What’s cool in hot Manila: Ice Hockey

Four weeks ago, when my three-member “JP” family of Jasmin, Jana and myself visited my youngest brother Michael, who’s now studying as a freshman at the La Salle-St. Benilde, we chanced upon entering the largest shopping complex in the country—and, according to Forbes magazine, “the 3rd largest shopping mall in the world.”

Mall of Asia. If you’ve ever been to our capital city and found time to shop, linger around, stroll, munch on Krispy Kreme donuts, watch an IMAX movie or, as we all love to do, “window shop,” chances are you’ve visited SM’s Mall of Asia.

I’ve stepped inside thrice. And, when we discuss the topic that’s dissected on these pages—Sports—I’ve written an article or two about bringing my nine-year-old daughter Jana to do ice-skating. And, just the same in this trip last month, Jana spent three hours gliding on ice, swaying her hips right to left, pushing forward with the ice blades.

We thought that was it. We concluded that MOA (the mall’s shortcut name)—a mall and not a coliseum—offered no other game.

Wrong! Because after we partook of a late dinner and, on the way out to find a taxi, our group of five—Jasmin, Jana, my brother Michael, his girlfriend, June Jumao-as, and myself—found ourselves strolling near the Ice-Skating Rink. Guess what our eyes witnessed?

Hockey. Yes. The sport that’s as foreign to the Philippines as bobsledding is to Ethiopia or marathon-running is to Antarctica.

When SM built the Mall of Asia and it’s ice-skating facility back in May 2006, it did not scrimp on money. Instead of building a tiny facility that can only house ice-skaters, it built an imposing rectangle that’s Olympic-size. Plus, more amenities: A giant electronic screen loomed to show the score; Bose speakers wrapped the rink and echoed disco music; a giant Mt. Everest picture towered to add a perfect cool to the word “cool.”

Who did we see? Americans. Canadians. Caucasians. Out of the 15 players who swung the puck with the stick, I counted five of them. Which is to be expected. Since hockey is a sport famous in winter countries—think of Finland, Russia, Slovakia—then it’s but natural to see plenty of them in RP soil.

We also saw girls. Yes. While we watch the National Hockey League (NHL) on ESPN and see that it’s an all-boys game, at the Mall of Asia, two girls with long, flowing hair mixed with the boys.

The game was six against six. And just like what we see on TV, that Monday at 9 p.m., we saw a reenactment. They wore helmets, shoulder pads, elbow pads, padded shorts, shin pads, gloves. Protection, as we know, is top priority in hockey. With razor-sharp metal blades on the skating shoes and hockey sticks that can kill with a spank on the face—not to mention all the shoving and bumping—hockey is, as we know, not a game as safe as chess or ping-pong.

Sitting at the sidelines watching for 30 minutes, we were treated to The NHL In Manila. One Caucasian wore a red jersey with the flag of Canada. Another glided on ice like a ballerina. Another maneuvered the slippery ice like the Michael Jordan of hockey, Wayne Gretzky.

We saw sprints. One player dashed to the goal. Teammates passed. Opponents intercepted. Two referees blew whistles.

We saw how the goalie is the team’s pivotal player. Like in football, if the goalie thwarts every attempt, the opponent can never win. This applies even more so for hockey where the goal box is narrow and the goalie is fully-padded and looms large.

We saw the significance of height. The taller the player, the faster he can glide, the longer his reach to catch the puck. Like in basketball and swimming, height is might.

What a sight at night!

So, the next time you’re up north and happen to stroll inside MOA, wait until the mall closes at 9 p.m. Then you’ll see winter in Manila.

ALA says: ‘No excuses, he wanted it more’

From Sun.Star Cebu
From Sun.Star Cebu

When Antonio Lopez Aldeguer speaks, you listen. Yesterday morning, exactly 36 hours after his most prized apprentice, AJ “Bazooka” Banal, collapsed in one of Cebu’s monumental upsets, I listened.

When I asked how he felt, ALA didn’t suppress his feelings.

“Very, very low,” he replied.

Understandably so. AJ Banal, only 19, lived half of his life with the Aldeguers. Residing in Brgy. Ermita, he was plucked from the doldrums and hand-picked as The Chosen One. To the ALA clan, he’s “a member of our family.”

How is AJ? I asked. “He’s doing okay,” Mr. Aldeguer said. “He’ll be out of the hospital today. Nothing serious, no injuries.”

What transpired next was an 11-minute phone conversation I had with ALA, whose insights and acumen are unmatched in boxing.

What happened? I queried. “His body collapsed,” ALA said. “He allowed himself to be hit. AJ took a lot of punches to the liver. He received too many body punches.”

Should the referee, I inquired, have stepped in more to stop Concepcion from punching while they were locked together?

“I don’t want to make that as an alibi,” he said. “AJ just got hit and hit in the body. AJ should not have held Concepcion’s arm and allowed him to box him using his other hand.”

Excuses, you see, ALA despises. Always, he is direct and candid.

Over-trained? Was AJ? “No,” he said. “I’ve been reading a lot of reports saying that. That’s not true. On the matter of conditioning, AJ was better conditioned. Factor one: AJ’s weight was a perfect 115 lbs. The opponent? He had to shed 1 ½ lbs. the day before. The week before the fight, Concepcion also had to reduce weight. Next, jet lag, which Concepcion had to endure. Plus, we were at our place (Cebu) while the opponent had to adjust to the hotel, to the food…”

When I mentioned to ALA that, based on many reports, AJ Banal was superbly trained—and that’s why his looking fatigued starting the 7th round was perplexing—he agreed.

“AJ is actually the perfect athlete to train,” he said. “He is very dedicated and disciplined. He is a good boy. And his attitude is fantastic. His mistake was that he allowed himself to be hit.”

In that 10th round, I next asked Mr. Aldeguer, we all saw that AJ stood up right after the referee’s 10th count. Why didn’t he stand before the final count and, instead, run around to exhaust the remaining 25 seconds?

“We don’t know what’s on his mind,” said ALA. “Yes, he was winning comfortably in points and could have easily won the fight had he stayed on. But we don’t know. Only AJ can answer that. We don’t know what he was thinking at that point.”

As to Rafael Concepcion? Like all of us who witnessed the fight at the jam-packed Cebu Coliseum—and to the tens of thousands more who watched on TV—ALA was all praises for “El Torito.”

“Concepcion wanted it more,” said ALA. “No excuses. We lost the fight because the other guy wanted it more.”

True. In boxing, more than any other sport because it’s one-on-one, that adage is unquestionable: Whoever wants it more wins. And, last Saturday, the Panamanian had more guts, tenacity, spirit.

Asking where he was inside the Cebu Coliseum because I didn’t see him, Aldeguer replied, “You’ll never see me near the ring. I watched fronting the TV because I can analyze the fight better. Also, I don’t want the limelight. I don’t want the TV focus. In my 20 plus years in boxing, I’ve never stood beside the ring. I’ve never gotten up the ring. I want the honor to go to the boxers.”

Finally, I asked, “What, to you, is failure? You’ve witnessed, through the decades, a lot of defeats in boxing. How do you define failure?”

His answer, as expected, was awe-inspiring. An ALA to AJ admonition, he said: “You never reach the top unless you reach the bottom.”

The No.1 export of the Philippines

On the morning of April 27, 1521, our first national hero was discovered. Named Lapu-Lapu, together with bare-chested warriors he extinguished the Spanish armada led by the Portuguese, Ferdinand Magellan. Using spears and the Moro weapon kampilan, they butchered and knifed the enemies in the “Battle Of Mactan.”

That was 487 long years ago. Today, Lapu-Lapu’s bravery continues….

Wearing the same brown skin as Lapu-Lapu, Filipinos faced Spaniards. And worse, our countrymen were up against more invaders: the Americans, British, Italians, Germans, Swiss, Koreans, the French—a total of 23 other nations have landed in Cebu to conquer Cebu. This time, the skirmish was named, “Battle at Ayala.”

On ‘Laban na Banal,’ a Q & A with Michael A

Last night at 6:30 p.m., I spoke to one man who’s largely responsible for the mega-production that Cebuanos will witness this Saturday: the WBA interim super flyweight championship battle between Panama’s Rafael Concepcion and Cebu’s AJ Banal.

Michael Aldeguer. The president of ALA Gym, I spoke to Michael over the phone last night about this weekend’s fight….

What makes AJ Banal, I asked, special?

“His IQ for the game,” said Michael. “He’s only 19 but, compared to others, he’s advanced. He also has excellent all-around skills. Plus, AJ’s ability to adapt to any style. He can change tactics depending on his opponent’s style.”

Is it true, I next asked, that this early on AJ is being labeled as the “next Pacquiao?”

Categorized as Boxing, Cebu

The awful, distressing and ugly face of sports

This is wrong. Dispiriting. Crooked. Unacceptable. It’s a story about Allan Torrevillas, the former Executive Director of the Cebu City Sports Commission (CCSC)….

The International Children’s Games (ICG) is a yearly event that brings together 12- to 15-year-olds for competition. Our very own Cebu City, in 2004 and 2005, sent delegations to Cleveland, Ohio and Coventry, England. This year—in fact, just last week, from July 10 to 15—the ICG welcomed 1,200 athletes representing 40 cities to San Francisco, California.

Carrying the name “Cebu,” five athletes represented our city—a delegation sent by the Greater Cebu Sports Organizing Committee (GCSOC) whose titular head is the well-known and, in sports circles, well-liked Jonathan Guardo.

Now comes the intriguing part… It starts four months ago when I spoke to Allan Torrevillas (the head of the GCSOC delegation) about the composition of the tennis squad. With the Boys Team, only two slots were available and, at that time, two of Cebu’s most celebrated stars—Bernardine “Niño” Siso and Jacob Lagman—were interested in joining the San Francisco ICG.

Categorized as Tennis

The 10th World Eskrima Kali Arnis Championships

Ask me to swing a tennis racket, dribble an orange ball, swat a shuttlecock or jog a 10-K and I’m fine. But, the one sport that I admit complete ignorance on is the one activity that’s revered by millions: Martial Arts.

Aikido, karatedo, judo, taekwondo, and many more ‘Do’s that include Kendo, Hapkido, Jukendo—they are aplenty. Add one more type of combat that’s venerated from the U.K. to the U.S. and, above all, in Cebu…. Eskrima. Kali. Arnis.

The three are one. They’re the same. Or so I learned when, last Tuesday night and together with my fellow scribes from the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), we trooped to a home that is a mecca of martial arts.

‘The family that plays together, stays together’

At the 26th All-Cebu Sports Awards, (L-R) Don-Don Hontiveros, Jess Lagman, Julie Lagman, Jacob Lagman, PSC Chairman Butch Ramirez

If there’s one clan that I admire most here in Cebu, it’s the “J” family. Yes, every single family member is first-named J. There’s Julius, Jess, Julian, Jessica, Julie, Jacob. The “6Js” I love to call them.

Jess and Julie are the dad and mom. Julian and Julius, the two eldest boys, are studying in Ateneo de Manila University. Jessica, the only girl among four siblings, is third year high school at the Sacred Heart School–Hiyas de Jesus. The youngest J member—Jacob—happens to be the most prominent who’s graced the headlines of the sports section.

Le Tour: The world’s most torturous race

(AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)

If you’ve ever climbed on top of a bike, pedaled, and traversed the road near JY Square then climbed up to Marco Polo Hotel, then ascended some more to Willy’s, to Bu-ak, then to the very top of Tops, then you know that climbing mountains is agonizing. Pedaling on flat asphalt is leisurely, but steering those two thin wheels upwards to the sky is, very often, tormenting.

Take the Tour de France. Last Sunday at 10:30 p.m., just minutes before shutting off the bedroom lights, I switched on the TV set and clicked to the Balls Skycable channel 33.

Categorized as Cycling