Like Father, Like Son

(Photo by Jay LaPrete/AP)

LeBron Raymone “Bronny” James Jr. is one of the most famous sons on Planet Earth. He is the first born to the King and heir to the throne.

Bronny turned 17 last Oct. 6. Now a sophomore at Sierra Canyon School in L.A., he plays point guard and has set his sights on achieving a dream that’s never been done before: For father-and-son to play together in the NBA.

Sure, there have been plenty of fathers and sons in the league.

Before Klay Thompson, there was his dad Mychal, who helped the Lakers win two NBA crowns. Kobe Bryant’s dad Joe was a 6-foot-9 power forward who played from 1975 to 1991. His son would join the NBA five years after he retired. Bill and Luke Walton stood tall. You have Rick Barry and his sons Brent, Jon and Drew. And, of course, Dell, Stephen and Seth Curry.

But while the NBA, founded 75 years ago, has witnessed many such combos before, never has it seen one where both played at the same time.

Baseball has Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. playing together for the Seattle Mariners in 1990. But never in the NBA.

Not until LeBron and Bronny.

This may happen as early as 2023 or 2024 after Bronny graduates from high school. Two years from now, Bronny will be 19 and his dad will be 39. (Bronny, the eldest, has two other brothers and a sister.)

Will James and James don the Lakers jerseys? That’s the plan, I’m sure, according to LBJ.

“That would be an unbelievable moment not only for myself but for my family, for everybody,” said LeBron, in a 2018 interview. “That would be pretty dang cool if I were able to be on the NBA floor with my oldest son.”

What are the odds of this happening? Very, very high. 

Barring a (knock-on-wood) career-ending injury, LeBron is expected to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time leading scorer and play until he’s 40. With Bronny, it’s certain that he’ll turn pro. This early, top collegiate teams (Kentucky, UCLA) are eager to recruit him.

And wouldn’t James & James be the sporting world’s biggest story? LeBron dribbles the ball for a fast break as he throws it up for an alley-oop by Bronny!

The question is: Is Bronny really that good or is it just hype?

LeBron (age 17), left; Bronny (age 16) and his friends

Wherever Bronny plays, fans ask for his autograph. ESPN broadcasts his team’s games. Bronny has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Gyms are packed to watch the 6-foot-3 guard with the number “0.”

I’ve watched YouTube footages of Bronny and he’s quick and athletic. He made his first dunk at the age of 13! Bronny got the brawny genes of his dad.

In his freshman year in 2020, although he averaged only 4.1 points in 15 minutes of play, he did score 17 points in one game.

“He’s a great young man, he doesn’t let anybody phase him,” said his former teammate Zaire Williams. “You’d be surprised all the stuff he has to go through. It’s not fair, but he doesn’t let it faze him.”

Being LeBron’s son is both a blessing and a burden. The pressure is immense and he will always be compared to his father. 

It all depends on Bronny.

As Paulo Coelho said: Every blessing ignored becomes a curse.

PBA vs. B.League

Thirdy Ravena and Kobe Paras (photos in this post from Rappler)

Shaq said it best: I’m tired of hearing about money, money, money, money, money. I just want to play the game, drink Pepsi, wear Reebok.

Always the funny man, the 7-foot-1 member of the NBA’s 75 greatest players list is correct. 

Sport is entertainment and entertainment means dollars.

The Philippine Basketball Association right now is in a quandary. Founded in 1975, the PBA is Asia’s oldest pro basketball league and ranks as the world’s second oldest (next to the NBA, born in 1946).

The PBA has a money problem. Sure, the league has 12 ballclubs owned by the nation’s largest conglomerates. But, no thanks to the PBA’s salary cap, some are not being paid enough which leads to the exodus.

Kiefer Ravena. His younger brother Thirdy. There’s Kobe Paras. How about Ray Parks, Jr.? Then the Gomez de Liano brothers Javi and Juan. There’s Kemark Carino and the 6-foot-4 Fil-Am who was supposedly one of the hottest prospects for the PBA, Dwight Ramos.

These eight athletes are no ordinary names. Many of them are UAAP heartthrobs with a torrent of social media followers. Kobe Paras, the son of Benjie, is a superstar-in-the-making. All eight of them are not playing in Manila but in Japan.

It’s called the B.League and, while founded recently in 2016, it has aggressively recruited big names from the international market.

Simply put, the Japanese pro league is offering our stars (in particular, the rookies) double or triple the money they’d earn if they were to suit up as an NLEX or Barangay Ginebra point guard.

Take Thirdy Ravena and Ray Parks Jr. They are two-time UAAP MVPs whom we’d love to see playing in Araneta Coliseum or the MOA. Instead, the Iloilo-born Ravena is not playing for the Phoenix Super LPG Fuel Masters but for Japan B League’s San-en NeoPhoenix. 

Bobby Ray Parks played with Blackwater Elite and TNT in Manila before heading north to suit up for the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins.

Long-term, this exodus of top caliber talent will continue to be a PBA problem. The world has turned borderless. This pandemic has changed our outlook — even how we can quickly buy a product from China via Lazada or Shopee and have it delivered in our doorstep on 12 days.

Same with our players. While before they were stuck in the Philippine archipelago, who would stop the pro leagues from South Korea or China from offering P1 million per month when SMB can only give P450,000?

The other day, I heard NBA Commissioner Adam Silver say that 25% of the NBA players are not native Americans. One out of every four in the NBA today is a foreigner. Globalization has created a borderless planet. There is no preventing our talents from leaving and going to our Asian neighbors or Europe or America. 

Money, money, money. The PBA ballclubs have to offer more. The problem is, I’m unsure about the 46-year-old league. And if the PBA’s reputation and following diminishes, so will the incentive of companies to spend more.

It’s all about content. Is the PBA able to continue offering entertainment that excites and energizes?

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Back to Normal

It has been 19 months since the world changed in March 2020. That’s when the Covid-19 pandemic affected the lives of the planet’s 7.9 billion people. 

The world of sports was impaired. The Tokyo Games was moved 12 months later. Wimbledon got canceled. And while we used to watch 25,639 fans screaming inside an indoor arena, we’ve gotten used to observing empty stadiums with fake spectators plastered on LED screens.

This was 2020. It’s 2021. In Europe and in the U.S. today, mask-less fans sit side-by-side at Premier League games and the U.S. Open. The world of sports has slowly returned to normal.

The NBA is back to live action. This October 19, the 76th season of the NBA begins and all teams get to play 82 games. Two blockbuster encounters are scheduled on Opening Day: the LA Lakers vs. the Golden State Warriors; and the defending champs Milwaukee Bucks against the Brooklyn Nets.

LeBron, AD and Westbrook vs. Steph and Klay Thompson. Plus, it’s Giannis vs. Durant and Kyrie. Can it get any better than this double-header?

Yes. The even better news is the return of the boisterous, crazy and loud-voiced human beings who will spillover the arenas.

The NBA has 30 teams. Each city will have varying rules but, in general, we expect tens of thousands back in attendance. (I did a quick research and, since the pandemic struck, the largest sports gathering was the Indy 500 race last May when 135,000 fans packed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.) 

With the NBA, what are the Covid-19-related policies?

First, the non-negotiables that all teams must follow. This includes requiring all coaches and staff to be vaccinated. This rule, however, does not apply to the players. It’s estimated that only five percent are unvaccinated — including Kyrie Irving. The 6-foot-2, Melbourne, Austrialia-born guard is in a quandary; New York has strict rules and Kyrie might have to be tested daily before playing.

For the spectators, the league-wide policy includes requiring all fans seated within 15 feet of the court or player benches to either be vaccinated or to show proof of a recent negative test. 

Of the NBA’s 30 teams, at least half of the squads will employ a ruling that will allow only the vaccinated or tested spectators to enter.

The strictest is the Toronto Raptors (Canada). They require proof of vaccination. No jab, no entry. Also, fans must wear masks (except when eating or drinking). Three other teams are as strict as the Raptors: the Knicks, Nets and Warriors.

Eleven teams will require either a jab or a test. These include the Pelicans, Lakers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, Bulls, Kings and Celtics.

The rest of the teams are not as strict. The Atlanta Hawks, for example, do not require any proof of vaccination or negative Covid-19 test to watch. They don’t even require the fans to wear masks.

I can’t wait for the start of the N.B.A…

Normal. Ballgame. At last.

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United States Open

(Photo: Jerry Lai/USA Today)

Tennis is unlike any other sport on earth. It’s one on one. No coaches are allowed to sit beside you and whisper suggestions. You only use one racket but you have six extra in your bag. 

The surfaces differ. There’s grass. There’s clay. There’s hard-court. You play indoors. You play outdoors. Or, you can start playing outdoors and, when the rain starts dripping, the roof closes and you resume indoors. 

The scoring in tennis is weird. There’s “love.” There’s “15,” and “30” and “40.” When you’re at 40-all, it’s called Deuce. 

Tennis was said to have originated from the French in the 12th century. It was then a handball game called “jeu de paume.” In English, that’s “game of the palm.” This evolved into using wooden rackets. The original surface was grass; thus, the name “lawn tennis” (which is still used today, particularly by the British).

Having played tennis for the past 35 years, do I consider the game easy or difficult to learn? If you’re naturally athletic, tennis is uncomplicated. Once you’re taught the basics of the spin, follow-through, footwork and many more, it’s quick to become good.

But surely, tennis is not as effortless to learn as, say, badminton or ping-pong. With tennis, there are multiple technicalities. There’s the forehand, backhand, volley, serve; you have the slice, topspin, overhead and drop shots. 

U.S. OPEN. In New York City today, the world feels normal. Tens of thousands of fans have crowded Flushing Meadows, majority without masks. (They have a ruling: no proof of vaccination, no entry.)

This tournament is historic for many reasons. One, it’s the full return of the spectators (compared to last year’s empty stands). Two, a couple of guys named Rafa and Roger are in Spain and Switzerland watching Netflix. Three, Serena Williams is also absent. Four, you have names like Zverev and Medvedev who have a big chance to win the title. Fifth, a potential Grand Slam — all four majors this 2021 — awaits Novak Djokovic if he wins next Sunday.  

Yesterday, a pair of 18-year-olds created major upsets. Carlos Alcaraz of Spain defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in a fifth set tiebreak. In the next match, Naomi Osaka was serving to win the match before losing to Leylah Fernandez. 

Leylah Annie Fernandez is Pinay. Well, half-Filipino.

“I’m a bit of a mix,” said the 5-foot-6 lefthander who’ll turn 19 tomorrow. “I was born in Montreal. I’m Canadian. My father is from Ecuador and my mother is from Toronto but her parents are Filipinos. I’m happy to be Ecuadorian and Filipino.”

I watched portions of Leylah’s match against Osaka yesterday and, when the Japanese broke her to serve for the match at 6-5 in the second set, I thought it was game over. Next thing I knew, Fernandez was leading in the third set and won it, 6-4.

Which brings us to the darling of Philippine tennis: Alexandra Eala. Only 16, she is the No. 2 seed in the Girls’ Juniors in a field of 48 girls (aged 18 and younger). The hope is that Leylah’s triumph will motivate Alex to win her first major singles junior title.

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Grand Slam

Like golf, the sport of tennis has four major tournaments. There’s the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. If you win all four in the same calendar year, that’s called winning a “Grand Slam.” 

That achievement is so rare that it has been accomplished by only five human beings — of the estimated 107 billion people that have inhabited Planet Earth. Don Budge was first in 1938; Maureen Connolly followed in 1953; Rod Laver did it in 1962 and 1969; Margaret Court in 1970; and Steffi Graf made it the “Golden Slam” when she also won the Olympic gold in Barcelona in that historic 1988.

Novak Djokovic can become the sixth human being if he wins in New York City next Sunday. 

To win a major, you’ll need to beat seven players in 14 days. Can the 34-year-old Serbian do it?

Consider this: Djokovic owns 20 major titles. The rest of the 127 players in the 128-player draw? Four majors. And if we take out Andy Murray and Marin Cilic, that figure drops to zero. “Overwhelming favorite” is an understatement.

The only blemish in Djokovic’s year was his Tokyo Olympics sojourn. He lost in the men’s singles; lost in the men’s doubles; lost in the mixed doubles. In between, he lost his mind, smashing his Head PT113B racket before hurling it to the empty stands; he also crushed the bronze medal hopes of his compatriot Nina Stojanovic when he defaulted their mixed doubles match. 

This is not the first time that Djokovic lost his temper. A year ago, he was on track to win the US Open when he accidentally swatted a ball that struck the throat of a line judge 40 feet away. Djokovic was given an automatic disqualification.

But that was 12 months ago. And, with the case of the Olympics meltdown — when he was expected to showcase two gold medals to a thunderous crowd in Belgrade, instead going home empty-handed — the Tokyo nightmare was one month ago.

Djokovic has not played a tournament since the Olympics. Will any of that matter? I doubt it. 

As hot-tempered as Djokovic is, his mind is also his greatest weapon. No player, maybe with the exception of Rafael Nadal, possesses a stronger will and spirit than tennis’ all-time leader in prize money ($151 million).

The US Open is a near-perfect venue for the world No. 1. He triumphed in Flushing Meadows in 2011, 2015 and 2018. Of his 20 majors, 12 were collected on hard courts — the same surface as the Big Apple’s.

And the big plus: the minus of Roger Federer and Nadal in the draw, both with a combined 40 majors (including nine US Open crowns). Also, the defending champ Dominic Thiem is out injured.

What also works for Djokovic: the three-out-of-five scoring system of majors. It’s tough to take a set off Novak; it’s very tough take two sets off him; it’s very, very, very, very tough to take three sets off him.

Which brings me to the three people who have the slimmest of chances to accomplish this: Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. 

Can Djokovic achieve the Grand Slam?

Only if he doesn’t slam his racket.

Vaccine + Tennis Shot

The year was 1999 when my dad Bunny and I visited New York to watch the US Open. For two weeks nonstop, our eyes enlarged gazing at Andre Agassi winning the trophy and Serena Williams defeating Martina Hingis to collect her first major prize at the age of 17.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators — including our companions Fabby Borromeo and his dad, the late Kits Borromeo — trooped to Flushing Meadows as we all cramped maskless and side-by-side, far from knowing about the Covid-19 pandemic that would terrorize us two decades later.

Tomorrow, the US Open begins anew and an estimated 750,000 fans are expected to flood the 14-day-long tournament.

Yes, it’s just like the Pacquiao-Ugas brawl in Las Vegas where 17,438 screaming fans were in attendance. Same with Wimbledon last July. While the London-based grass court event was canceled in 2020, this year’s different: a full 100% crowd was welcomed. This included the Centre Court’s 14,979 capacity and the No.1 Court  with 12,345 seats.

At the US Open, it’s the same mantra: “The US Open is fully open!”

But there’s a catch. While the officials previously announced that the spectators can roam around the 46.5-hectare grounds freely, a new ruling just emerged yesterday: No entry for the unvaccinated.

“Given the continuing evolution of the Delta variant and in keeping with our intention to put the health and safety of our fans first,” said the statement, “the U.S.T.A. will extend the mayor’s requirement to all U.S. Open ticket holders 12 years old and older.”

No proof of vaccination, no entry.

The US Open officials were concerned about the “indoor” court. The facility has 22 outdoor courts but the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium (the world’s largest tennis arena) has a retractable roof that closes during bad weather.  

This is a good move on the part of the organizers. My question: How about the players? If all the fans are subjected to this ruling, aren’t the players supposed to also comply?

No. Just like the Olympics, the athletes who hit tennis shots are not forced to get vaccine shots. Players are tested upon arrival and get tested again every four days thereafter. If a player tests positive, he/she has to withdraw.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has declined to get the jab. And there’s Novak Djokovic. He has never given a categorical yes-or-no answer when repeatedly asked if he’s vaccinated. 

“I feel like that should be always a personal decision, whether you want to get vaccinated or not,” said Djokovic. “So, I’m supportive of that. Whether someone wants to get a vaccine or not, that’s completely up to them. I hope that it stays that way.”

The Serb won the first three major singles titles in 2021 and will become only the third male player after Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) to capture the “Grand Slam” if he beats seven players and collects the trophy on Sept. 12.

Still, at the US Open, it’s clear that there’s a double standard at play: One (stricter) ruling for the fans; another for the players.

Lucky for No-vax Djokovic.

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Weightlifting 101

(Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It’s been 97 years since our first Olympic appearance in Paris. In total, we have joined 22 Olympic Games. The only times we skipped were in 1940 (World War II) and 1980 when we boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

In our 97 years of participation and 22 appearances, we have sent a total of 517 Filipino Olympians. Out of that, we have medaled 14 times — that’s eight bronze, five silver and one golden Gold.

Our 14 medals were won by 12 athletes. Teofilo Yldefonso (200-meter breaststroke) snapped our first hardware in 1928 in Amsterdam and he won bronze again four years later in Los Angeles. Our heroic Hidilyn Diaz, of course, won silver in Rio and gold two weeks ago.

Of our 14 Olympic medals, eight were won in boxing, and two each in athletics, swimming and weightlifting.

Weightlifting was one of the attractions in the 1896 Athens Olympics. Only 43 events in nine sports were played in the first Olympics and this included the sport of Ms. Diaz.

The first weightlifting event? One hand lift. They used dumbbells and the man (no women joined the 1896 Olympics) who could lift the heaviest dumbbell won. If they tied, the judges would pick the man with the best style and adjudge him the winner. 

Fast forward 115 years later, the Tokyo Olympics featured seven bodyweight categories each for the men and women. What’s the goal of this sport? As stated in the Olympics website, “The aim of weightlifting is simple: to lift more than anyone else. The result is pure sporting theatre and a real spectator favourite.”

Weightlifting might appear to be purely a physical sport but it’s just as mental. Lifing more than double your body weight requires explosive strength, focus, technique and unreal mental fortitude.

Hidilyn Diaz weighs 54.90 kgs. (121 lbs.). Her gold-winning lift in the clean and jerk event was 127 kgs. (280 lbs.). This means that she carried 2.31 times her bodyweight. Think about that for a second. Multiply your weight by 2.3 and carry that weight. I doubt it if we’ll be able to lift it a few inches off the floor.

Among the men, the greatest is Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia. Two weeks ago, I watched him (via Cignal cable) lift world records in the snatch (223kg.) and clean and jerk (265kg.) for a total 488 kgs. He won the Olympic gold and set the world record. He’s planning to become the first human being to lift a combined total of 500 kgs. (1,102 lbs.).

This is the good news. The sad news? There’s a chance weightlifting will be stricken off from the 2024 Paris Olympics. Corruption and doping issues are prevalent and these have tainted the sport. Some countries have incurred violations and been given outright bans. No less than the IOC has issued warnings to the International Weightlifting Fedeferation (IWF). Their mandate: Clean up or good bye, clean and jerk.

Yesterday, I messaged Monico Puentevella, our nation’s weightlifting chieftain. He’s hopeful the sport will continue, mentioning our Cebuana weightlifter (who placed 7th in Tokyo): “Glad (Elreen) Aldo will be in Paris 2024, too. She’ll be ready for a medal then.”

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Wonder Women

The Summer Olympics that started on July 23 will end today. The Closing Ceremonies will commence at 8 p.m. (Tokyo time) or 7 p.m., Philippine time. Our silver medalist Nesthy Petecio is expected to carry the Philippine flag tonight as we celebrate our most successful Olympics ever. 

Team PHI first joined the quadrennial meet in 1924 in Paris. (Coincidentally, the 2024 Olympics — our 100th anniversary — will also be held in Paris.)

There’s a saying that goes, “Ang una ra’y lisod.” (Only the first is most difficult.)

I believe this holds true for Philippine sports. After a 97-year-long wait before Hidilyn Diaz won our first Olympic gold medal last week, it’s possible that we’ll achieve another golden moment three years from now in the capital of France.

Petecio has gained extra Olympic experience in Tokyo. Carlo Paalam is only 23 and will be in his prime in 36 months. Same with Eumir Marcial, only 25 years of age.

Margielyn Didal is our Cebuana hero. In a field of 20 skateboarders, she placed a highly respectable 7th place. Didal, the Asian Games gold medalist, did better than the world’s No. 1 street skater, Pamela Rosa, in the Olympics. Only 22, she’ll inspire many in the Philippines to try skateboarding. She’ll also be aiming to compete and medal in Paris 2024.

Hidilyn Francisco Diaz is the gallant and gritty champion of the world. The tens of millions of pesos that she’s receiving — plus the cars, Manulife insurance, houses, PAL free flights, free food, etc. — will only motivate so many of our Filipino youth to take up sports and “Be like Hidilyn.”

Thanks to Hidilyn and Nesthy and Margielyn, the Tokyo Olympics is also a celebration and triumph of the women. 

The same is true for the entire Olympic movement in Tokyo. Of the almost 11,000 athletes, nearly 49 percent are women. This is up from 45.6% in Rio and 44.2% in London. This focus on “gender equality” is good. 

We only need to remember the lone athlete who lit the Olympic flame during the Opening last July 23. It was Naomi Osaka.

Mixed-gender events — a total of 18 — were included in the Olympics. These included archery, athletics, badminton, equestrian, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis and triathlon.

Four sports federations (for the first time) have moved to gender-balanced events. These include canoe, rowing, shooting and weightlifting. 

One example of mixed teams is triathlon. Each squad is composed of two women and two men. Each triathlete has to swim for 300 meters, pedal for 6.8K and run a 2K before tapping the hand of a teammate for him/her to continue.

“The mixed events are truly important because they really embody the equality of male and female athletes on the field of play,” said IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell. “There is nothing more equal than a male and female competing as one team on the same field of play towards the same sports performance.”

The Tokyo Games is a winner — the most gender-balanced Olympics ever. To our Philippines, this is affirmed by the golden Ms. Hidilyn Diaz.

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Empty, Resilient Japan

Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

I have watched every single Olympic Opening Ceremony that’s available in YouTube and what I witnessed last Friday was the saddest.

The Opening Ceremony is the kickoff party. After seven years of preparations, the celebration commences and the proclamation says, “Let the games begin!”

The Olympic host nation brags about its history and nation. Movie stars and Hollywood singers emerge to captivate the billions of TV viewers. Remember Mr. Bean in London 2012? Or James Bond and the Queen landing via helicopter?

Not in Tokyo. Not after 194 million people worldwide have succumbed to Covid-19 and 4,159,546 people have died.

The Japanese are a rich people. They are rich in culture and history, in wealth and technology. Originally, I’m sure they wanted an outlandish Opening with robots flying 110 feet above the ground. The robots would be holding samurais and fencing in midair.

Not in 2021. 

Last Friday night, the mood was somber and dim. Aside from the showcase of the 1,800 drones and “Imagine,” and the human pictograms performance — I won’t divulge more so you can watch the show — the Opening was hushed and muted. The beginning (Opening Act) was so unremarkable that Ricky Ballesteros could have scripted just as good a show.

But we understand the situation. The 60,000 spectators inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium were not allowed. They were reduced to a few thousand that included Emperor Naruhito, Jill Biden, the IOC officials and the media. 

Empty. The seats were empty. 

Covid-19 has made everyone suffer and grieve. And this sentiment was woven throughout the Opening. The music was often solemn and sorrowful. The presence of doctors and nurses throughout the show — an appropriate decision but one previously never seen before — showed the world audience that our greatest battle is still against the coronavirus.

The Tokyo Games organizers also had to contend with the public opposition to the Games. In a poll, as much as 59 percent wanted the Olympic Games postponed or canceled.

The 17-day-long Olympics of Japan has also been over budget. The original cost of US$7.3 billion has ballooned fourfold with a final estimate of $30 billion. By contrast, the 2016 Rio Games cost $14B and the London Olympics was $15B. Tokyo is exceed the combined costs of the last two Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 has become Japan’s unwanted Games. 

But, if there’s one trait that’s evident in the Japanese, it’s resilience. 

The Japanese have a proverb “nanakorobi yaoki.” It translates to “seven times down, eight times up.” They also have a term called “ganbaru” which means to “tough it out.”

After wiping away the tears in that cheerless and empty Opening Ceremony, Japan will emerge victorious.

Covid-19 will not win over the Olympics.

Tokyo 19

Only 19 days remain before our 19 Pinoy Olympians compete in Japan’s capital.

For the Philippines, this is the 22nd time that we’re joining the Summer Games. Our debut at the Olympics began in 1924 when David Nepomuceno competed in the 100m and 200m events in Paris. 

Four years later in Amsterdam, we sent four Olympians with swimmer Teofilo Yldefonso winning our first medal (bronze) in the 200m breakstroke.

Since 1924, we participated in every Olympics except thrice: in 1940 and 1944 when the Games were cancelled because of World War II and in the 1980 Moscow Olympics when we joined the US-led boycott.

In our 21 times of joining the Olympics, only nine Filipinos have ever won medals. The latest to triumph was Hidilyn Diaz in 2016 — joining Tokyo for her fourth consecutive Olympics — when the weightlifter won silver in Rio.

Prior to Hidilyn’s runner-up finish, our last medal was recorded in 1996 when arguably the most famous Pinoy Olympian, Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco, narrowly lost the light flyweight title in Atlanta. 

Worldwide, in the list of countries that have won Olympic medals, it’s no surprise that the U.S. ranks first with 2,523 medals (1,022 gold). Next is Russia (1,556 medals) and Germany (1,346).

Our nine total medals (3 silver and 7 bronze) after nearly a century of joining the Olympics ranks the Philippines among the worst-performing. (By comparison, Singapore and Vietnam own gold medals.) But let us not despair. In all, there are still 50 or so countries who have yet to win a single Olympic medal. And our blank gold medal tally makes us equal with Malaysia (who have won 7 silver and 4 bronze — but zero gold).

Here’s a fun fact: There is only one nation on this planet to have won a gold medal every time they join: Great Britain. 

Here’s another: If Michael Phelphs were a country, he’d be ranked 39th (out of 205) in the all-time count. His 28 medals (23 gold) outstrips countries like India, Mexico, Egypt and Argentina.

Speaking of gold, will Tokyo finally be the city when the Philippines wins the sporting world’s highest achievement?

We will have 19 Olympians joining — the highest number since we had 20 at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

Our officials, led by Chef de Mission (and football chief) Mariano Araneta, are slated to land at the Narita Airport on July 15. The athletes will follow soon after (all are billeted at the Conrad Hotel) and they’re expected to join the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic Stadium (8 P.M. on July 23).

Our 19 Olympians include Cebu’s star skateboarder Margie Didal; weightlifters Diaz and Elreen Ando (from the Univ. of Cebu); swimmers Luke Gebbie and Remedy Rule; shooter Jayson Valdez; boxers Nesthy Petecio, Eumir Marcial, Irish Magno and Carlo Paalam; sprinter Kristina Knott; golfers Yuka Saso (US Open champ), Bianca Pagdanganan and Juvic Pagunsan; pole vaulter EJ Obiena; gymnast Caloy Yulo; rower Cris Nievarez, taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa; and the Cebu-born judoka Kiyomi Watanabe, whose mom Irene is from Toledo City.