All Stars

The NBA All-Star Weekend was a huge and spectacular success in Cebu a couple of weeks ago.

This Saturday, February 29, our own version of the All Stars will be happening.

Named the 37th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, over 150 of Cebu’s top athletes (based on their accomplishments last year) will be honored. Calling on all awardees (below), see you this Feb. 29 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Northwing of the SM City Cebu.

Here are the honorees:

MAJOR AWARDEES: Arnis (Dexter Bolambao); Archery (Aldrener Ygot); Athletics (Mary Joy Tabal and Natalie Rose Uy); Basketball (Junemar Fajardo and Greg Slaughter); Billiards (Rubilen Amit); Bowling (Alexis Sy); Boxing (Johnriel Casimero); Chess (Jerish Velarde); Cycling (Nino Surban); Dancesport (Wilbert Aunzo and Pearl Marie Caneda); Dragonboat (PADS Dragonboat Racing Team); Golf (Lois Kaye Go); E-Sports (Team Adroit Dota: Marvin Rushton, John Anthony Vargas, Bryle Jacob Alvizo, Jun Kanehara, MC Nicholson Villanueva and coach Paolo Bago); Gymnastics (Daniela De la Pisa); Judo (Kiyomi Watanabe); Karatedo (Sarah Pangilinan); Karting (William Go); Motorsport (Team Toyota Cebu and Daniel Miranda); Obstacle course racing/OCR (Sherwin Manangil); Rugby Football (Aumi Ono); Sepak Takraw (Metodio Suico and Jean Marie Sucalit); Shooting (Ditto Nestor Dinopol and Diogenes Avila); Skateboarding (Margielyn Didal and Daniel Ledermann); Softball (Mary Ann Antolihao); Swimming (James Deiparine); Table Tennis (Richard Gonzales); Taekwondo (Rinna Babanto and Aidaine Laxa); Triathlon (Andrew Kim Remolino); Volleyball (Cherry Ann Rondina); Wakeboarding (Raphael Trinidad); Weightlifting (Elreen Ann Ando and John Februar Ceniza).

CITATION AWARDEES: Arnis (Jude Oliver Marie Rodriguez); Athletics (Dr. Yong Larrazabal, Noel Tillor, Azlan Pagay and Prince Joey Lee); Basketball (SWU Phinma Cobras, SHS-Ateneo de Cebu Magis Eagles, Shaquille Imperial, Leobert Andrew “LA” Casinillo, UV SBP, Team Cebu City/Abellana National School); Baseball (Isaac Bacarisas); Billiards (Warren Kiamco); Boxing-pro (Rey Caitom Jr., Joe Noynay, Carlo Demecillo, Mark Vicelles, Dave Penalosa); Boxing-amateur (Pathricia Mae Sumalinog and Bienjemar Codoy); Cycling (Jonel Carcueva and John Mier); Dancesport (Crisologo Rendon); Dragonboat (Sugbu Mighty Dragons); Football (Raya Tolentino, Maegan Alforque, Mia Evangelista, Roseton Barinan and Dean Ebarle); Golf (Gen Nagai); Gymnastics (Leanne Manning); Jiujitsu (Overlimit Jiujitsu Academy); Karatedo (Rhodee Ann Saavedra); Motorsports (Sylvester Ramirez); Muay Thai (Jemarie Josh Ybanez, Zion Alexander Melecio, and Buen Algono); Sepak Takraw (RheyJey Ortouste); Shooting (Roygbiv Barro); Scrabble (Learjet Dela Cruz); Softball (Jasper Cabrera and Jerome Bacarisas); Swimming (Jasmine Alkhaldi, Maxime Rooney and Raven Faith Alcoseba); Taekwondo (Nica Garces); Tennis (Iggy Pantino, Tiffany Nocus and Chad Connor Cuizon); Triathlon (Moira Frances Erediano and CJ Lipura); Volleyball (Floremel Rodriguez, Edmar Bonono, James Buytrago and Jobert Almodiel).

 

Yong 2020

For an eye doctor, the numbers “20/20” are special. (Don’t we all want to hear the words, “You have 20/20 vision,” from our ophthalmologist?)

For Dr. Potenciano “Yong” Larrazabal III, the year 2020 takes on a special, double meaning as a top eye surgeon. Just last week, he completed the most incredible of accomplishments: running 7 marathons in 7 days in 7 continents.

From Feb. 7 to 14, he ran a 42K in Cape Town (Africa); Novo (Antarctica); Perth (Australia); Dubai (Asia); Madrid (Europe); Fortaleza, Brazil (South America), and Miami (North America). Dr. Yong was one of only 23 men and 12 women to have completed the event and he became the first Filipino to accomplish this World Marathon Challenge. 

Yong started running in 2006. That was only 14 years ago — I say “only” because since then, he has completed a mind-boggling 68 marathons. On one of his first, the 2008 Hong Kong Marathon, we were together.

In preparation for a talk (“Exercise is Medicine”) that I gave to a group of doctors two years ago, I asked Yong why he chose this sport.

“Running clears my mind from everything that goes on in my busy daily routine at work,” he said. “I feel my day is not complete without exercise. Mental and physical sluggishness usually happens when I don’t exercise. Joining marathons not only makes me strong physically but mentally as well. In every marathon, there is always an end goal. And just like in life, to reach your goal, there has to be focus, commitment and determination.”

Yong tries to run five times each week (four times on the treadmill) and he joins local races for his long runs. And unlike many of us who prefer morning runs, Yong cannot because of his early daily surgeries. 

“I started exercising because my work became too stressful and I knew then it would eventually take its toll on my health,” he said. He opted for running because his preferred sport (basketball) was too dangerous for his fingers and body — considering his profession (apart from being the CEO and Chairman of CebuDoc). 

“Not only is running safe,” he said, “it also compliments my lifestyle since I finish work late. I can train alone anytime after. Later on, after joining international races, I appreciated travelling abroad and learning about their different cultures. Travelling was rarely done before I started running.”

In my interview with him in 2018, he had just completed back-to-back events: first, the Boston Marathon and, six days later, the London Marathon — achieving the coveted Abbott World Marathon Majors Medal (finishing all six majors).

Last month after Yong completed the Cebu Marathon, I texted to congratulate him that night. He said thanks and told me he was running 42K the next day.. on a treadmill! This was all in preparation for his amazing 7-7-7 (World Marathon Challenge). 

Yong’s advice to us all: If you want to live a long, healthy life with your wife/husband and watch your kids grow old and graduate from school, you should prioritize your health. 

Yong (center) with me and Dr. Peter Mancao

 

Jesse Bernad

When we studied at the UP Cebu for college, everybody who played sports looked up to Jesse Bernad.

In an article I wrote about him years ago, here’s how I described Jesse whenever we played the Intrams: 

“If you saw Troy, he’s Achilles. Our Michael Phelps of the Athens Games. Everybody sweated facing Hulk. As softball pitcher, he threw underhand fastballs that screamed at you like a bullet ambulance. How do I know? I stood meters from him as batter and almost fell off my backside at the zooming softball’s pace. As basketball center, Jessed pulled down rebounds like he were picking mansanitas, deflected shots like one would mosquitoes, and owned the low post like a Tim Duncan.”

Fast forward three decades later, Jesse Bernad is still into sports. But no longer rebounding the basketball or throwing that softball pitch or standing as football goalie and intimidating opponents with his 5-foot-11 frame, he’s into this another workout.

Jesse with Ken Griffey Jr.

I started running in 2015 when I joined a running club created by Amale Jopson in my previous job at Aboitizland,” said Jesse. 

Like all of us, he started running 5Ks. Then, when he experienced that “runner’s high” and wanted to go further, he did 10Ks. Months later and wanting to go for a bigger target, Jesse prepared for a half-marathon. 

“With my first 21K, I was nervous but prepared well enough to finish at 2hrs, 20mins,” he said. “Ever since, I’ve been running 21Ks the past 5 years and must have finished 12 races.”

But Jesse had an ultimate goal: To run 42.195 kms. 

“I had opportunities to run my first marathon elsewhere but I decided to do it here in my hometown of Cebu, to make it meaningful,” he said. “I saw the Facebook posts of friends Hans Congmon, Bernard Sia and Bryan Tan training. I asked to join their practice runs. This was last September. ‘No excuses this time.’ I told myself, ‘If don’t do it now, I never will.’

His goal: the 2020 Cebu Marathon on Jan. 19.

Jesse continued his 5K runs before increasing his mileage twice a week. He ran 5 to 7 kms. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Ateneo de Cebu oval and Angelicum and long runs on weekends while integrating speed and tempo programs.

“We did our long runs at Cempark, in the hills of Casili and Talamban, and on various city roads every Sunday,” he said. “We trained with the New Balance Running Club. This helped a lot. The program was to run for six straight Sundays, gradually increasing the distance from 15K to 35K. There were about 30 to 35 of us who participated all throughout, and I looked forward to it every weekend.” 

Waking up at 3 a.m. every Sunday was challenging.

“It was quite an investment on my time despite my busy work and family schedule especially during the holidays,” he added.

As a result of his training, Jesse lost close to 30 lbs.

Finally, when the new year dawned and the race day drew close, Jesse said he felt “confident and anxious.” He said: “I hardly slept the last two nights before the Cebu Marathon.”

January 19, 2020 arrived and Jesse fulfilled his dream.

I finished with a time of 5 hours and 13 mins. (my Garmin read 44K total distance),” said Jesse. “The final push I planned did not materialize as I felt a cramp about to happen. The salt sticks I took, given by ultra racer Julian Summers, helped. Overall, I was happy with my time.

“Finishing the race was an exhilarating experience, something I will never forget. Seeing my teammates, especially my childhood buddy Mark Tolentino, whom I coaxed to join me, crossing the line and celebrating made it rewarding for all of us. 

“Most of all, having my wife Emma, who did her first 21K, congratulate me at the finish line was the best feeling. I would love to have another opportunity to run another marathon, this time with Emma at my side.”

Jesse and Emma

Jesse shares his tips for all runners:

  1. Find friends who can do it with you. Create a chat room where you can share ideas. Seeing my teammates working hard helped motivate me. Training alone would be a lonely trip.
  2. Ask advise from others who’ve done a marathon. My neighbor and running guru Jun Angeles told me his secret of eating camote with its peeling, which I did for 3 months. It helped me gain more energy. Esteemed triathlete Noy Jopson introduced me to “Double Run” – one in the morning and another at night – two weeks before race day to gain more mileage but less pounding on your legs. I was shocked but understood the concept.
  3. Nutrition is key. After watching “Game Changers” in Netflix, Emma and I learned to eat more complex-carb food: lots of fruits, grains, seeds/nuts and veggies. We avoided fatty food and sweets and became plant-based eaters. Drink lots of water.
  4. Change your lifestyle. Avoid vices, sleep and wake up early. Sleep is your best friend.
  5. Train hard. 42K is no walk in the park. Include leg and core strengthening. Coach Allan Choachuy introduced me to his superset of 10 reps: jumping jacks, squats, push-ups and lunges, to be repeated as many times in 4 minutes. This helped me in the latter stage of the race.
  6. Being busy is no excuse. I continued training despite supervising the opening of our new restaurant – EatsaHabit in Robinsons Galleria – where construction starts at 10pm and ends at 3am. I ran at dawn, at night and in the middle of the day.
  7. Find a running buddy who has the same pace. Veteran runner Roy Trani was my mentor and pacer to the end. I couldn’t have done it without him.
  8. It’s a mental game. Train your brain to deflect pain and the urge to stop. Think of happy thoughts. Your mind will bring you to the finish line.
  9. Age doesn’t matter! It’s never too late to run a marathon. I did mine at age 50. Neither does gender. I came across women who were faster than me.
  10. If you can afford it, invest in a smartwatch. 
  11. Commit yourself wholeheartedly. What you put in is what you get. There are no shortcuts.
  12. Lastly, enjoy the whole experience, it’s once-in-a-lifetime.. or so I thought!

2020 Australian Open

Melbourne ranks as one of my favorite cities in the world. (It was voted “the world’s most liveable city” for seven years until it was toppled by Vienna in 2018.)

If you love the outdoors and you bike, you can pedal endlessly around Port Phillip Bay. If you’re a runner, this city of 5 million people has thousands of kms. of jogging paths. If you enjoy the water and rowing is your passion, you can exercise those upper-body muscles along the Yarra River, which snakes through the city. Melbourne is an exercise haven that’s heaven for fitness aficionados. 

Which brings me to the city’s grandest sporting event, the Australian Open. For two lung-busting weeks, over 800,000 spectators will visit Melbourne Park, a massive complex housing 35 courts, including the main stadium named after their best ever, Rod Laver.

Back in June 2016, my daughter Jana (who’s the team captain of the Ateneo de Manila women’s tennis squad) and I got the opportunity to rent the Show Court 3 for a full hour; we swatted forehands and smashed volleys, the sound of the yellow ball reverberating throughout the empty 3,000-seater Court No. 3. It was an experience that we’ll forever cherish.

Tomorrow’s start of 2020’s first grand slam tournament has been controversial. No, Nick Kyrgios did not slam his racket to destroy the Plexicushion surface; the controversy surrounds the recent national calamity called the bushfires — which have burned 18.6 million hectares and killed over a billion animals. The bushfires and the smoke they’ve generated have threatened the event.

“There is a lot of speculation about the Australian Open not happening, or starting later,” said tournament director Craig Tiley. “The Australian Open is happening.”

Mr. Tiley had to make that statement after receiving complaints from players related to the air quality. Earlier this week in qualifying, Dalila Jakupovic was forced to stop after succumbing to nonstop coughing brought about by the smoke. But the show will go on. 

Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are the defending champions and favorites. The world No.1s — Ashleigh Barty and Rafa Nadal — will also be strong contenders. 

Ash Barty is popular in Australia. Only 23 years old and standing 5-foot-5, the Queensland-born star won the French Open last year. Her fellow Aussies hope she wins on home soil on Feb. 1.

Among the men, the biggest question is this: Will the “Big Three” finally be toppled in the majors? Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won the last 11 (and 54 of the last 65) majors.

My answer: Yes, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem or Andrey Rublev will triumph in Melbourne, Paris, London or New York this 2020.

One name that we should all watch is Alexandra Eala. She grew up in Manila but now studies and trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. Alex, who’s playing her first Australian Open (girls juniors category), is only 14 years old. In juniors, she’s world No. 9.

21 fun facts on the 42K

As the 2020 Cebu Marathon unfolds at dawn today and as thousands of runners pound the streets of Cebu City, here are interesting tidbits about the 42.195-km. event.

  1. The Everest Marathon is the world’s highest marathon, starting at 17,000 feet at Gorak Shep, close to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
  2. During the 2007 Boston Marathon, astronaut Sunita Williams ran 42K (in 4 hours and 24 minutes) while onboard the International Space Station.
  3. The world’s oldest marathoner is Fauja Singh, who finished the 2011 Toronto Marathon in 8 hours and 11 minutes. He was 100.
  4. In 1990, only 25% of road race finishers in the US were women. Now, women comprise nearly half of all finishers.
  5. In 1977, an 8-year-old (Wesley Paul) ran the NYC Marathon in 3 hours.
  6. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, 17 competitors ran 40K.
  7. Football freestyler John Farnworth completed the 2011 London Marathon in 12 hours and 15 minutes, juggling a football the entire distance — not dropping the ball once.
  8. It wasn’t until 1921 that 42.195 kms. became the official distance.
  9. ‘Marathon’ comes from the legend of Pheidippides. He ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to spread the word about the Persian defeat in 490 BC. After completing the run, Pheidippides collapsed and died.
  10. In the Midnight Sun Marathon, held in Tromsø, Norway, runners compete under a night time sun.
  11. The oldest female marathoner is Gladys Burrill, aged 92.
  12. The North Pole Marathon holds record for the northernmost marathon, with competitors running in temperatures of -30C.
  13. There is a “Man vs. Horse” marathon in Wales. Humans have won twice since 2004, especially on unusually hot days.
  14. At 200 meters below sea level in the Jordan Valley, the Tiberias Marathon is the lowest marathon in the world.
  15. Eliud Kipchoge holds the world record (2018 Berlin Marathon) with a time of 2:01:39. For the women, it’s Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04).
  16. The fastest average for men (in 2017) was from Ukraine. Their average marathon time: 3:51:10.
  17. The Boston Marathon, which started in 1897, is the world’s oldest annual marathon.
  18. As part of the 42K distance of the Great Wall of China Marathon, runners also climb 5,164 steps.
  19. The world’s youngest marathoner is Budhia Singh. He finished 48 marathons before his fifth birthday.
  20. The 2019 NYC Marathon owns the world record for the number of finishers: 53,627 runners.
  21. Markus Jürgens holds a world record. At the 2017 Hannover Marathon, he timed 3 hours and 38 minutes — running backwards!

 

2020 Cebu Marathon

When you utter the word “marathon,” it doesn’t mean 5K or 10K. It’s one specific distance: 42.195 kms. Why that odd number? The marathon dates back to the Greek time when a soldier named Pheidippides ran from Athens to Marathon to announce the Greek victory against the Persians. Sadly, Pheidippides died of exhaustion after running 40 kms.!

True story? Ha-ha, no; this is all a legend. 

As to why the “42.195 km.” number? This can be traced back to the 1908 London Olympics. Originally, the route was 25 miles but distance was added because, among other things, one: complaints were received that the final miles were cobbles and tram-lines and, two: that the British Royalty wanted to watch the start and finish.

Thus, for concocting this preposterous torture (the marathon), we should blame the Greeks; and for the odd 42.195 number, we ought to blame the British.

Here in Cebu this Jan. 12, 2020, over 1,200 runners will attempt to run the same 42K. (Over 1,600 will run the half-marathon.) They’ll commence at the Cebu Business Park (CBP), traverse towards the Provincial Capitol, jog to the Mambaling Underpass, return to Osmeña Blvd., dash to the Sto. Niño Church, dive into the SRP Tunnel and gallop towards the U-turn point in Il Corso, SRP, before returning to CBP. 

The starting gun will be fired at 3 a.m. and there’s a cutoff time of 7 hours. Along the way, there will be 14 stations that will be loaded with water and entertainment. 

Why, you ask, do people spend months waking up at dawn to prepare for the marathon? As one Bill Buffum once said: “The marathon is not really about the marathon, it’s about the shared struggle. And it’s not only the marathon, but the training.”

True. The actual race is the “easy” part. By easy, I don’t mean it’s effortless; I mean it’s the electrifying finale of the whole process. The most difficult times are these: the 3 a.m. alarm clock rings; the Sunday 30K long runs; the weekend sprints; the knee pains. 

As the saying goes, the marathon is hundreds of kilometers; the finish is the last 42K.

To all running the Cebu Marathon, especially to the first-timers, I salute you. It’s time to taper and rest those muscles. Like Manny Pacquiao days before his Las Vegas fight, it’s time to stop the sparring (running) and get your body relaxed for Sunday.

Carbo-load days before. Drink lots of water. Buy your energy gels. Get enough sleep. Don’t run too fast in the first 21K. (It’s often said that the first half of the marathon is up to 32K and the last half is the remaining 10K.) Best advice of all: enjoy it. Smile, take photos if you can bring your phone; high-five the volunteers; ask your friends to cheer you on. You are lucky to be among the world’s first to run a marathon this new decade.

New Year, New You

This Wednesday, we welcome not just a new year but a new decade. The “2010s” decade has passed and we unveil a brand-new 2020 to 2029 term.

What will this new 10-year era bring us? We can plan, dream and create “New Decade” Resolutions. But life has many turns and twists that we’ll never anticipate. 

My aspiration for all of you, dear readers?

For each one to embark on a pursuit of getting healthier and fitter. 

How? By making exercise a priority in your life. That’s why I’m excited for the 2020 Cebu Marathon participants. Over 1,200 will run the 42K and 1,600 the 21K (plus several hundred more for the 5K) this January 12, 2020.

To all runners in CCM: Did you know that you will be one of the first lucky people in the entire world to run a marathon this new decade? I did a quick Google search and there are only a handful of 42K runs in the first days of the new decade.

To my dear readers: This 2020 Decade, aim to run a marathon. Join an Ironman 70.3 race. Train for a Spartan race. Not interested in enlisting for an extreme-type of sport?

Pay for that full-year gym subscription. Purchase that treadmill that you’ve long-planned to acquire. Buy the most expensive sports-related equipment that you can’t afford. 

Remember: the more you spend on something, the more you will use it. 

Spend on sports and fitness.

Specialized Bikes (through AutoFocus Bike Center) has incredible deals of up to 60 percent off. Visit their Facebook page and order that road bike.

Aim to incorporate sweating into your daily routine. Like eating and showering and brushing teeth, target to brisk-walk or swim or play badminton each day. Climbing stairs to your 8th floor office building is a guaranteed way to increase your heart rate. 

Increase your heart rate. If you don’t have much time, go for a 15-minute sprint (or sprint to the top of your building stairs). Any way to force your heart rate to spike to 190 beats per minute (for a short period) is good.

Climb in the morning, climb down and up to do an errand; do the same climb for lunch and before you leave the office. Don’t take the elevator.

Walk to work. Run to work. Bike to work. 

As the author Jim Rohn once said, “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” 

 

See Games

 

Two Fridays ago, I arrived in Manila to watch the Southeast Asian Games. 

Since the SEAG started in Bangkok in 1959, the Philippines has hosted it three times. The first was in 1981 (Marcos time); the second was during Cory’s term in 1991; and the third in 2005 under GMA.

Fourteen years after we won our only SEAG overall title, the biennial event returned to PHI.

I watched two sports. The first event that I witnessed was my favorite: tennis. The men’s singles final was about to start but, unfortunately, no Pinoys were playing. The day before, Jeson Patrombon and AJ Lim played in the semis but lost. It was an all-Vietnamese men’s final that was won by Ly Hoang Nam.

The second match was more exciting: Treat Huey and Ruben Gonzales were playing the men’s doubles semifinals. For the Cebuano tennis fans, you’ve probably seen these two Fil-Ams. They came to Cebu to play Davis Cup at Plantation Bay. 

Treat (pronounced as “Tret”) is not only one of Asia’s best but one of the world’s best in doubles. Three years ago, he ranked as high as world no. 18. A left-hander, his serve tops 130 mph. His volleys are Federer-like. Ruben Gonzales, who stands 6-foot-1, possesses an equally booming serve. The duo easily dispatched of their Vietnamese foes in straight sets.

Niño Alcantara and Jeson Patrombon were next to play the semis. Both Bisaya hailing from Mindanao, this pair is spitfire-quick. They sprint to the net and pound on the volleys with precision. The pair won in two easy sets. 

The following day, it was an all-Pinoy doubles final (which I was unable to watch) and the underdogs, Niño and Jeson, won the gold, 7-6, 7-5. 

The two gold medalists are in Cebu now — they joined the Palawan Pawnshop event in the bailiwick of Naga City (tennis-playing) mayor Val Chiong.

Back to SEAG tennis, the venue was Rizal Memorial. This sprawling complex, which opened in 1934, is an iconic sports ground. With tennis, the surface is hard-court and, for the 2019 SEAG, brand-new chairs were installed in the bleachers. 

VOLLEYBALL. Together with my daughter Jana, I also watched women’s volleyball. The atmosphere was as festive as the Sinulog and as loud as the U2 concert. Alyssa Valdez, Jia Morado, Mika Reyes and Aby Marano are some of the most famous players — not just for volleyball but for all of Philippine sports.

We played Indonesia. After losing to Thailand and Vietnam, this was our chance for redemption. Our lady spikers won the first set and led nearing the end of the 2nd set. But we played bad after that. We lost the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sets. (Two days later, we played Indonesia again for the bronze but lost once more.)

The volleyball games were played in PhilSports Arena. Formerly called ULTRA, this was the venue of the PBA games in the 1980s and ‘90s. With a seating capacity of 10,000, the PhilSports Arena was intimate — which resulted in a louder, more festive sports atmosphere.

The most popular among all the 530 events in the SEA Games? No, it’s not basketball or badminton or boxing. It’s women’s volleyball. 

 

AddedSport Scholars Program

I got an email from Niquie Angelo. As the Business Development Officer of AddedSport Scholars Program, Niquie is helping young top-notch athletes fulfill their dream of playing in a U.S. university. 

Niquie is the daughter of my good friend Robert Angelo, who, many years back, was the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player in the Philippines.

Below is the email that Niquie sent entitled “AddedSport Scholars Program: Changing Lives Through Sports.”

LeBron James, Maria Sharapova, and Cristiano Ronaldo – world-famous legends in their own sport. But what do they all have in common? A disciplined attitude, the heart to commit, and a humble background.

Sports have the capacity to completely transform people’s lives. From pursuing a professional career to getting recruited into a good school abroad, opportunities abound for young athletes, especially in the US where the world of sport is taken so seriously. Their generous financial aid, intensive training, and high grade sporting facilities have produced some of the world’s top athletes in recent years. US college sports has definitely established itself as a stepping stone to the professional world and has become a privilege that many high school athletes aspire for today.

AddedSport, one of the leading sports management firms in Asia, consists of a team of ex-collegiate athletes who are passionate about opening opportunities and guiding junior athletes to achieve the same dreams of studying in the US and playing for some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

While US University coaches have concentrated most of their efforts recruiting in their own backyard and neighboring continents, a handful of Asian junior athletes have caught the eyes of these coaches from competitive programs. But the number remains insignificant because these are mostly composed of players that are top-ranked and are well-supported to get enough international exposure. For the past 5 years, AddedSport has sent hundreds of top athletes to the US for college sports. 

This year, the company seeks to go beyond Asia’s creme de la creme and discover gems that are hidden in more remote areas. We are delighted to launch the AddedSport Scholars Program. This initiative aims to develop the next wave of professional athletes from Asia through US college recruitment, focused on uncovering the hidden brilliance of the athletes who persevere despite their difficult socio-economic circumstances. The program applicants will go through a screening process which includes an assessment by a panel of expert sportspersons who are recognized for their contribution to their field.

Athletes chosen to be a part of the AddedSport Scholars Program will undergo an intense mentoring process involving both the academic and athletic aspects of their future careers. They will be guided by some of the most experienced professionals who are former national and/or ex-collegiate athletes themselves. The goal is to mould these participants to become highly sought after student-athletes who receive the best possible financial offers from US Universities, which will allow them to pursue their dreams.

We are looking for talented, hard-working, young athletes who are willing to commit to this program to start their journey towards a better future. If you think you have what it takes and will qualify, or know someone who would fit the requirements, please send us an email: niquie.angelo@addedsport.com.

#DreamBig with AddedSport!

 

2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup

Thirty two teams joined the FIBA World Cup and the Philippines placed 32nd. How worse could it have gotten? Well, as dejected as we’re feeling, there’s one other nation that’s more heartbroken: the United States.

With the U.S., anything less than gold is a failure. After back-to-back losses to France and Serbia, the Americans placed 7th. This is the worst international showing they’ve ever had. I repeat: Worst in history. 

But as Michael Jordan once said, “Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.”

Which brings me to the excellent Facebook post last week of our new SunStar teammate Jonas Panerio: “The good news for basketball? There’ll be a new World Cup champion. The bad? Team USA’s VERY BEST will be at the 2020 Olympics.

Agree. Given this painful and embarrassing loss, the U.S. will assemble an All-Star cast and they’ll be unbeatable in Tokyo.

With Gilas Pilipinas, apologies have been given, starting with head coach Yeng Guiao, who resigned after the tournament.

Manny V. Pangilinan, the SBP chairman emeritus, said this upon his arrival from China: “We express our apology to the Filipinos because SBP is one with the national team. It’s our duty to apologize.” 

This is humbling. It’s also a reality check for our Pinoy players and fans. Prior to the event, we were given false hopes on how we’ll be competitive and maybe even score an upset (against Italy). In the end, Pres. Duterte was correct when he said that we have no chance against the Italians.

Despite our last place finish, the coming years will be exciting. Because even if we end up among the worst-performing teams again in the 32-squad line-up in 2023, what matters most is that we’re hosting. 

“We need to supply spectators and guests an experience like never before and demonstrate Filipino hospitality,” said the 73-year-old Pangilinan, who received the FIBA flag from Yao Ming (with Kobe Bryant nearby) in the turnover ceremony last Sunday. “Much pressure on our Gilas team though – which is good. Ergo, let’s do better.” 

The 2023 FIBA World Cup will be the second time that we’re hosting. The first was in 1978 when Yugoslavia defeated the Soviet Union. We had two venues then: Rizal Memorial Coliseum and Araneta Coliseum.

Four years from now, it’s back to the Smart Araneta Coliseum plus three more locations (MOA Arena, Philsports Arena and the 55,000-seater Philippine Arena, which will host the Final).

Officially, there are three host countries. But the main hosts will be the Philippines as Japan will only have one venue, a 10,000-seater in Okinawa, while Indonesia will have a small 7,000-seater in Jakarta.

Come 2023, we’re assured to win… thanks to our unrivaled Filipino hospitality.

19

This 2019, the significant number for tennis is 19. That’s the age of the US Open women’s champion Bianca Andreescu. And that’s the number of grand slam titles compiled by Rafael Nadal.

19. This ‘19.

Bianca Andreescu, to the non-tennis follower, is a new name. That’s because she’s only a teenager. And would you believe this: the US Open trophy that she won the other weekend? That was momentous because it was the first time ever for Andreescu to join the US Open. Imagine setting foot to play at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time — and beating Serena Williams in the final!

This 2019 is also the Year of Canada. No Canadian male or female has ever won a grand slam title ever since Wimbledon started it all in 1877 — that’s 142 years ago. And lest we forget, the reigning NBA champions are the Raptors of Toronto. Hail, Canada!

With Andreescu, she started 2019 with a ranking of only 178 and now she’s world No. 5. 

As for Serena Williams, what a devastating loss. Of her last four appearances in a major final, she lost all four. 

A personal story on Serena: Twenty years ago last weekend, my dad Bunny and I were in New York City to watch her win her first major trophy. That was in 1999 and Serena was only 17. Since that moment two decades ago, she has won 23 majors. But the record-tying 24th (Margaret Court has 24 majors) will have to wait. Because of the 19-year-old Bianca.

That 1999 US Open is similar to 2019. Then-teenager Serena upset Martina Hingis to win her first major. Two decades later, teenager Bianca returns the favor and beats Serena. 

RAFA. 19 also refers to the man from Spain. What a final. Just when everybody thought that it would be an easy 3-sets victory for the lefty, the 6-foot-6 Daniil Medvedev resurrected from the NYC abyss to nearly score a major upset. 

I rank that championship as one of the most special for Nadal. When the 5th set started and Medvedev led 1-0 and had those break points, Rafa was at the precipice of losing. Fatigued and downtrodden by Medvedev’s net play and aggressive moves — and being pressured by the umpire with the shot clock — Rafa was so close to defeat. 

But the gladiator that he is, Rafa persevered and triumphed.

Had Nadal lost, it would have been devastating. As desolating as the loss of Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final, when he squandered two championship points and lost to Novak Djokovic. 

Viva, España! Speaking of Spain, it’s the FIBA World Cup final tonight and we’ll know if Nadal’s countrymen will be victorious against Argentina.

Spain vs. Argentina? FIBA or FIFA (football) World Cup? Ha-ha. Can be either. The final is set at 8 p.m. tonight. I know that Anton Perdices, the honorary consul of Spain, will be cheering for Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio.

USA vs. Turkey

The Americans lost! After a 54-game winning streak in international competition (involving NBA players) dating back to 2006, the Americans lost!

Wait. They won. Ha? What happened two nights ago when USA played Turkey in the FIBA World Cup was one of the most incredible games that I’ve seen.

As time expired at the end of the game, Turkey led, 81-79. But Jayson Tatum was fouled beyond the arc at the buzzer. He converted two of three free throws. The game enters OT. At the end of overtime, Turkey was leading 92-91. They had ball possession and, in a sequence of events, had four attempts at the free throw line. They missed all four. Team USA had ball possession and with two seconds left, Khris Middleton was fouled, converted both free throws, and they escaped with a 93-92 win. 

A sure USA loss (everyone watching it was sure of the outcome) turned into a Harry Houdini-like escape and victory for the Americans.

“It really hurts,” said Turkey’s Furkan Korkmaz. “I think it was in our hands – not their hands.”

Turkey coach Ufuk Sarica added: “I need mental strength to overcome this.”

His facial expressions said it all. He was jumping and smiling in the final seconds when Turkey was about to score the incredible upset. So were most of the pro-Turkey crowd of 18,000 in Shanghai. But when Middleton converted those free throws to reverse the outcome, Sarica was heartbroken.

For Donald Trump’s team, this is good. But it’s also very bad. Because now the world knows how vulnerable this team is. If the world’s 17th-ranked team should have won that game against the world’s best, then noboby’s afraid of the US anymore.

“At the end of the day we won and that’s the biggest thing we can take away, said USA’s Joe Harris. “We can’t look too far ahead. We have to take care of business and see where things stack up.”

True. But the game revealed the inadequacies of this squad. They lack the sheer talent of previous US teams. And when Turkey defended them with a zone defense, they had difficulty scoring. Can you imagine the US facing Serbia, who are even bigger and more talented? 

As a side note, it was good to see a Pinoy in the midst of the game. Filipino referee Bong Pascual, who also officiated during the 2016 Rio Olympics, was one of the referees manning the game.

GILAS. After losing by 46 points against Italy and 59 against Serbia, the critics pounded on our Philippine team.

“What does it serve to the Philippine team to lose by this difference?” said Serbia’s coach Sasha Djordjevic. That’s an embarrassing statement, questioning our right to be part of this 32-nation World Cup. 

How we wished Jordan Clarkson was part of this team. Or Jayson Castro, the 5-foot-10 guard named one of Asia’s best when he led Gilas for seven years. Castro’s speed and three-point shooting are missing. 

On the positive side, what a performance by CJ Perez.

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..

 

Alex Honnold

There’s a documentary that you ought to watch. It’s terrifying. It will make your palms sweat. It’s a true story horror film that’s impossible to fathom. It’s death-defying.

Free Solo is the title of the 1-hour, 40-minute film (by National Geographic) and it’s a story of how one man escaped death by climbing one of the planet’s most incredible of rock formations: El Capitan.

Alex Honnold is the real-life actor and climber of this incredible film that won the “Best Documentary Feature” in the recent 91st Academy Awards.

The 34-year-old Honnold did not just climb the 3,000-foot rock formation nicknamed “El Cap,” he climbed it from base to summit without the use of any rope. Yes, climbing the granite mountain with his bare hands.

One slip, one false grip, one momentary lapse of judgement and he could have easily fallen.

But Alex Honnold survived. And the documentary Free Solo was made to record his preparation, anxieties, injuries (leading to the climb) and his actual nerve-wracking climb.

My best friends Dr. Ronald Eullaran and James Co, together with Raycia and Jewel and their children, visited the Yosemite National Park a couple of months ago. When I asked about El Capitan, they were in awe talking about the 90-degrees-steep, all-granite, 914-meter-tall rock monolith.

Rock climbing is a popular sport around the world. There’s indoor wall-climbing (Metro Sports Center, among others, has a facility). There’s outdoor adventure climbing. Here in Cebu, there are a good number of rock climbers who love the thrill of walking vertically. I’ve read about Cantabaco in Toledo City.

Which brings me back to “Free Solo.” The risk of slipping and falling in a near-vertical climb is extremely high. And safety is the number one goal of every rock climber.

Not Alex Honnold. Never mind if he was repeatedly told that he could die, he trained his mind and body to be positive and to perfect the El Capital climb.

So here’s the good and the bad of the documentary. It’s a film that’s extremely good and thrilling (scoring a 97% rating in the Rotten Tomatoes scorecard). The bad part? People will be inspired to follow Alex Honnold and climb “free solo.”

Richard Lawson, a writer for Vanity Fair, said in his review of the film: “I left the theater invigorated and rattled, in awe of this charismatic man’s accomplishment but scared that it will inspire others to attempt the same…”

My advice? Watch the documentary. But don’t ever, ever attempt to climb without that rope, harness, helmet and safety gear.

2019 SEA Games

Exactly 104 days remain before the Philippines hosts the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Held every two years with 11 nations participating, the last time our country hosted was in 2005. This will be the fourth time we’ll host the SEA Games, having also welcomed the athletes in 1981 and 1991.

From November 30 (when the Opening Ceremony kicks off in the Philippine Arena) until the flame gets extinguished in the Closing Ceremony in the brand-new Athletic Stadium in Clark on December 11, over 9,000 athletes will compete in the 12-day meet.

Cebu? Ha-ha. We’re far from any action. Twelve years ago when the SEAG was held in our archipelago, Cebu hosted three events: dancesport (Waterfront Lahug), sepak takraw (USC gym) and penchak silat (Cebu Coliseum). This 2019, we’re hosting zero events.

Luzon gets the honor to host all the 530 events from 56 sports. The three main hubs are in Metro Manila, in Subic and in Clark.

At the center of the games is the New Clark City Sports Hub, located in Tarlac. This is the spot where the 20,000-seater Athletics Stadium is found.

Nearby is the 2,000-seater Aquatics Center, a world-class facility complete with a 10-lane Olympic-standard pool and an 8-lane training pool. Billions of pesos (news reports have said between P3 to P6 billion) have been poured into funding this new sports complex. Lucky for Clark.

Metro Manila gets to host majority of the more popular events like basketball (Mall of Asia Arena), volleyball (Ninoy Aquino Stadium), badminton (Makati) and boxing (PICC). The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex has been furiously undergoing renovations; it will host tennis, squash, football, taekwondo and weightlifting.

The SEAG has an approved budget of P7.5 billion.

Here’s an intriguing game: Obstacle course. Yes, the game that’s often played in family gatherings or team-building exercises is one of the unique events offered this December. And for those familiar with UP Diliman, the six events under the Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) sport will be held at the Sunken Garden! How exciting is that.

Esports is making its debut at the SEA Games. I’m no gamer but the six titles to be played are “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,”  “Arena of Valor,” “DoTA 2,” “Hearthstone,” “StarCraft II,” and “Tekken 7.” The venue will be inside the FilOil Flying V Sports Arena in San Juan.

With 530 events coming from 56 sports, the 2019 SEA Games will be a sports fanatics dream-come-true spectacle. And, for sure, there will be several athletes from the nearly 10,000 competitors who’ll see action at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics next year.

How will the host Philippines do overall? The goal is lofty. To aim is to win that No. 1 spot — the same spot we achieved back in 2005 when we won the overall trophy.

The problem is, not until last week when the PSC and POC and the other sports bodies finally got together and got united, it was all squabbling and “sports politics” among our leaders. Our hope is that all this fighting will not hamper our hosting preparations and will not dampen the motivation of our athletes.

Go, Pilipinas.

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.”

June Mar Fajardo

Two years ago during the 35th SAC-SMB Cebu Sports Awards, I had the privilege of sitting beside Fred Uytengsu, Jr. (the Sportsman of the Year awardee) and, to my right, the country’s most famous athlete not named Manny Pacquiao.

Standing 6-foot-11, is there a larger-than-life figure than June Mar Fajardo? That afternoon in SM City Cebu, the Pinamungajan-raised sports giant was quiet and almost shy, despite all eyes and cameras transfixed to his 250-lb. large frame.

Alongside Gabriel Elorde and Mon Fernandez, June Mar ranks among the greatest of Cebuano athletes. And with his PBA records that include being a five-time MVP, talks are circulating that he can be the all-time greatest Pinoy cager.

Last Wednesday, June Mar did it again. I watched most of Game 7 of the Philippine Cup between Magnolia and San Miguel and the colossal figure was unstoppable. He scored 17 points (only) but pulled down 31 rebounds, beating the previous record of 29 rebounds set by Marcelo Simbulan in 1975. Thirty one rebounds!

The game was a thriller. Down by as much as 17 points, the Beermen looked tentative and uptight — made worse when they scored a miserly five points in the 2nd quarter.

But SMB rebounded back — thanks to the rebounds of June Mar, erasing the lead and winning when the buzzer sounded, 72-71, for a fifth straight All-Filipino crown for Ramon Ang’s team.

“All the championships are hard,” said June Mar, “but this series ranks among the hardest.”

The game was not without controversy. There appeared to be several non-calls (fouls) that went against Magnolia. I thought that June Mar’s bump against Marc Barroca was an offensive foul — which could have reversed the outcome in favor of Magnolia. Even in the last play of Jio Jalalon, it looked like he was fouled and, with a couple of free throws, would have cost SMB the win.

“(The game) went down the wire, it was anybody’s ball game,” said Rafi Reavis of Magnolia. “But we all know who got the short end of the stick.”

I sympathize with Magnolia but also understand the referees; in those last few moments of a Game 7, the natural tendency is not to blow the whistle and decide the outcome by intervening.

Controversy or not, what’s unquestionable is the supremacy of June Mar, who picked up his third Finals MVP award. What’s also indisputable is how kind and humble June Mar has remained.

Recalling a chat that I had with Atty. Gus Go many years ago, the owner of the University of Cebu had this to say about his prized student:

“Before the PBA Rookie Draft, when he was selected by Petron as the top pick, he came to my office in UC. He was so thankful. But I told him, ‘No, it is I who should say thank you for all that you have brought to our school.’”

Only 29 years old, June Mar will continue to dominate. He might pull down 40 rebounds and score 40. No human being who can stop him except…

Spider-Man. Ha? Confused? Google that crazy May 10 incident that almost injured The Kraken.