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2020 Cebu Marathon

The date is “January 12, 2020.” That’s 133 days from today — the first day of the ‘Ber months. That’s also seven days before the grand Sinulog festival on Jan. 19, 2020. And it’s the morning when over 4,000 runners will pound the streets of Cebu City.

42K. 21K. 5K. Take your kilometer pick. Those are the distances that spell Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5-km. Fun Run.

Next weekend, from September 6 to 8, the registration of the 2020 Cebu Marathon will begin. It’s called “Race to Register.” It’s on a first-come, first-serve basis and the first 500 registrants will receive limited edition “In Training” Cebu Marathon shirts. The next 500 registrants will receive free movie passes from Ayala Center Cebu. This is all happening next weekend at the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu.

Registration fees are P1,400 for the half-marathon and P1,800 for the marathon. More details can be viewed at the Facebook page of the Cebu Marathon.

Only those who line-up and register onsite (at the Active Zone) will be eligible to receive the free items. (To make sure that the correct sizes are distributed to the early-bird registrants, the shirts will be ready for pick-up next month, in October.)

What’s new for 2020? The route is both new and old. For those who joined the inaugural 2010 marathon dubbed “01-10-10,” you may recall that the route included the iconic sights of the Magellan’s Cross and Plaza Independencia. The marathoners also descended into the tunnel and ran along the South Road Properties. The SRP was the main route in 2010 and for a good number of years until a few years ago when it was disallowed.

For 2020, the SRP is back. The full details will be announced soon but the planned route will be exciting. Let me reserve the surprise of the “old and new” course when this is formally announced in the coming weeks.

The Sinulog-themed entertainment will once again motivate the runners. Dancers will dance. Loud music will pump the ears and hearts. Drinks will overflow.

Why run the marathon? I am blessed to have completed six of these 42K runs (Singapore, Quezon City, Jacksonville, Cebu, New York, and Hong Kong) and they are some of the most painful yet fulfilling experiences of my life. Ask a friend who has finished the 42.195-km. distance and they’ll share with you their own memorable experiences.

The 42K run is an outrageous goal to accomplish; one that you’ll be proud to tell your grandkids in the future.

But I also caution: it’s not for everyone. First, have yourself thoroughly examined; the best is an Executive Check with a treadmill stress test. Second, if you don’t have the mileage, don’t do it. Not yet. Unless you’ve completed multiple 21Ks, you might not be ready for January. But if you’ve been a regular runner, then make sure to register this Friday.

As the runner Susan Sidoriak aptly put it: “I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life.”

FIBA World Cup

Like the Olympics, the FIBA Basketball World Cup is held every four years. This Saturday (Aug. 31), the 16-day tournament begins in eight cities around China.

A total of 32 countries will contest this event which started in Argentina in 1950. The qualified nations include 7 from the Americas, 5 from Africa, 12 from Europe, and 8 from Asia and Oceania, including our Philippines.

The FIBA World Cup is important to our nation not only because we’re participating but because we’ll be co-hosting in 2023. Together with Indonesia and Japan, the 19th edition will come to our shores in four venues: Philippine Arena, MOA Arena, Philsports Arena, and Araneta Coliseum. (Had Cebu started construction of the SM Seaside Arena a few years ago, we’d be one of the hosts. Sayang!)

For China 2019, this is the first time that the world’s most populous nation is hosting. There will be 92 games played and this event also serves as a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Tokyo Games, with seven nations gaining direct entry to next year’s Olympics.

With our own Gilas Pilipinas, who will be flying to China today, it’s our second straight trip to the World Cup (last time was in Spain). We are in Group D together with Serbia, Italy and Angola and we’re playing in the city of Foshan in Guangdong. The format is round-robin and the top two teams of each group will advance.

This Saturday when the FIBA World Cup commences, we play our first game against Italy. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (Phil. time) and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte is expected to watch.

“We feel that’s our most important game – the Italy game,” said Gilas head coach Yeng Guiao. “So all our resources in terms of scouting, in terms of time has been focused on that.”

To qualify for Round 2 — given that Serbia will be too difficult for us — Gilas needs to beat Italy, who’ll be led by Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari and Luigi Datome.

USA. The biggest sporting news erupted last week when Team USA lost to Australia, 98-94. Although it was non-bearing, nobody wants to lose, and the Americans had not lost an official or exhibition game (involving NBA players) since Sept. 2006.

How dominant are (or were) the Americans in basketball? In the 2014 FIBA World Cup, they won their nine games by an average margin of 33 points. Of course, that squad included Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis.

This 2019, Team USA has.. Myles Turner, Joe Harris, and Derrick White. Who? This is obviously the most star-lacking US team in recent history.

Which will make China 2019 exciting and competitive. There’s Nikola Jokic of Serbia (whom the Philippines will be facing on Sept. 2). There are the Antetokounmpo brothers Giannis and Thanasis of Greece. Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio are representing Spain. More than 50 NBA players are competing.

“We’ve learned,” said the USA’s Donovan Mitchell, “that this is going to be a dogfight.”

Let the China games begin.

Roger, Rafa and Novak

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are their family names and no triumvirate in all of sports has been as dominant.

How commanding has been the Big Three’s supremacy?

Since the 2003 Wimbledon Championships, the trio has triumphed in 53 of the 64 majors. That’s a success rate of 83 percent. And aren’t there hundreds of millions of tennis players worldwide? All of whom can do the same: smash a forehand and slice a backhand? And only three have snatched almost every Grand Slam trophy in the past 16 years? Yes, yes, yes.

If we include Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray (who’ve both won three majors apiece), they have won 57 of the last 60 majors. And other than those five names, only three others (Marin Cilic, Gaston Gaudio and Juan Martin del Potro) have won a major title in the past 15 years.

“Rafa takes care of the clay there. Novak is in every Masters 1000 on hard court. I float around,” said Roger Federer in an interview last month. “You add Murray to it, Stan to it, guys that made their move later on, del Potro to it, you realise there’s not that much to get.”

Roger’s right. Whatever happened to Zverev, Thiem, Nishikori, Raonic, Kyrgios and the dozens of other Next-Gen players who were promoted to replace the oldies?

For the Big 3, their reign may be termed by various words: Dominance. Longevity. Excellence. Roger, 38 years old, Rafa (33) and Novak (32) are three of the greatest ever athletes who’ve wielded a tennis racket.

Federer owns 20 majors. Nadal has 18. Djokovic lurks with 16.

Which brings us to the Grand Slam event to be played in New York City starting tomorrow and for the next two weeks: the US Open.

I hope Roger collects his sixth crown in NYC. Given how he lost Wimbledon (by squandering those two match points to Novak), it would be a fitting redemption for him to win. But this may be unlikely. Because…

Rafa Nadal has the momentum. He won the last major (Roland Garros) and the Montreal Masters 1000 two weeks ago. He’s favored to add a fourth trophy to add to his wins in 2010, 2013 and 2017.

But among the three, it’s the Serbian world number one who’s the likeliest winner. The defending champ, the 32-year-old Djokovic has won four of the last five majors. And on hard-courts, it’s hard to bet against the man who’s accumulated over $135 million in prize money.

My choice? None of the above. I hope a Stefanos Tsitsipas or Daniil Medvedev or Karen Khachanov wins the US Open. As the saying goes: Give chance to others..

 

Trash Talk

Basketball is as American as cheeseburgers, Donald Trump, baseball and Apple’s iPhone, right? Not exactly. Basketball is Canadian-invented.

James Naimsmith, born in Ontario, Canada in 1861, was the P.E. teacher who invented the game of basketball. Thus, it’s fitting that the NBA champions this year come from…

Canada? Why not. Out of the NBA’s 30 teams, all but one is not U.S.-based. And that one might be No. 1.

Given how the Toronto Raptors dominated the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 and given how Drake and his 37-million strong fellow Canadians are praying that Kevin Durant’s injury doesn’t completely heal this June, what seemed an impossibility is now possible.

Canada might win its first NBA title. Game 2 tomorrow is the most crucial 48 minutes of this series. If Klay and Steph combine for 70 and Draymond seeks revenge from Drake’s hurtful words and records another triple-double and Igoudala is free of his calf injury and contributes tomorrow for a Golden State win, then the basketball planets will be aligned and will rotate back to its original axis. The Warriors will win, 4-2.

But if Toronto rouses Kyle Lowry from his sleep (he only had seven points in Game 1) and Kawhi scores 35 (compared to the measly 23) and Justin Trudeau is up 2-0 versus Donald Trump, then it’s advantage Raptors.

“I don’t think we played our ‘A’ game,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr of Game 1. “I think that’s obvious.”

What we witnessed was a rusty Warriors. Maybe it was the nine-days-off from their last game (three days of which were taken off completely). Maybe it was the quickness of the Raptors. (“They definitely have a lot of speed,” said Draymond Green.) The Warriors’ 17 turnovers didn’t help.

Most of all, Durant’s presence was sorely missed, despite them previously scoring a 5-0 record without him.

More on KD’s injury: I experienced the same pain while playing basketball five years ago. I was my fellow Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) members in Bright Academy and, as I turned to sprint to the opposite court, I felt a sharp kick in my calf. Someone had kicked me! I looked around and nobody did. I hobbled. Good thing that I was able to see Dr. Tony San Juan, our top sports doctor, within hours after I writhed in pain. I had to stop running for months.

It’s been one month since Durant’s calf strain and the final outcome of this series might depend on KD’s return. (Sources have said that he’ll probably be back in time for Game 4.)

As for all this “trash talk,” the NBA and the Philippines have got something in common. While Canada’s trash — all 69 containers of garbage — were shipped back to Vancouver from Manila the other day, Drake and Draymond were having their own trash-talking. This verbal tussle did not start during the NBA Finals. It began last year when, as host of the NBA Finals, the Toronto-born Drake roasted Draymond Green’s attire when the latter won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Check out the YouTube video.

Rafael Nadal: King of Clay

(Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP)

 

Here in Cebu, majority of our tennis courts are clay courts. Unlike volleyball or golf or basketball where, anywhere you play around the world, the court surface hardly varies, in tennis, it’s different.

Grass. Hard court. Shell. Artificial turf. Clay. Tennis offers a variety of surfaces. But here in the Queen City of the South, our predominant surface is clay. The reason: clay (hardened “anapog”) is softer on our knees and you’re less prone to leg injuries.

On clay, there is one human being who is the undisputed heavyweight champion.

He turns 33 on June 3, hails from the resort island of Mallorca, and is scheduled to get married to his long-time girlfriend Xisca Perello this October.

Rafa. That simple nickname will evoke despair and anxiety among his ATP counterparts when the only Grand Slam event played on clay begins today.

The 6-foot-1, 187-lb. Spaniard owns an unbelievable 86 wins out of 88 matches at the French Open. That’s a 97.72 percent winning clip.

On his first attempt to play on Paris’ red clay back in 2005, he hoisted the trophy. Same on his second try. And on the third and fourth. Of the multiple trips that he’s ventured inside Stade Roland Garros, he’s only lost twice: to Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2016). Rafael Nadal owns 11 Roland Garros trophies.

Last week, after he won the Italian Open in Rome (Nadal’s first 2019 title), the overwhelming favorite in France is the Spaniard. But there are two others that I consider as strong contenders.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three majors (Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open). In that last slam in Melbourne, he humiliated Nadal in a quick 3-setter that lasted a mere 124 minutes. Djokovic has extra motivation in Paris: he’ll be aiming for the “Djoker Slam” — winning four straight majors.

Dominic Thiem is the third contender. At the French Open, he reached the finals last year (handily losing to Nadal) and the semis in 2016 and 2017. He has also beaten Nadal (on clay) four times.

My pick in Paris? The answer is obvious. I’ve always been a huge Rafa fan. His relentless all-out effort on court coupled with his smiling and good-natured attitude off the court makes him a global sports ambassador. Much like Roger Federer — who’ll be making a comeback after skipping the red clay for the last three years.

Rafa and Roger can meet in the semis. They’re both in the lower half of the draw together with another rising star, the Greek 6-foot-4 with the style and one-handed prowess of Federer. He’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

At the upper half of the draw are Djokovic and Thiem plus a slew of strong (and tall, both 6-foot-6) players, Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.

But the Spaniard aiming for his 12th title in Paris is the odds-on choice.

“I think Rafa Nadal is the huge favourite,” said Dominic Thiem, “and then after that, there are also five, six players who can win the tournament. So it’s gonna be very interesting two weeks.”

Eliud Kipchoge

(Photo: Getty Images)

Have you heard of his name before? If you’re a marathoner and you’re updated on the news on running, the answer is yes.

Eliud Kipchoge is the world’s greatest ever long-distance runner. He has joined 12 marathon races in his lifetime and won 11 times. The 2016 Rio Olympics? He won marathon gold.

The 34-year-old’s greatest achievement happened in Sept. last year when he broke the world record in the Berlin Marathon. His time of 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds broke the previous record by a staggering 78 seconds. (That was the single largest improvement in marathon times in 50 years.) His 2:1:39 time also means that he is only 100 seconds away from recording the long-awaited “sub-2 marathon” (running 42.195 kms. in under two hours).

Eliud Kipchoge will once again run the 42K today in the London Marathon in what is billed as the best-ever assembly of runners.

Daniel Wanjiru and Wilson Kipsang are competing but Kipchoge’s biggest nemesis is Mo Farah, from the UK, who’ll be running in front of a hometown crowd. A 4-time Olympic gold medalist (in the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races), Farah also won the 2018 Chicago Marathon.

Kipchoge vs. Farah. This is the mano-a-mano spectacle with the fighters running on Nike shoes and sleeveless shirts.

Kipchoge is the huge favorite. He is the 3-time London Marathon defending champion and the man who starred in the Breaking2 project of Nike where the Kenyan clocked 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy in 2017.

As physically-gifted as Kipchoge is (he stands 5-foot-5 and weighs 123 lbs.), he credits his mental strength as his greatest power.

“The mind is what drives a human being,” said Kipchoge. “If you have that belief – pure belief in your heart – that you want to be successful then you can talk to your mind and your mind will control you to be successful. My mind is always free. My mind is flexible. That is why I wear this band on my wrist. I want to show the world that you can go beyond your thoughts, you can break more than you think you can break.”

Because of his triumphs and the appearance fees that he collects plus his collection of corporate endorsements, Kipchoge is multi-millionaire rich. But he lives simply. For an estimated 300 days each year, he trains in a tiny village in Kenya (Kaptagat), far from his three children and wife Grace. He prefers the “living simply sets you free” mantra and even reportedly helps his running mates in cleaning the restroom.

“I enjoy the simplistic training and life in marathon,” Kipchoge said. “You run, eat, sleep, walk around – that’s how life is. You don’t get complicated. The moment you get complicated it distracts your mind.”

Can he break the world record or, incredibly, run sub-2 today? That is unlikely because London is not as fast a course as Berlin. But listening to Kipchoge is hearing a man in love with this sport.

“My dream is to make this world a running world,” he said. “A running world is a healthy world. A running world is a wealthy world. A running world is a peaceful world. A running world is a joyful world.”

Mount Zion

(Getty Images)

On TV, I rarely watch live sports nowadays. Unless it’s a major spectacle like the upcoming Warriors-76ers NBA Finals or a La Salle-Ateneo UAAP game 3 or a Rafa-Roger contest in New York, I opt to visit one of the world’s most visited websites: YouTube.

Here’s what I do: I don’t scan the results and wait 40 minutes after any sporting event has finished and it’s right there, an 11-minute summary of the game. It has zero commercials and nobody misses! Every attempt on YouTube is a good shot.

Yesterday, that’s what I did. It was the Sweet 16 of the NCAA basketball tournament between Duke University and Virginia Tech. I rarely followed the NCAA games in the past but this year is extra special.

Zion Lateef Williamson. If you’re a basketball fan, it’s a must that you watch Zion. (Google offers 4.6 million videos on the phenom.)

Zion is an 18-year-old Duke University freshman who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 285 lbs. But what separates him from the dozens of other college dribblers are his LeBron James-like physique, his jumping ability, his left-handed aggressive moves, his gravity-defying block shots and his rim-shattering dunks (including dunking from the free throw line).

Zion has the bulk and size of a power forward but he struts like a point guard.

“What strikes me?” LeBron James was asked. “His agility and his quickness. For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obviously, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves (with) at that size is very impressive.”

Against Virginia Tech yesterday, the No. 1 seed Duke triumphed 75-73. Zion scored 23 points, including an alley-oop dunk that’s ridiculous.. catching the ball at a ceiling-high elevation before slamming it home with both hands. The TV announcer then quipped, “How high can you go?”

How high can Zion go? He is surely going to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. The joke around the NBA is this: #NotTryinForZion. It means the worst-performing NBA teams are purposely losing so they’ll get a better chance of drafting him.

Duke and Zion are in the NCAA Last 8 and will play Michigan State tomorrow (Phil. time).

If Zion helps coach Mike Krzyzewski win his sixth NCAA title for the Blue Devils, it will elevate Zion to a stature as the best-ever collegiate player of his generation.

What makes Zion a potential global superstar is his type of game: he flies and dunks with the ferocity of a Darryl Dawkins. Of these alley-oops, of which he has recorded dozens this season, Zion said yesterday after the game: “I’m jumping not knowing where the rim is.”

Zion can shoot a good 3. And, the most controversial happening this season, he can also break open a Nike shoe, injuring his foot.. which was such bad publicity for Nike that the company’s shares dropped by $3 billion. That’s the power of Zion.

Final Four

Final Four

Houston, Golden State and Cleveland were expected to reach this semifinal stage. How about Boston? With Gordon Hayward injured in their first game and Kyrie Irving out during the playoffs, nobody expected the Celtics to advance this far.

What are the odds among the Big 4? The Warriors are -130. The Rockets are next at +247. The Cavs are pegged at +552 while the Celtics are +2070.

In the East, had Kyrie been healthy, this Batman vs. Robin face-off with LeBron would have us salivating. As their series unfolds tomorrow (3:30 a.m., Phil. time), it’s obvious that the Cavs are favored.

Mr. James has been Mr. Jordan-like this post-season, averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9 assists per game. And who can forgot that buzzer-beater in Game 5 against the Pacers or that one-handed, sideways-facing dagger in Game 3 versus Toronto? Cleveland in 6.

I’m more excited about the Wild Wild West. During the regular season when they met three times, Houston won twice. And, as if it’s a premonition of what’s to come, the two met during the regular season’s first game. The outcome: 122-121, with Houston victorious.

Was that result on the NBA’s opening night a sign of what we’re about to witness next week? Yes. This series will be close and will be absolutely thrilling.

Steph Curry was the MVP in 2015 and 2016 while James Harden is expected to win the coveted 2018 title. Houston stole the league’s best regular season record from Golden State, winning 65 against the 58 of GSW.

The usual trash talk and war of words was unleashed a few months ago when Clint Capela of Houston boasted that they’re superior to the champs.

Draymond Green’s reply? “Now you’ve got to play the game,” he said. “You wanted us, now you’ve got us.”

The players know each other well. In an NBA.com article, author Sekou Smith wrote: “Harden, Paul, Green, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson all won gold medals together, be it on the Olympic or World Cup of Basketball stage. Harden and Durant were teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder team that lost The Finals in 2012. Paul’s LA Clippers squad in 2014 was the last West foe to knock the Warriors out of the playoffs before The Finals. And the Rockets were the team the Warriors beat in the 2015 West finals to jump-start their would-be dynasty.”

Who’s favored? It’s still the Warriors. Now that Curry is healthy, this squad has reached the last four Western Conference Finals and won the NBA title twice. Their only disadvantage this year? They don’t own homecourt advantage. Will this matter? Maybe not.

Given that oddsmakers are pointing at a Part 4 of the Warriors-Cavaliers rivalry, it’s interesting to cite that both favored squads don’t own homecourt advantages.

Houston has to win their first two games at the Toyota Center in Texas to have a chance at dethroning the champs. Same with Boston tomorrow.

Deanna Wong

The most famous female athletes in the country today perform these tasks: they serve, toss, spike, block, set, dig and kill. That’s volleyball.

Jia Morado. Alyssa Valdez. Jaja Santiago. Kim Fajardo. Mika Reyes. Bea De Leon. Sisi Rondina, who was born in Compostela, Cebu. Are these names not national figures? Have we not watched them do a pancake, or a dink shot, or serve a floater?

Thanks to ABS-CBN Sports and their live coverage of almost every UAAP and NCAA game, we follow the sport of volleyball. And while in most sports the men are more popular than the women, in volleyball, it’s the opposite. Sure, Marck Espejo is sikat but the women rule volleyball.

Coming from Cebu, one player was honored in the UAAP Season 80 with a prestigious award: Best Setter. Her name is Deanna Wong.

“She started late as a volleyball player,” said her dad Dean, whom I interviewed for this piece. “She started when she was in Grade 6. She just went to see the try out at STC. Then the trainer, Jamel Macasamat, saw her long fingers tossing a basketball and asked her to join the try out.”

From STC in elementary to USJ-R in high school, Deanna became a star. For college, she was recruited to play for the Ateneo Lady Blue Eagles.

Now on her third year in ADMU, Deanna had immense pressure because she was replacing one of the school’s best-ever setters (Jia Morado), who graduated last season.

“As a setter, you need to read the position of your opponent, especially the blockers,” said her dad Dean. “You need to give the ball to your spikers away from the defense/blockers and you need to analyze situations through quick-thinking.”

I’ve gotten to know Deanna. In the past three years since my daughter Jana has studied in Ateneo, I’d meet Deanna quite often. At the campus, she often leaves the Eliazo Dorm for their twice-daily practice sessions. Deanna is kind, respectful and humble.

For the UAAP Season 80, the Ateneo women’t team did not win gold; they lost in the semifinals to FEU (and La Salle went to win its third straight title). But if there’s one award to be proud of, it’s the Best Setter trophy to Deanna.

“She was surprised that she got the award,” said her dad, who added that she was a rookie in her position.

As to Deanna’s learnings the past few years, he mentioned several: “Deanna has learned to bond with her teammates. To study her attackers, her spikers, their comfortable positions to spike, to adjust to their spiking position.”

I asked Dean (who traveled to Manila almost weekly during the UAAP season to watch the games live), what lessons Deanna has learned in the pressure-filled arena, with over 20,000 in attendance at the MOA Arena or Araneta Coliseum.

“Discipline is vital. The mindset is crucial. To be fierce on the court and not to be intimidated by opponents,” Dean said. “Sports taught Deanna to overcome challenges. There were doubters ever since high school but she proved them all wrong.”

Ateneo is not easy because the academic demands are high. Of balancing the school’s tough academic standards with the countless hours spent practicing, Dean said: “It’s not easy but it can be done.”

As proof of that, Deanna Wong is the UAAP’s best setter. 

Danao City and MTB

Two major off-road events are happening in Danao. Today, it’s the XTERRA Philippines . If Shangri-La has the Ironman 70.3 race involving smooth asphalted roads, this event is off-road. It’s the mountain-bike and not the thin, sleek tires of the road and time-trial bicycles.

XTERRA kicks off this morning at the Coco Palms Beach Resort in Danao. Three categories are offered. The full distance includes a 1.5K swim, a challenging 28K bike ride, and an 8K trail run. The “Lite Distance” features half of the Full distances. And if you’re afraid of the open sea, there’s the Duathlon: 2K run, 14K bike, and 4K run. Relay teams are available. This is the second time for Danao to host XTERRA. The previous host was Liloan.

On three occasions, I had the chance to join XTERRA. Twice as a relay (biker) participant and once joining the Lite category. (On the latter, I placed 2nd in my category — but there were only 4 of us!) If you’re a mountain-biker and do triathlons, this is your event.

ASIAN MTB. Two weeks from now, it’s the Asian Mountain Mountain Bike Championships — also in Danao. The event runs from May 2 to 6 and will feature elite cyclists from Japan, China, Malaysia, Iran and Taipei.

Oscar Durano Rodriguez, Jr. is the lead organizer. I spoke to Boying yesterday and he told me: “Olympians and World Cuppers are joining and we now have 215 elite cyclists coming from 18 countries.”

One of big names is the highest ranked MTBer in Asia: Toki Sawada of Japan. The other top starts are Iran’s national champ, Khodayari Farzaf; 2017 Japan national champion, Kohei Yamamoto; and the defending 2017 Asian Continental champion, Lyu Xianjing of China.

Among the women, the star is Asia’s top ranked cyclist, Kanako Kobayashi of Japan. She’s up against our very own: the Philippine champion and Asia’s No. 2: Ariana Patrice Dormitorio. They’ll be joined by Asia’s 3rd ranked and the defending Asian MTB Champion from China, Bianwa Yao.

With these twin events happening two weeks apart, it’s no wonder why Danao City is often called the “mountain bike capital of the Philippines.” The Durano family members are all avid cyclists, led by the mayor himself, Ramonito Durano, who has been pedaling bicycles for many decades.

Here’s an article I wrote 10 years ago (April 15, 2008):

“Oscar ‘Boying’ Rodriguez, one of the most recognizable names in RP mountain-biking (MTB), and the chairman of the Danao City Sports Commission, said:

“In the summer of 1987, Tourism Secretary Ace Durano and his brother Con. Red Durano, who were then studying in the U.S.A., went home for their vacation from their high school studies in California. They brought with them radical looking 21-speed bicycles with knobbed fat tires and ‘granny gears.’ It was then the craze in California. They brought back the first Mountain Bikes to the Phils! We were all hooked. We all converted our road bikes to ‘mountain bikes!’”

“Boying Rodriguez is right. Believe it or not, possibly the first-ever Filipinos to ‘import’ MTBs to our country were no less than the Durano brothers, Ace and Red. From those bikes brought two decades ago spawned mountain-biking in Danao, in Cebu, and all over the RP archipelago. Since then, Danao City has led the peloton in promoting MTB.”

June Mar Fajardo

Only 28 years old, June Mar Fajardo is a already a four-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) honoree, a Best Player of the Conference awardee six times, and has won for the San Miguel Beermen the championship trophy on six occasions.

Last Friday night, with SMB down by as much as 23 points to Magnolia, he scored 12 of his team’s last 15 points to force overtime, and, after playing for 54 minutes in double overtime, he topscored with 42 points and grabbed 20 rebounds.

“I did not feel the exhaustion,” Fajardo said. “I experienced cramps, but my team was relying on me to produce.”

Is there any ballplayer who’s more reliable? As he collected his second Finals MVP trophy, his averages in the past five games were impressive, Anthony Davis-like numbers: he averaged 24.4 points and 16.2 rebounds.

Coach Leo Austria knows the secret that we all know: If you want to win, to ignite a comeback, to score, you pass the ball to the center who’s the center of attraction.

“It’s money time, so let’s go to June Mar,” coach Austria said to his players. “I’ve known June Mar ever since. Sometimes we ask him, ‘June Mar, are we going to win?’ He’ll respond, ‘Yes coach, we’re going to win.’”

Twenty three points down? With a desperate Magnolia eager to extend the series to a sixth game? Let’s go to June Mar. From the coach, that’s not mere confidence in one player. That’s belief. That’s certainty.

Is the any athlete in the country today who’s more dominant, dependable and towering than the 260-lb. center? Or, can I rephrase that line and ask: Is there anyone in PBA history who’s better?

Only 28, he still has a good five, 7, 10 years ahead of him. By comparison, one of the PBA’s greatest (if not THE greatest), another Cebuano superstar named Ramon Fernandez, played until he was past 40.

University of Cebu (UC) is proud of its son. Atty. Gus Go and Atty. Merong Estenzo know that he’s the most famous alumni in UC’s 54-year history.

Compostela is proud to say that this dominant force in Asian basketball was born in its confines. So is Pinamungajan, a municipality of 70,000 residents, which was home to June Mar in his youthful days and where his parents still reside.

I’ve had the chance to meet and talk to June Mar on several occasions and he has remained humble, soft-spoken and, despite all eyes and mobile phones focused on him wherever he goes, he has remained shy.

During the SMB-SAC Cebu Sports Awards last year at the SM City Cebu, I sat beside Fred Uytengsu (Sportsman of the Year) and June Mar (Athlete of the Year).

The ballplayer was silent most of the afternoon. (Or was it because Uytengsu hails from the rival Alaska camp?)

There’s no stopping the Cebuano. He’ll score. He’ll rebound dozens per outing. He’ll collect more MVP trophies. Can we ship him to the NBA to become our first Pinoy in the league of Steph and Kyrie?

Hyeon Chung

South Korea is home to Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Kia Motors and over 52 million people. Here in the Philiippines, it is estimated that over 1.5 million Koreans visited the country in 2017. In the realm of sports, the Winter Olympic games will be held in Pyeongchang (about 180 kms. from Seoul) next month, from February 9 to 25. If we consider the most popular sports in Korea, they are football and baseball. With golf, the lady golfers dominate: five of the world’s Top 12 money earners come from Korea, including Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu.

There’s a new star in Korean sports: Hyeon Chung. If you haven’t heard of him before this week, you’re forgiven. Ranked No. 58 and only 21 years old, he’s not a famous name in tennis. But after winning five of five thus far in the Australian Open, this 6-foot-2 netter is now one of Korea’s most famous personalities.

Last Monday, I watched his Round of 16 battle against six-time Oz Open winner Novak Djokovic. What a display of steady and power tennis. We know Djokovic is not at his peak yet, having returned from a six-month layoff. But the performance of Chung (including a win over Sascha Zverez) was outstanding. He is a legitimate future Top 10 player.

The question is: Can he beat the defending champion, Roger Federer, in the semis (granted that RF won his quarterfinals last night) ? The odds are absolutely against Chung. He will have to play even better compared to how he played Novak. He will have nothing to lose but the heavy favorite to win the whole tournament and to pocket his 20th Grand Slam title is the gentleman from Basel, Switzerland.

Still, Korea is rejoicing with the emergence of their new tennis star.

Casino Español billiards

If you’re a billiards and Bata Reyes fanatic, tonight is the night. Casino Español de Cebu, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020, has organized an exciting event that’s open to the public.

Efren “Bata” Reyes, also nicknamed “The Magician,” will be playing tonight with the Mandaue City-born top female billiards champion, Rubilen Amit.

Bata Reyes needs no introduction but Ms. Amit is also one of the nation’s best. Our sportswriters group awarded Rubilen in 2013 and 2014 as the “Athlete of the Year.” During that period, she was the world’s top World 10 Ball champion and partnered with her compatriot tonight (Bata Reyes) to win the Mixed Doubles World title.

With Bata Reyes in Casino Español

The venue will be the Salon de España of Casino Español and the exhibition games start at 7 p.m. But prior to that, there will be prelimary games starting at 3:30 p.m. The official statement from the club reads: “Watch Ipar Miranda, Mic Mic Miranda, Abe Sy, Wellington Yu, Kevin Co, Kendrick Sulay, Jose Rodolfo Tiu, II and the winners get to team up with the billiard greats.”

Tickets are priced at P700 (for members) and P800 (for guests), already inclusive of the club’s superb dinner buffet.

That’s Bata Reyes and Rubilen Amit at 7 p.m. later in Casino Español.

 

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.

Jerry Roa on the Beermen

Jeruel “Jerry” Roa worked for San Miguel Corporation from 1983 to 2003. He led the Corporate Affairs Office. During that 20-year span, he was assigned in the SMC head office in Manila from 1986 to 1992.

A tall 6-footer who played basketball since he was a teenager, Jerry made sure to watch most of the Beermen’s PBA games.

His most memorable moments? They were back in 1989 at the ULTRA in Pasig when he not only witnessed the Grand Slam feat of San Miguel but also when he was part of the celebration, joining the team at Kamayan EDSA in the aftermath of the final conference’s championship game.

That was in 1989. Are the San Miguel Beermen ripe for Grand Slam II?

An excellent writer and avid follower of sports that include football, volleyball, tennis, athletics, boxing and rugby, I asked Jerry for his thoughts on this historic moment. In a two-part series, here are Jerry’s own words:

“The San Miguel Beermen are one conference away from achieving the rare Grand Slam in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Only five other teams in the 42-year history of the league have achieved such distinction: the 1976 Crispa Redmanizers, the 1983 Crispa Redmanizers, the 1989 San Miguel Beermen, the 1996 Alaska Milkmen, and the 2014 San Mig Coffee Mixers.

“To duplicate their elders’ feat of 28 years ago, the current Beermen must win the Governors’ Cup which begins on Friday, July 15. Momentum seems to be on the side of the Beermen. Earlier this year, they won the Philippine Cup (formerly known as the All-Filipino) over the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, 4 – 1. Last weekend, they clinched the Commissioner’s Cup, 4 – 2, over the Talk N Text Tropang Texters.

“What more could motivate this talented bunch to focus on the final leg of their hunt for the Grand Slam?

“Perhaps a look at history of their franchise’s first Grand Slam may convince them that the stars are aligned on their path to greatness. The Grand Slam of 1989 was achieved by a team with a core who had played together since their amateur years, led by a multi-awarded veteran slotman, an outstanding Fil-Am reinforcement, willing role players, and promising rookies.

“Its roster during that golden year read like a legends All-Star team. At that time Ramon Fernandez was already a multiple MVP winner. Hector Calma, Avelino ‘Samboy’ Lim, Jr., Yves Dignadice, Franz Pumaren and Elmer Reyes, had played together in the national team and Northern Cement under coach Ron Jacobs. Ricardo Brown, a deadly shooter and ball handler, brought in more firepower. Alvin Teng and Jeffrey Graves provided length and young legs to protect the rim. Ricky Cui and Alfie Almario provided instant offense when called from the bench. Future MVP Ato Agustin and Bobby Jose were the team rookies.

“In the Open and Reinforced conferences (precursors of the current Commissioner’s Cup and Governors’ Cup), San Miguel picked imports who complemented the locals. They were Michael Phelps (the cager, not the swimmer), Keith Smart, and Ennis Whatley. Calling the shots from the bench was Norman Black, a former perennial PBA Best Import. He was assisted by Derrick Pumaren. San Miguel’s closest rivals then were definitely no pushovers.

“Open Conference runner-up Formula Shell, whom San Miguel defeated 4-1 in the finals, paraded the season MVP cum Rookie of the Year Venancio ‘Benjie’ Paras. (Yes, the same Benjie Paras who makes you laugh and cry today in TV sitcoms and teleseryes, and is father to young ballers Kobe and Andre).

“The ‘Tower of Power’ was recipient of assists from Ronnie Magsanoc, his buddy in the U.P. Maroons, and the scoring support of veterans Arnie Tuadles, Jay Ramirez, Ed Cordero, Onchie de la Cruz, Tim Coloso, and young Romy de la Rosa. Sharing the backcourt with Magsanoc was veteran guard Leovino Austria, who is now the head coach of the Beermen. Bobby Parks earned his third Best Import plum with the Zoom Masters, who were coached then by Dante Silverio, formerly of the defunct Toyota franchise.

“If there was a young and powerhouse team that gave the Beermen the fits, it was the Purefoods Hotdogs. The All-Filipino runners-up was composed of young guns Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codinera, Al Solis, Glenn Capacio, Nelson Asaytono, Naning Valenciano, Edgar ‘Jack’ Tanuan, Pido Jarencio, and Dindo Pumaren. This was the core of the national team that placed third in the Asian Games of 1986 behind China and South Korea without a naturalized player in its line-up. The Hotdogs were coached by the legendary Virgilio ‘Baby’ Dalupan. The Beermen defeated them, 4 – 2, in a competitive series.

“In the Reinforced Conference, the Beermen faced crowd-favorite Anejo Rum 65 led by playing coach Robert Jaworski. Before, as it is today, there was no love lost between the sibling ballclubs as they went at each other in a bruising series. The 65ers were bannered by Dondon Ampalayo, Leo Isaac (now Blackwater coach), Chito and Joey Loyzaga, Rudy Distrito, Rey Cuenco, Peter Aguilar (Japeth’s dad), Philip Cezar, and the season Most Improved Player Dante Gonzalgo. The Beermen vanquished them, 4 – 1, for the title and the Grand Slam.

“A dominant center. An array of shooters. Excellent ballhandlers. Role players. Complementary imports. A coach who used to play. That was how the San Miguel Beermen human resource looked like when they last won a Grand Slam in 1989. Or is this the way to describe their present line-up?

“June Mar Fajardo is the reigning Most Valuable Player. The backcourt tandem of Alex Cabagnot and Chris Ross, guards who can defend as well as they can shoot, have mostly complemented each other instead of overlapping roles. Marcio Lassiter is licensed to puncture the hoops. So is team captain Arwind Santos, who accepted his new role off the bench during the import-laden conferences. Gabby Espinas, Jay-R Reyes and Yancy de Ocampo provide ceiling. Brian Heruela, Ronald Tubid and new recruit Matt Ganuelas can dish out decent contributions when called into action. Even seldom used David Semerad, Arnold Van Opstal, Keith Agovida, and Rashawn McCarthy.

(Photo from pinoyboxbreak.com)

“The way San Miguel Beer has been winning, it shows the players’ buy-in to the system espoused by coach Leo Austria and team management. To be helpful to the Beermen, import Wendell McKines should be able to fit into his role the way Charles Rhodes stepped up for San Miguel in the Commissioner’s Cup. He is familiar with the PBA, having previously played with Alaska and Rain or Shine.

“To contend, the Beermen should also stay healthy. Any injury could derail their chances, no matter how deep their bench. Most of all, they should have the desire to make history. They should stay focused and visualize that moment when they etch their individual names into the annals of history as a member of the sixth team in the PBA to have achieved a Grand Slam. For if they blink, the TNT Tropang Texters, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, Rain or Shine, Star Hotshots or the Meralco Bolts are only too willing to take that winning moment away.”

Cavaliers and the King

Incredible. Stunning. Unimaginable. Are there better adjectives to describe yesterday’s colossal wipeout, when J.R. Smith spun for a reverse jumpshot to end the half, and when Isiah Thomas was 0-8 in field goal attempts and only scored two free throw points?

How about Murphy’s Law? If anything could go wrong for the Celtics, it did, including an injury to I.T. As for the Cavs, it was the reverse: if anything could go right, it did, increasing their lead by double digits per quarter and LeBron James playing possessed: 12 of 18 for an easy 30 while icing his knees as the City of Boston perspired.

I don’t recall watching a game that lopsided. Boston’s the top seed? It’s like Gilas trampling over Malaysia in SEABA last week. Like Game 1, once again we’ve seen the rise of Kevin Love. He’s pushing his 6-foot-10 body towards the hoop against smaller defenders; he’s detonating those long-range bombs, 4 of 9 yesterday and 6 of 9 in Game 1.

The Cavs defense. Outstanding. They’re sprinting side to side, front to back; scurrying with arms outstretched and legs dancing; LeBron’s flying for blocks; they’re tirelss and relentless — thanks to the restful days when their batteries have been 100 percent fully-charged.

How about that passing? Led by one of the all-time best passers (King James), they toss the ball three, four, six times, all in rapid succession before finding the open Three or an alley-hoop jam. There’s no buaya like a Kobe or Westbrook; they’re having fun, they’re like a serious Harlem Globetrotters.

10-0. This was the same position they had last year. In 2016, they swept past Detroit, 4-0, manhandled Atlanta, then won their first two games against Toronto before losing the next two. Those twin losses to the Raptors were caused by their playing in Canada. Not this year. Games 3 and 4 are in Ohio and we expect a clean 12-0 slate before they face the Warriors.

All these post-season sorties are tune-up games for Part 3. Some people are happy with this; others are not. The NBA has 30 teams and only two dominate. Good or bad?

Blame it on Kevin and Kevin. When Love joined Kyrie and LeBron, plenty cried foul: they’re too strong. When Durant joined Klay and Steph, many shouted unfair. Bad for the league? If you’re an OKC or San Antonio follower, you’re frowning. Otherwise, this is terrific. Like the era of the Celtics-Lakers in the ‘80s or La Salle-Ateneo in Manila or Borg/McEnroe or Nadal and Federer or Senna/Prost or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, a strong rivalry is riveting. The only problem: our patience is required. We need to endure these lopsided Rounds 1, 2 and 3 before the championship bell rings on June 1.

Corazon’s heart

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ILOILO CITY — Last Friday was a day of mourning and celebration.

It was an afternoon of mourning because we laid to rest Mrs. Corazon Garabato Gayanilo, the grandmother of my wife Jasmin (the mom of my mother-in-law, Malu Mendez) in Guimbal, Iloilo. It was also a day of celebration because relatives from Atlanta, New Jersey, Florida and various places converged to pay their last respects to an outstanding person.

Lola Zon was born on June 21, 1911. She was born a decade after Emilio Aguinaldo stood as our first leader and lived through all 15 succeeding Philippine presidents from Manuel Quezon to her namesake Corazon Aquino to Rodrigo Duterte.

“Corazon” means heart and it’s fitting that such a loving and kindhearted person would leave this temporal place for eternity during this month of hearts. Our family is often asked, How did Lola Zon live so long?

“She was not a vegetarian,” my mother-in-law Malu Mendez, the eldest child, said during the necrological service. “She was carnivorous!”

So it wasn’t her diet. Lola Zon also did not swim or run daily — so we cannot attribute extreme fitness as the reason. So, what was her secret to long life?

“She had big ears!” my mother-in-law said. By that, she meant that Lola Zon always listened. She always had time to listen and always had time for others — especially to her family of four children (Malu, Virgilio, Sol and Rene), 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. She lived simply. She laughed. She laughed a lot. And we know how good a medicine laughter is.

Lola Zon was a teacher. “The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book,” a quote reads. Her students spoke of her firmness but compassion and patience as a teacher. She loved to serve and give of herself — to her students from the various public schools that she taught in Igbaras, Passi, Iloilo City High School, and in Guimbal. As one of her projects in Guimbal, she helped build a kindergarten right beside the church.

Lola Corazon’s life was devoted to God. In his homily last Friday, Fr. Albie Labaro spoke of how Lola Zon’s hands clasped a rosary as we paid our respects — and how she must have prayed the rosary for decades until her last breath. She was a grateful person. Contented. Humble. Generous. My wife Jasmin said that she was very, very kind.

As the saying goes, “A good teacher takes a hand, opens a mind and touches a heart.”

For 105 years, Corazon touched many, many hearts.

Wow-rinka! Stan stuns Novak

Sep 5, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland hits a shot to Illya Marchenko of Ukraine on day eight of the 2016 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
(Source: Reuters)

In tennis, when you say “Swiss champion,” you refer to one and only one person. That’s Roger Federer. No male human being has accumulated more Grand Slam singles trophies (that’s 17 major titles) — and is as venerated and esteemed worldwide — as the Swiss Federer Express.

In summer of last year, my wife Jasmin, our daughter Jana and I had the privilege of traveling to one of the world’s richest nations that’s located at the heart of Europe. Thanks to the incredible hospitality of Fritz Strolz, we got to traverse most of Switzerland in three full-packed days.

As soon as Mr. Strolz — who’s now based in Cebu and is married to the dynamic and pretty Pearle — picked us up at the train station in Zurich (after treking by train from Milan), our activities ran non-stop.

We toured Geneva for a day and visited the IOC Museum. We ascended Mt. Rigi, watching from a distance the Swiss Alps capped with snow. We visited Lucerne and Lausanne and were able to see the headquarters of such giants as FIFA (football) and FIBA (basketball). Would you believe, a total of 45 international sporting associations house their headquarters in Switzerland.

A highlight of our Swiss trek: When I disembarked in the Tennis Club of Basel — the venue where Roger Federer practiced his backhands and volleys as a child. The club has multiple red clay courts and, inside the clubhouse, photos and memorabilia of Roger (signed by the tennis artist himself) adorned the walls.

You see, in this land famous for many things world-class — Rolex watches, Swiss chocolates, pharmaceutical companies, Swiss banks — when you mention tennis, the automatic response (much like Philippine boxing equals Manny Pacquiao) is Roger Federer.

Not yesterday. Not when RF is injured and is recuperating from a knee injury. Often relegated as the groomsman of Swiss tennis because he’s always overshadowed by the Swiss maestro, it was Stanislas Wawrinka who triumphed at the U.S. Open.

Thanks to the live, two-week-long telecast of the ABS-CBN Sports + Action HD channel 701, I arose before 6 a.m. yesterday to witness the men’s final.

How did Wawrinka defeat the almost-unbeatable world no. 1 Novak Djokovic?

First, he’s not afraid of Novak. While Roger and even Rafa Nadal seem to have a mental inferiority against Novak (of the last 12 times they’ve played, Nadal has lost 11), the same is not true with Stan. While he’s only won five of the 24 times they’ve played, those victories have come at the biggest of stages.

French Open 2016. Last year, Djokovic was set to win the only major title that has eluded him. Who stood in defiance to beat him? Wawrinka. At the 2014 Australian Open, it was Stan who not only upset Novak but also beat Nadal in the final to win his first major.

Second reason why Stan’s The Man: his backhand. That one-handed topspin is glorious. Even if he’s 12 feet behind the baseline, he can wallop that shot and hit a down-the-line winner. John McEnroe calls it “the best one-handed backhand in the game.” I agree. And so does, I’m sure, Novak.

Three: He serves big. Not a 6-foot-11 behemoth like Ivo Karlovic, this Swiss still has tremendous power, often exceeding 132-mph with his serve. In the final, he served nine aces to the six of Novak.

Four: He won the bigger points. In break point chances, Stan saved 14 of 17. That’s an incredible statistic (and Houdini-like escape) against the world’s top netter. At the opposite end, he converted on six of 10 break point chances. This contrast spelled the difference in the match. Had Novak converted on his chances.. he might have won his 13th slam.

Instead, on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, a new champion was coronated in New York.