diaz (women’s -53 kg.) and Nestor Colonia (men’s -56 kg.)

Lastly, our pride and joy: Mary Joy Tabal, whom we hope will hurdle all obstacles so she can join the 42-km. race — to be held at 9:30 a.m. on August 21, the very last day of the Olympics.

We have eight athletes going to Rio. Do we add Gilas Pilinas? Let’s watch next week.

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.

Kennan Radaza Rooney talks about his son Maxime

Last Thursday, I wrote about how Maxime Rooney, three years ago, wanted to represent the Philippines in future swim meets. Led by his dad Kennan, they sought — and got — permission from the US national swimming association for Maxime to swim for Team PHL.

Unfortunately, they were informed by Mark Joseph, who heads the Phil. swimming association, that Maxime needed 12 months of residency in the Philippines — an impossibility given his studies in California. In the end, Maxime Rooney was told no.

Sorry, Philippines. The happy beneficiary? USA.

I ask these questions: Could other ways have been exhausted? I mean, the US officials already said yes to the Rooney family’s request. Maybe the Phil. swimming association did not realize fully the potential of Maxime — that he will turn out to be a junior world record holder and, very, very possibly, be a future Olympian? And, who knows, maybe even a gold medalist — what could have been our nation’s first Olympic gold?

The fact is, complained Kennan, months would often pass before a simple reply (from Mark Joseph) would reach his email inbox.

Now, it’s too late; Maxime competes for Team USA. And just the other week, he was sent an email by the national team with the words that are the most coveted of any American athlete: “Welcome! You’re a U.S. National Team member!” Among his teammates are two guys you might have heard of: Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Maxime Rooney is excited about the Olympics. Like any world-class athlete, the ultimate goal is to compete in this once-every-four-years event. For Maxime, the main target is 2020. That’s five years from now during the Tokyo Olympics and Maxime will be a ripe 22 years of age.

But, wait, next year, there’s Rio de Janeiro. And while he’s much younger than the other big boys, Maxime is ready.

“Maxime plans to join the US Olympic qualifying in July next year,” said his father Kennan, whom I met two weeks ago in Mactan together with his first cousin, Lapu Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza.

During my hour-long chat with Kennan, I got to hold with my fingers, for the first time, a gold medal and a silver medal. I’ve held dozens of similarly-colored medals before (courtesy of my daughter Jana), but these were Milo or Palaro or Batang Pinoy medals. Local hardware. What Harry and I held were FINA Junior World Championships medals — which Maxime won in Singapore. (Maxime not only won a pair of gold medals and a silver but he was also voted by the U.S. squad as “Team Captain.”)

Kennan Rooney

Kennan (center) with JP and Harry

After the possible stint in the 2016 Olympics, Maxime’s goal is to join the University of Florida team. Not only does the squad possess some of the nation’s best collegiate swimmers, but the coach (Gregg Troy) was the head coach of the US team during the London Olympics. Plus, one of the assistant coaches competed in the Barcelona Games. This means that, in the next several years as Maxime’s body develops and he churns out faster times — all focused on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when he’s peaking — he’ll be coached by some of the world’s best mentors.

Physically, the 17-year-old Maxime, who devotes 22 hours each week in the pool, will still grow stronger. He hasn’t engaged in weight training yet, instead focusing on building his lung capacity. 

Standing 6-foot-4, I asked his dad (who’s about my height, 5’8”), where Maxime got his tall build. “My wife Charlotte, who’s Belgian, is tall,” he said. (Speaking of Belgium, here’s an interesting side note: When the Belgian swimming officials heard of Maxime, they, too, wanted him to swim for them. In a two-way skirmish between the Phils. and Belgium, it’s the U.S. who’s emerged victorious.)

How big a celebrity is Maxime at home? Only recently, said his dad. Prior to the junior world record of Maxime, the school principal (in their town of 80,000) knew that their star athlete was superb — but the principal didn’t know he was that outstanding.

Maxime’s maxims? I asked his dad.

“It’s not that I love to win… I hate to lose!”

“Love God. Love people.”

Maxime Rooney: the future Olympian we ‘almost’ had

maxime-rooney-2015-usa-swimming-junior-nationals-007-720x500

(Photo by Donna Nelson)

Senator (and VP hopeful?) Francis Escudero appeared in the newspaper back pages last week. No, the story did not revolve around him and Heart; it was about sports. Surprising. We know Sen. Pia Cayetano to be a triathlete, but Chiz? Well, when the elections are just eight months away, politicians will do all they can for self-promotion.

But Chiz made sense. He spoke about Brazil next year, lamenting how our 100-million-strong sports-loving nation has never won an Olympic gold medal. Worse, we might only have a handlful who’ll qualify for the Aug. 5 to 21, 2016 Olympics.

“So far, we only have one athlete qualified to play in Rio de Janeiro in 2016,” said Escudero, citing the trackster Eric Cray.

Since we competed in our first Games in 1924 in Paris, we’ve won a total of nine Olympic medals (seven bronze and the two silver medals in boxing by Anthony Villanueva in 1964 and Onyok Velasco in 1992).

Will we ever win gold? There is one athlete that I wrote about who “may have” delivered for us that elusive gold medal.

I’m referring to the swimming sensation in America who could have represented the Philippines. His name is Maxime Rooney and, just last month, he broke a junior world record in the 200-meter freestyle. His time of 1:47.10 last Aug. 7 is not only the fastest ever swum by a below-18-year-old but, had that time been recorded by Maxime in the SEA Games last June, he would have won gold and snapped the fastest ever SEAG time.

Maxime is only 17. I met his father Kennan the other week. After watching his son compete (and win two gold medals and a silver) during the 5th FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore, Kennan flew to Cebu to visit his relatives for a few days.

Kennan Rooney is a Radaza. He looks like one. Spending an hour with him and his first cousin (Lapu-Lapu City Councilor) Harry Don Radaza at Kennan’s mom’s (Amy Radaza Jessup’s) 18th floor condo unit at the Movenpick Hotel was memorable. It’s not often that you’re seated beside the dad of a future Olympian.

Maxime’s story began at the age of three when the family moved to a new home in California that had a small swimming pool. Maxime dipped in the water. No, it wasn’t formal and he wasn’t swimming laps. He simply loved the water. This was his first taste of being surrounded by this clear fluid that covers 71 percent of our planet’s surface.

When Maxime turned six, that’s when he started to join swim meets. Towering tall for his age, he quickly swam like a fish and won by several lengths over his stunned classmates. Coaches took notice. This kid is special, they thought.

Since then, Maxime hasn’t stopped and has clocked thousands of hours by his lone self, covering his eyes with Speedo goggles, knifing the water with his fingertips, breathing out and exhaling underwater.

Today, Maxime’s training schedule is not for you and me. He arises before 4 a.m. and swims from 4:30 to 6 from Mondays to Fridays. Then he goes to school. After, he’s back at the rectangular-shaped pit, strengthening his muscles in the pool from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m.

And you’d think, given his all-swimming schedule, that Maxime would do badly in school? This kid is Superman in trunks and in school uniform. He has a 4.3 grade point average.

The word is “sayang.” Lost opportunity. Three years ago, Kennan approached the Phil. swimming association, headed by Mark Joseph, and informed them that Maxime wanted to compete under the Phil. flag. Kennan exhausted all means for Maxime to represent us. He’d send Mark Joseph an email but would get a reply weeks or months after. In the end, Mark Joseph rendered this conclusion: Maxime was ineligible.

“Although Maxime, at an international meet in Dubai, competed under Team USA,” said Kennan, “I communited with the American swim officials our intention for Maxime to shift and swim for the Philippines. Our request was approved, first by the coach and next, by the US swim organization. The path was clear. Maxime was excited to swim for the Phils…” (to be continued on Sunday)

Lightning Bolt

Usain-Bolt

(Reuters photo)

Last Sunday, right after a late night dinner with Jasmin, I hurried upstairs to switch on the TV. It was the IAAF World Championships — an event that happens only once every 24 months. Next to the Olympics, this gathering is the most prestigious. It’s being held at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing — the same 80,000-seater arena that Jasmin and I were at seven Augusts ago when China hosted the Olympics.

In this August 22 to 30 tournament, one spectacle is the most awaited. It’s the quickest-running event. It’s the shortest, in terms of time elapsed. But, if we speak of drama and adrenaline, nothing is grander.

It’s the 100-meter dash. The winner gets to be called “The World’s Fastest Man.” Of our planet’s 7.37 billion inhabitants, imagine being that one human being who’s fastest?

This year and last year, one person has been the earth’s quickest. No, he’s not Mr. Bolt (we’ll get to him later). He’s Justin Gatlin. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 183 lbs. He was born in New York and resides in Orlando but he’s most at home on the rubberized circle called the track oval.

Before Sunday, Gatlin was undefeated in 28 races since Sept. 2013. Though no longer young at 33 years old, Gatlin was also the quickest during qualifying, posting a 9.77-sec. time in the semis.

Usain Bolt? He was recovering from a leg injury (“a blocked sacroiliac joint which restricts his movement and puts pressure on his knee and ankle.”) And so last Sunday, it was a head-to-head battle between Bolt and Gatlin. What made this fight more enticing was this: There was a “good” vs. “evil” plot.

Bolt is good. Not only on the track but he’s never tested positive for drugs. He’s as clean as Lance Armstrong was “dirty.” Gatlin is the opposite. Back in 2001, he tested positive for drugs. But during that time, the regulators concluded that he was given medicine to treat his attention deficit disorder; something he’s been diagnosed with since he was nine. He was absolved. But not in 2006 when the 2004 Athens Olympic champion tested positive again. This time, there was no escape. It was for testosterone and, while the IAAF asked for an 8-year ban, he was sentenced to four. He was banned from 2006 to 2010.

When Gatlin returned, capturing bronze at the 2012 London Games and silver at the world championships two years ago in Moscow, he was criticized as a drug cheat. Thus, the good vs. evil setting.

Fast forward to the 100m race last weekend, you know what happened: Gatlin, in the last 15 meters and while neck to neck with Bolt, appeared to have stumbled and leaned too early.

Bolt won gold with a time of 9.79. Gatlin snatched the No. 2 spot — losing by 0.01 seconds! Ouch. To add to Gatlin’s misery, his fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, himself a former drug cheat who was banned six months last year, said: “No one wanted Gatlin to win.”

He’s right. Everybody loves Bolt and nobody roots for a former drug cheat.

“I never doubt myself,” said Bolt, after the win that was hailed by sprint legend Michael Johnson as “Usain Bolt’s best race ever.”

Bolt added: “I know my ability. It wasn’t a perfect race but I got it done. I definitely think this was my hardest race. I’ ve been through a lot this season, it’s been rough and Justin been running great showing up running fast times. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

This victory solidifies Bolt’s standing as the greatest sprinter of all time. He holds the 100m world record of 9.58. By comparison, Eric Cray holds the Phil. record at 10.25, which he set last June at the SEA Games in Singapore.

(On a personal note, our family is such a huge Bolt fan that we named our only dog (a chocolate Labrador Retriever) after him. It helped that we got “Bolt” on Aug. 8, 2012 — the day when Bolt won gold in London.)

On Bolt-Gatlin, the contest isn’t finished. There’s the 200-meter final. It’s at 8:55 p.m. tonight. If you have cable TV, it’s being shown live. Let’s watch it!

In cold Cebu, an even colder Sochi

sochi_2014_mountains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The POC Chairman speaks after London

At the Beijing Olympics four years ago, Jasmin and I pose with Monico Puentevella

Monico Puentevella could not take my call at 3:30 P.M. yesterday. He was huddled in a meeting. The chairman of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) was busy presiding over the POC’s first Board Meeting after London.

“We were complete,” said Monico, during our 15-minute talk late yesterday afternoon. “Peping Cojuangco, Manny Lopez and the POC Board members attended.”

Happy? Satisfied? Smiling? Those aren’t words best to describe Mr. Puentevella’s demeanor.

“The results are the same. Our analysis is the same. We need to strengthen the grassroots. We need the NSA (National Sports Associations) to improve. We need to take out the leaders who are not producing. We keep on singing the same song each Olympics,” he said.

That’s why the former Congressman of Bacolod City is looking forward to a full Senate and Congress hearing. While many are anxious to face the powerful lawmakers, Monico is not.

“I hope Congress will call an Assessment Hearing,” he said. This way, the nation will know that there’s no money allocated for sports.

“Peping (Cojuangco) talks about building the training center in Clark. We have so many grand plans. But the question is, ‘Where’s the money?’”

With Manny, Noel Villaflor and Jonas Panerio during the SAC Awards

ENGLAND. Buoyed by the success of their Olympic hosting, the English are jubilant.

“You know how many hours Great Britain wants to allocate for Physical Education?” Monico asked.

Two hours.

Two hours… per week? I asked. “No,” he said. “Two hours PER DAY. That’s how much they value P.E. and sports. And more so with their recent success in London where Great Britain won a record 29 gold medals.”

Two hours daily of P.E.?

Ours in the Philippines? “We have two hours… per week. And that’s divided into music, health and sports. Many students only get 45 minutes of P.E. for the whole week.”

How do we expect to win that gold if we devote so little time on sports? And, even if plenty of focus is apportioned for sports, there are still no guarantees. Look at Australia. They have the sports high schools. They operated the Australian Sports Institute, one of the earth’s best.

“But they lost to New Zealand,” said Monico. “Now, the Australians are going back to the drawing board, studying what went wrong, including in swimming.”

What did the POC Chairman watch in London? “Of course, I saw our Filipinos participate. Our BMX competitor? Sadly, he came from America but he was overrated. He wasn’t in the same league as the others.”

It was a sorry sight, said Monico, watching our Pinoys fall one after the other.
“We should forget about swimming and athletics in the Olympics,” he said. “The average height of the swimmers is 6-foot-5. I watched Usain Bolt, who also stands 6’5”, win the 100-meter dash. We can’t compete against them. We should focus on archery, shooting, ping-pong, badminton, boxing.”

Ever the tennis fanatic, Monico witnessed Roger Federer’s thrilling 19-17 third set victory in the semis against Juan Martin del Potro. The men’s finals in Wimbledon? “I saw that!” he said. “We were all excited to see Federer be aggressive but na luoy ko niya. He looked tired after that semifinal.”

Basketball? “I watched several of Team USA’s games including their gold medal win over Spain. That was scary. It was only in the last four minutes that the Americans won that game. This tells us one thing: everyone’s improving.”

As for his future plans, Monico revealed them: “I’m running for mayor in Bacolod next year. One of my goals is to build the best boxing gym in the Philippines. I’ll rebuild the old basketball gym at the Bay Center, fronting the Plaza, and will convert it into a world-class facility.”

Monico plans to hire a Cuban coach and to bring boxers from nearby Cadiz, Bago, Manapla and Himamaylan to “The City of Smiles.” Then, he added, “we’ll revive what Bidoy Aldeguer and I used to do… bring boxers to Cebu and bring yours over to Bacolod.”

Then, in the process, find our first Olympic gold medalist?

Our only chance for Olympic gold?

BOXING. I’m watching this Saturday night. The fight at the Waterfront is called “The Rematch.” And aptly so: the last time Jason Pagara faced Rosbel Montoya, our Filipino boxer lost. This Mexican fighter is seasoned and tough: He’s won 34 times with 29 knockouts. That’s a scary record.

And so, while previous ALA Promotions events featured our Pinoys sporting the upper-hand, this time, it’s obvious that the enemy is stronger. Can Pagara avenge his previous defeat? Abangan.

OLYMPICS. Many critics proclaimed the London Games as the best ever. It’s possible. There were no hitches. Security? Nah. Plus… The Americans won 46 gold and 104 total medals. Great Britain amassed 65 medals, including 29 gold. Michael Phelps increased his harvest to 22 medals and Usain Bolt is six for six. Kobe Bryant’s boast of toppling the ’92 Dream Team of Michael Jordan? He makes sense. It may be true. (Although the 1992 Dream Team had a margin of victory of 43.8 points versus the 32.1 of the 2012 team.)

Our Philippine team? Zero. As expected. In almost all events, we lost early. The last time Team PHL won a medal? That was in 1996 when Onyok Velasco won silver. That’s four Olympics ago. In Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London, we’re zero for zero. Worse, in the sport where we have the biggest chance (boxing), we only sent one boxer (a wrestler?) to London. Conclusion: While the other nations get stronger, we’re staying the same or weakening.

With the Olympics’ current roster of 26 sports and 302 events, it’s hard to picture us winning gold in Brazil. Our only chance? If the IOC includes any of these three popular games: billiards, bowling or dancesport.

YONG VS. TIMEX. It’s happening again. Two years ago, one of the biggest running events — the University Run, organized by the CebuDoc group and Dr. Yong Larrazabal — collided with an unexpected rival: the Pilipinas International Marathon (PIM), sponsored by the International Pharmaceuticals Inc. (IPI) group. Both events were held on the same morning of Aug. 15, 2010.

This Sunday, two years fast forward, it’s de ja vu time: the 7th University Run (dubbed UR7) is met with another stiff resistance: the Timex Run – Cebu.

Same day. Same time. Coincidental? Yes. But unfortunate because both are outstanding. Rio de la Cruz, the famed coach/celebrity organizer, is teaming-up with the Pangilinans (Anthony, Maricel and family) for Timex, to start near the Abellana (Cebu City Sports Center) grounds. Piolo Pascual is expected to meet and greet with his fans.

UR7? It’s held at the Cebu Doc Univ. campus at the North Reclamation Area and, with their school’s thousands of students, it will surely be a full-capacity race.

Though Timex is conveniently-located in Cebu City, I think the hard-core runners won’t miss the chance to run 25K and climb the three bridges (Cansaga, M. Fernan, and the old Mactan Bridge).

Either way, what’s sure is this: the streets of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu (like it was two weeks ago during the Cobra Ironman 70.3) will be flooded with athletes this Sunday.

TEARS FOR FEARS. A self-avowed lover of 80s music, I trooped to Waterfront last Sunday to sing and listen beside thousands of others. We shouted “Shout.” We danced mad at “Mad World.” And, from the moment “Advice For The Young At Heart” was first played, we stood and clapped. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were celebrated. The only sad part? They sang several unfamiliar tunes and missed out on three favorites: “Break It Down Again,” “Mother’s Talk,” and “Woman In Chains.”

GLOBE. I’ve long been a loyal and satisfied Globe subscriber. So are all of my family members. But, starting last Saturday, a troubling occurrence happened. From where I live in Maria Luisa, there’s hardly any Globe signal! All part of the supposed “upgrade” of Globe? No wonder the TV stations are inundated with commercials by Smart on dropped calls, etc. Paging Globe and my friend Vincent Ong: kindly fix this not-so-smart problem.

Randy Del Valle at the Olympics

Over a week ago, I got an email from Randy Del Valle, a close friend from Cebu who has since been assigned in London. The avid tennis and sports fan that he is, Randy watched Wimbledon last month and took time to meet with the Filipino Olympians. Here’s Randy’s message…

The Del Valles with the PHL Olympic swimming team

Hi John,

Did you see the London 2012 Opening Ceremony?  While Beijing was big and grand, I think the London opening has more heart, soul and fun into it.  Specifically liked the history, Industrialization, Mary Poppins saving the day, JK Rowling and Voldemort, the Bond and the Queen diving, British pop music, hilarious Mr. Bean and the orchestra, the www founder and the lighting of the cauldrons to make up the Olympic flame.  There were lots of moments but there is a rich story in every cut – for me director Danny Boyle was great and he deserves a medal for planning the opening with lesser amount of budget. Anyways, been very excited this week, as we will see a lot of games here in London.

As mentioned to you before, Christine and I met up with the Philippine team delegation here in London. A good friend hosted a lunch with the athletes and we were able to visit them during practice for a couple of weeks.  We met Jasmine Alkaldi (womens 100m freestyle), Jessie King Lacuna (mens 200m freestyle – he lost today), Marestella Torres (Long Jump) and Rene Herrera (men 5000m)

Christine with swimmers Jasmine and Jessie and coach Pinky Brosas

With long-jumper Marestella Torres

I hope they will do well in the Olympics and score a medal. I know it will be a tall order but miracles do happen. Wishing all our Philippine athletes the best and make all the Filipinos proud!

I will send you more updates on the Olympics matches that we will watch: Swimming finals (Philippine Swimmer Jasmine Alkaldi will be competing there is she will reach top 8); Cycling (last weekend and this Wednesday) and Football Quarterfinals (August 4).

Cheers,
Randy

The XXX Olympiad: Let the Games begin!

I watched the Opening Ceremony yesterday at 4 A.M. Two SkyCable channels–Solar Sports and TV5–broadcasted live the nearly four-hour-long show.

Fireworks, like a rainbow of explosions, erupted to light the London night. Confetti, instead of rain, showered. James Bond rode the helicopter beside Queen Elizabeth II. Mr. Bean? Ha-ha. He was, as usual, funny, playing “Chariots of Fire” and running by the beach. J. K. Rowling read a passage. And, the greatest British musician, Sir Paul McCartney, serenaded the 60,000 spectators with “Hey Jude.”

Impressive? No and Yes. Anytime you spend $42 million on a single production–then that show ought to be grandiose. And London was. But, compared to the last Opening in Beijing, this one pales in comparison. (Beijing spent $113 million!)

I found London’s show too much. They had too many simultaneous movements. The camera focus would jump from one scene to another too fast–maybe good for action movies but, for a live show of 10,000 volunteers (plus 70 sheep, 12 horses, etc.), I thought it was confusing and hurried.

To me, the show dazzled but did not inspire. The lighting of the torch? The 200 mini-torches was excellent –but maybe it could have been more dramatic? A few more seconds of pause to alert us of the Opening’s most awaited moment? My wife Jasmin and I, after the torches stood combined, were left wondering, “That’s it?”

Again, I’m basing my comparison with Beijing’s opening.

SPEECHES. Of all the portions of the Opening, the part I liked best was serious: when Sebastian Coe and Jacques Rogge spoke. A four-time Olympic medalist, Seb Coe is the head of the London Games. Here’s part of his speech…

“To everyone in this stadium attending our opening ceremony, to every athlete waiting, ready, prepared to take part in these Games, to everyone in every city and village in the world watching as we begin, welcome to London…

“To the athletes gathered here on the eve of this great endeavor, I say that to you is given something precious and irreplaceable. To run faster, to jump higher, to be stronger.”

The IOC President Rogge himself gave an excellent speech, talking of this Games as the first ever where all nations have women athletes, with Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia sending female athletes for the first time. He also paid tribute to the hosts, saying:

“This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations.

“The British approach to sport had a profound influence on Pierre de Coubertin, our founder, as he developed the framework for the modern Olympic Movement at the close of the 19th century…

“I offer this thought: Your talent, dedication and commitment brought you here. Now you have a chance to become true Olympians.

“That honor is determined not by whether you win, but by how you compete. Character counts far more than medals.”

TEAM PHILS. Our Philippine flag bearer was 21-year-old weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who also competed in 2008. With uniforms designed by Rajo Laurel, our 11-athlete contingent looked plenty–thanks to the usual cast of coaches and officials who outnumber our athletes. Seen all-smiling was a familiar face: Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman.

TO WATCH. Out of the 10,902 athletes competing, only a handful standout as the superstars of superstars. The rivalry all are awaiting? Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte. (One writer terms it “Phelpte.”) Phelps has 14 gold medals and is aiming to be the first male swimmer to win gold at three straight Olympics. Lochte is the defending 400-meter individual medley world champ and beat Phelps at the US Trials. Says Bob Bowman, the coach of Phelps: ‘‘A very rough race. It will be a coach’s dream, but also a spectator’s dream. It will be fantastic.’’

On land, the 100-meter dash is, of course, the most anticipated. Usain Bolt is the record-holder but lost his last race to Yohan Blake. Tyson Gay is healthy. Justin Gatlin is back. And so is another Jamaican, Asafa Powell. These five will sprint come August 5.

London’s Olympics and Cebu’s Ironman

Only nine days remain before the Ironman 70.3 begins at the Shangri-La Mactan Resort. Cebu has hosted plenty of big-time sporting events before. Last year’s Davis Cup tennis events against Japan and Taiwan were huge. So have been the ALA Promotions-organized boxing fights. I recall watching Dennis Rodman slamming a dunk in Mandaue. We struck gold in Dancesport during the SEA Games of 2005. And last week, the World Eskrima Kali Arnis championships were held at the CICC.

But there’s never been as much excitement as the August 5, 2012 swim-bike-run spectacle. Over 1,700 triathletes—including Jenson Button and his sexy supermodel girlfriend, Jessica Michibata—are landing in the shores of Mactan next weekend. In swimming pools all over Cebu—from Casino Español to Abellana to Holiday Gym—the waves are splashing with freestyle strokes. Everyone’s practicing.

Yesterday, together with Neil Montesclaros, I biked 72 kms. from Consolacion to Catmon. Along the route, dozens of cyclists—on a Wednesday—are cramming their pedaling rotations.

Runners? Wake up at 5:15 A.M. and you’ll encounter sweaty, sleeveless-wearing athletes pounding our newly-asphalted streets.

Why does this Ironman have an accompanying “70.3” number? That’s because the race totals 70.3 miles. In our usual kilometer readings, that’s 1.9 + 90 + 21. That’s a swim of 1.9 kms., a 90K bike ride and a half-marathon run.

Cebu awaits—and welcomes—our triathlete visitors.

DONDI. Gordon Alan “Dondi” Joseph, my fellow Rotarian from the RC Cebu West and a top civic leader (he’s the president of the Cebu Business Club), is now in London, England.

“Not really to watch, John!” was his reply when I asked if he was there to witness the Olympic Games. Dondi, whose brother, Mark Joseph, is the head of Philippine swimming, emailed me yesterday a few observations…

“There is a palpable buzz in the air and while many Londoners with their usual aplomb consider the Games a a bit of a bother, the city is gleaming, literally and figuratively. Signs of last-minute preparations are everywhere as Olympic-related event venues are being spruced up and constructed.

“The weather is beautiful with temperatures ranging from 17 to 31 with only the sun to greet you. People are in shorts and T-shirts and around parks, large and small. All have people sunbathing in Olympic-marked sun chairs.

“I didn’t plan to get involved in any event but am now determined to try and watch the torch along its route to the stadium. It’s simply contagious and I want to be part of the greatest show on earth!

“Tickets to the Opening are over 5000usd. Yup 5,000. Too rich for me. But everything else is going on and there are concerts galore! This is just fantastic!!!

“And by the way, with the end of the rains and the entry of the beautiful sun, the skirts are really shorter! Beautiful… ;-)”

PHL OLYMPICS. What time is the Opening Ceremony? It will be (Philippine time) two days from now… at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday. It is expected to be shown on both Solar Sports and Star Sports.

With our Philippine delegation, did you know that our 11 Olympians will be the smallest contingent we’ve sent—if my research is correct—in 80 years (during the 1932 Los Angeles Games).

Back in 1924, we were the first Southeast Asian country to join the Olympics. Excluding the 1980 Olympics (when we boycotted Moscow), we have never missed participating in the Summer Games. Thus far, we’ve accumulated two silver medals and seven bronze medals. Of these nine medals, we won five in boxing and two apiece in athletics and swimming.

Our last medal? It was Onyok Velasco’s silver in Atlanta, 1996. Gold? Nah. Even if there’s a P5 million bounty (Sports Incentive Act, RA 9064) offered by the government, there are no takers. Or, rather, no one’s good enough to take gold.

And here’s one more trivia: After Mongolia won their first gold medal in 2008, we now hold the infamous record as the nation with the most medals… but no gold medal.

Which Dream Team is better, 2012 or 1992?

Kobe Bryant created a Ruping-like controversial storm last week when he broadcasted this boast: “It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”

Calling today’s USA Olympic basketball team “a bunch of racehorses who are incredibly athletic,” he insulted the 1992 squad, saying they “consisted mainly of players at the tail end of their careers.”

Ouch. Charles Barkley, the offensive rebounder, took offense, saying, “How old is Kobe Bryant? He’s 34? And he’s calling us old? … Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”

Now that reply’s a slam dunk. Michael Jordan added: “For him to make that comparison, it’s one of those things where it creates conversation. I guess we’ll never know. I’d like to think that we had 11 Hall of Famers on that team, and whenever they get 11 Hall of Famers, you call and ask me who had the better Dream Team. Remember now, they learned from us. We didn’t learn from them.”

MJ is right. Team 1992 was composed of Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Christian Laettner, David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Barkley and Jordan. (All are Hall of Famers except for Laettner.)

In the Barcelona Olympics, they beat Angola by 68 points, Croatia by 33, Germany by 43, Brazil by 44, Spain by 42, Puerto Rico by 38, Lithuania by 51 and, in the final, beat Croatia, 117-85. Their average margin: 44 points.

So, 1992 or 2012? Who’s better? The funny thing is, the London Games haven’t even started! Team USA hasn’t even won a single game.    Still, if this hypothetical encounter were to happen, what would be the result?

One dominant theme arises: Size matters. “There’s no question about it — we’d kill them,” said Ewing. “We were much bigger. Our bigs were much bigger and if not the same, [even] more athletic. We had Magic, Michael. I think we would dominate them.”

While the 2012 US team only has one natural center with Tyson Chandler at 7’1”, the ’92 team had plenty of giants: Robinson (7’1”), Ewing (7’0”), Laettner (6’11”), Malone (6’9”). And should we forget, Bird and Magic stood at 6-foot-9.

“Because we don’t have a lot of big guys, Carmelo, LeBron and Kevin Durant will all be at the 4 [power forward] and 5 [center],” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Andre Iguodala will be at one of the bigs, too. We have to compensate our loss of big guys with athleticism.” The coach added: “The quickness of this team, this is the quickest team I’ve ever coached, including U.S. teams. We have to build on that. Instead of talking about the fact that we don’t have many centers — it would different if we had Dwight and Chris Bosh. We’d play a little bit differently. We don’t, so we have to rely on our strength, which is versatility, quickness, speed.”

In the end, all this trash talk serves one purpose: to draw attention. And, for that alone, shifting the focus from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to the American basketball team, why, that’s good for Kobe and LeBron.

And you know how good Americans are at trash-talking. Very often, these words scare the enemy. That’s an added purpose. Still, some players don’t like this verbal war, LeBron included. “It’s nothing fun about it,” said LeBron. “That’s a great team, we understand that. They set the standard for a lot of us. We’re trying to make our own mark so that teams will come after us.”

Carmelo Anthony agrees. “Why can’t it all just be love? It’s always got to be us against them or them against us,” said Anthony. “We all USA basketball players, man. I’m not here to sit and say we’re better than them, or better than this or that. We’re trying to make a statement with the game we have. What they did back in ’92 will never be duplicated. We’re just trying to start our own thing and hopefully continue our legacy.”

As for Deron Williams, he wants this issue settled, joking, “I think right now, if they come out here, we’ll beat them,” Williams said. “Right now.”

Yep, when MJ is 49 years old!

Sure shot! The A-Team to strike gold

Twenty years ago in Barcelona, a group of giants named Magic, Larry, Michael & Co. won the Olympic gold medal in basketball. Their average winning margin? An unfathomable 43.8 PPG. That was the 1992 Dream Team, acknowledged as the greatest ever cast of athletes assembled—of any sport.

Now, it’s 2012. It’s London. Will Kobe, Kevin, LeBron & Co. become today’s “Avengers” and win gold? Absolutely. As sure as basketball was invented by an American, Team USA will beat Spain, Argentina, France and Russia.

Look at the roster: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Guodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. These are the 12 best ballplayers of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Durant? Bryant? James? Those three alone can beat the five-man squad of Tunisia.

“When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08. All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.” Who said those words? Chris Paul, the 6-footer point guard.

In Beijing, Team USA won by an average of 32.2 points in the elimination round. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Australia, 116-85. In the semis, Argentina got trounced, 101-81. And, in the finals, it was closer than expected: 118-107 versus Spain.

While 2008 was The Redeem Team, the 2004 squad was The Nightmare Team as the US (with Dwayne Wade, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony) lost to eventual gold medalists Argentina in the semis.

This 2012, the country of Barack Obama wants to ensure that they’re all-smiles during the Awarding.

One man who’ll savor his first time Olympian status is Kevin Durant who, at age 19 four years ago, was not selected. “It was almost end of the world,” said Durant, “especially seeing those guys win it—celebrating the gold in Beijing. I couldn’t stand it.”

LeBron? The 27-year-old has the opportunity to match a record that only one other human being has accomplished: Michael Jordan. In 1992, MJ earned the MVP and Finals MVP awards, the NBA ring plus an Olympic gold medal.

Kobe? He’s the “senior citizen” (oldest player) at age 33.

There are a few notable no-shows: Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Miami teammates Wade and Chris Bosh. They’re injured.

Studying the line-up, it’s obvious what Team USA lacks: height. Of the 12, only three players stand 6’10” and taller. Spain has the Big Three: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka—two brothers who are All-Stars plus a player who led the NBA in blocked shots (3.7/game) last season. Are the Americans concerned? Ever the confident people, they say, No way! As their one true center, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler puts it, “we’ve got some hybrids.”

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo answers this lack-of-big-men concern: “People keep throwing Spain in our face, ’What about the Gasols?’ And I say, ’Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day. And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I’m not really concerned about that.” He added: “There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers.”

“The United States will rely on the same formula it did in winning the gold medal in Beijing when it overwhelmed every opponent with its full-court pressure and transition game—until the final, when it took scintillating shooting to hold off Spain,” wrote Fox Sports’ Billy Witz.

Athleticism. Speed. Offense. They’ll spread the court and drive to the basket to create opportunities. Added Matthew Kitchen of NBC Olympics: “You realize how stacked Team USA really is: six rings, six scoring titles, four MVPs, the reigning Sixth Man and Defensive Player of the Year.”

Dream Team Part 2? Yes. The A-Team.

64 days to go before the London Olympics

Back in July of 2005, I was fortunate to have been in Singapore when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convened in the Lion City to decide on the host for the 2012 Olympic Games. As we now know, Moscow, Paris, Madrid and New York lost to one city who’ll host the Games from July 27 to August 12.

London. Yes. Is there a place more cosmopolitan, diverse and sports-crazy? Exactly 64 days from today, London will become the only city in history to host the Olympics thrice (they also did in 1908 and 1948).

Wanting to get a first-hand look at the Olympics, I asked a long-time resident for his thoughts…

Jack Biantan was SunStar Cebu’s former Sports Editor. A giant both in size and in his love for sports, Jack has resided in London for 11 years now.

“Everyone here is excited,” said Jack, in our e-mail exchange last week. “But not the entire London has benefitted from this Olympics. Only the West part of London where the Olympic Village and the infrastructures are.

“Our only concern in North London specially we Tottenham Hotspurs fans is the Olympic stadium. Shall we get the stadium after the Olympics or shall we remain in the congested White Heart Lane stadium.

“As you can see John, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspurs are contesting in courts right now on who will be right full tenants in the Olympic stadium. The London Olympics organising committee has given the rights to West Ham because of the Hammers proposal to keep the track oval after the games.

“Tottenham however want to get rid of the oval and convert the entire stadium into a football specific stadium just like what Manchester City FC did to the Manchester stadium after the Commonwealth games fews years back. The Hammers have all the advantage also because West Ham is based only very near to the stadium while the Spurs are based some kilometres away.

“But in my opinion the Spurs are just using the Olympic stadium as leverage to their negotiations with the Haringey council (Tottenham is located in the Haringey borough) for the extension of the White Heart Lane stadium. The Spurs management has brought all the properties around their stadium and are waiting for their permit to construct to be approved. The Spurs stadium has only 36,000 capacity and I have been waiting for the past 11 years to get a season ticket. They are planning to extend the stadium to 60,000 once the council approves the permit.

“The London Olympic committee is also facing another problem in court as Leyton Orient FC the club nearest to the Olympic stadium has also sued and claimed their own right to the tenancy to the stadium. The games have not even started yet but the battle in courts have already been busy.”

Jack planned to watch the games in person but was appalled by the exorbitant ticket prices. “The tickets are astronomical for ordinary salaried people like us OFWs from the Philippines,” said Jack. “I have a daughter in college in Cebu and a six-year-old son who is in an Opus Dei School in CDO. I also have to pay high rental to the flat I rent here.”

Based on my internet research, a ticket to, say, an Olympic basketball game can cost anywhere from 40 Pounds (about P2,700) to, in the Final game, a whopping 425 Pounds (P29,000). Tennis in Wimbledon? The final can be as expensive as 225 pounds (P15,000).

Worse, the tickets are not only expensive—they’re also nearly impossible to get. “Most are sold out and been snatched by the black market peddlers,” said Jack, driving the prices further upwards.

“I planned to buy tickets for boxing where there is only one Filipino athlete competing. But since he is alone, and the odds for him to win a medal is very slim, I might as well stay at home and watch TV,” said Jack.

Joking, he adds: “Unless we are lucky to win the ticket lottery the Olympic committee has organised, then we would be more excited.”

This has not stopped Jack, though, from visiting a few sites. He’s toured the outside area of the Olympic Stadium and has explored the Westfield Mall in Stratford City.

The London Games will be the 30th Olympics. And since Roman Numerals are often used, you know what these games will be? The triple-X Games. Or the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

When the battle starts on July 27, an estimated 10,000-plus athletes representing 204 countries will compete. There are only 26 sports but a total of 302 events.

Like us here in Cebu, Mr. Biantan will be watching the flat screen.

“BBC is covering the games for free so we would just contend ourselves in watching the games on TV,” he said. “Our only problem is that the BBC coverage will be concentrated only to British athletes. But the Filipino community is excited to watch Olympic basketball games live this time because there is a British team competing in it. Unlike the previous games where only the finals were aired.”

I asked Jack, who’s resided in the United Kingdom capital since 2001, if he plans to reside there for good and he says no.

“Once our mortgage in CDO is finished in five years time and my daughter finishes her college education I will be back in the Philippines to take care of my young son. That, if I stay healthy during those times. I am getting old now John and I want to enjoy my life a little bit before I go to another world. Life here is hard and there is too much stress. I had a great time in Cebu when I was there. I lost my hair and gotten sick of diabetes in 11 years of stay here.”

Finally, I asked the football aficionado if he meets with other Cebuanos. His reply: All the time! “Most of my colleagues in the hospital where I work are Filipinos, so I still have not perfected my British accent because we often speak Ilonggo, Cebuano or Tagalog.”

Good to hear that London Jack is still Bisaya.

Dolly Tan writes about Canada

Erlinda Dolly Tan lived in Cebu from 2003 to 2008, worked at the GSIS, but is now residing in British Columbia. British Columbia? If the name sounds familiar that’s because the Winter Olympics, which ran from Feb. 12 to 28, was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Dolly emailed me three weeks back with her observations which she entitled, “Watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics… And How It Reminds Me Of My Country.”

While admitting that the “Snow” Games are not popular in RP, she says we can learn from Canada. “When Vancouver was awarded to host the Olympics in 2003,” wrote Dolly, “it immediately created a 5-year program called ‘Own The Podium’ (OTP). The purpose was to develop and train athletes with the ultimate goal to top the medal tally.

“The program included trainings for coaches, leaders and athletes. It took care of the athletes’ nutrition, psychological condition and well being. They were sent to international games to prepare them for top level competition conditions.”

The OTP budget, said Dolly, was a huge $110 million and this did not escape criticisms. (Half came from taxpayers, half from sponsors.) Still, despite the negative response, Canada pushed ahead. The program worked.

“Canada made history by winning 14 gold medals, the most ever for a host nation. In the over-all tally, USA was first, Germany second and Canada third. But this doesn’t diminish the OTP program’s success with every Canadian believing that they still own the best part of the podium, the gold.

“As Canada closed the Olympics curtain, I can’t help but think about my beloved country 10,000 kilometers away. Too unrealistic to create a similar program? Yes but I was hoping our government would give more priority and would increase the budget for sports.

“We produced Paeng Nepomuceno, Bata Reyes and Eric Buhain; there is no reason why we cannot produce more world class athletes. And how about Manny Pacquiao as proof? But our athletes cannot do it by themselves, the government has a major role to play.”

Why sports? “Sports is an alternative way of life,” said Dolly. “It develops strict discipline for our children, it stimulates dreams, it stirs up patriotism. For every gold medal won, hundreds of dreams are born. For every gold medal won, hundreds of children are inspired. They get up, dribble, shoot. Sports is one way of keeping them away from drugs.

“I witnessed in Canada how sports became nation-building. Vancouver was a world stage for 17 days and more than 3.5 billion people viewed some part of the games both on TV and the internet.. this includes 185 million Americans, more than half of the US population. What they saw was Vancouver with polite people who never ran out of greetings… Thank You, You’re Welcome, and Have A Nice Day. They saw the essence of a 21st century Canada, a post 9/11 world of a peaceful multi-cultural people that includes 400,000 Filipinos. Tourism is expected to boom in Vancouver in the coming years.

“I witnessed how hockey, a game that originated in Canada, produced a People Power on the final day of Olympics when Canada and US battled for the gold in a nail-biting 3-period thriller. Right after the emotional win of Canada, a celebration of national pride erupted.

“There was people power in big cities. The downtowns of Vancouver and Toronto were flooded with people, all proud to be Canadians. Flags were raised coast to coast. This nation who doesn’t use the car horn… honked for victory! People sang the national anthem inside the train, bus, malls…

“Unbelievable. But as they say here, children skate before they can walk, they learn hockey prior to arithmetic. But it’s not about hockey, per se. It’s how they take care of their athletes—and end up winning 14 golds.

“Our Filipino athletes are there, waiting to be discovered and trained. They could be playing basketball or doing boxing. But without government support, they will remain pots of gold sitting in our backyards.”