Volleying? No one better than Jun San Juan

At the Casino Español de Cebu, if you conduct a survey among the tennis players and ask, “Who’s your top doubles player?” one name will surface among the top in the list. His name: Antonino San Juan, Jr., who first dribbled with basketball then spiked the volleyball before swinging at that tennis ball. Today, he’s a Class-A netter whose volleys up at the tennis net are skillful and precise.

The favorite word he memorizes? “Volley.” Because apart from using it often in this game of Justine Henin and Andy Murray, he also happens to be, just starting last month, Cebu’s highest-ranking official of the sport with the same first name: Volley.

Jun San Juan recently took over from Glenn Soco, who’s busy on the campaign trail as a Vice Governor candidate, the title of President of the Cebu Volleyball Association. “CEVA was started in the year 2000 by Glenn Soco,” answered Jun, in our exchange of emails. “I was one of the board of directors. In 2004, I rose to become the Vice President.” Today, Mr. San Juan heads one of the most dynamic of sporting bodies in Cebu. Thanks to him and Glenn and CEVA, their accomplishments the past 10 years have been exceptional.

“First, CEVA hosted two international events,” said Jun, when I asked for a list of their projects. “The World Men’s Volleyball and the Asia Youth Girls in 2004 participated in by 11 Asian nations, China, South Korea, Australia, Philippines, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan.” An even more popular project is the GUV Cup. Started in 2005, this partnership of CEVA and Gov. Gwen Garcia and the provincial government is now touted to be “the biggest and most prestigious volleyball tournament in the country with 47 participating municipalities and five component cities.” There’s more: The Nestea Beach Volley at Parkmall last year and the First Beach Volleyball in San Remegio, 2008-2009. The annual workshops and attestation of referees and coaches, said Jun, has also produced nine national referees from Cebu. Finally, through the GUV Cup, a national-caliber player was recognized: Jusabelle Brillo.

Yet, despite being the top honcho of CEVA, the interesting story is that Jun San Juan is not even the most famous volleyball personality in his family. His wife, Marichu Jao San Juan, is that person. “Chu” is one of the two Jao twins (together with Marilou Ramirez) who became national volleyball heroes during their athletic days. Cebu Hall of Fame? Yes, Marichu is a member of the exclusive club. The Milo National Little Olympics last October? Yes, it was Chu who lit the torch to spark the beginning of those games.

Jun and Chu

“I used to be a basketball player,” said Jun, when I asked how he started. “But when I saw the twins train and play in the national team in Manila, there was a change of heart and I immediately fell in love with volleyball.” Heart? Fell in love? I’m sure Jun was referring to Chu. After his shift from the orange basketball to the white volleyball in college, Jun became a member of the Mapua volleyball varsity team. Soon after, he was team captain for two years and, he says, “I was later drafted to play for the NCR selection in the Palarong Pambansa in Tuguegarao and was a candidate for the national team in 1981.”

As to CEVA’s plans for the year? They have plenty: 1) Beach Volleyball (Holy Week in Bantayan Island). 2) We will be conducting clinics by district level in the summer. 3) Coaches and Referees Seminar and Workshop at the Capitol Social Hall in August to be conducted by an international referee from Manila. 4) GUV Cup tournament from Sept. to Dec. 5) Planning stage on hosting a Beach Volleyball event in Parkmall. 6) Renovate the existing beach court in Parkmall & change the sand. 7) Planning stage on hosting an international tournament before the end of the year. With Jun and CEVA volleying, 2010 will be a smash.

Categorized as Volleyball

Near-death tragedy turns into blessing for Z

“Gorres is okay,” said Michael Aldeguer, the president of ALA Promotions, when we spoke yesterday. “He just has a problem with the left side of his face. It’s not paralyzed but it’s not functioning normal yet. But you can talk to him. His mind is sharp and he communicates well. He remembers everything. He has no memory loss. He even makes jokes. But Z is still having a hard time walking. He can walk only for several meters. I talked to him five days ago and we were discussing when he’s coming home. He misses his kids a lot. I asked if he wanted to come home now and he said, ‘Sir, not yet. I don’t want my kids to see me like this.’”

The long-awaited return of our Cebuano hero? It’s late February or early March.

“Miracle,” added Michael. “It was a miracle. I was there all the time. It was one of the most severe cases they ever had, said the doctors. I couldn’t forget this because I slept at the hospital when all this happened. And you know that the doctors opened him up without delay. It was scary. It came to a point when the doctor told me, ‘We did what we had to do. But we’re not sure if he can make it.’ In fact, not many do make it. To me, I couldn’t imagine what would have happened.

“But something good is happening with the unfortunate case of Z. Because we met Frank Slaughter, who is a retired fighter and he’s with a nonprofit boxing organization. He’s talking to the Nevada authorities with the hope that a new state bill will raise the insurance amount of $50,000. That amount is too small.”

The total bill for Z? Just with the University Medical Center (UMC) hospital?

It’s 550,000. Pesos? I asked Mike. “Dollars,” he said. That’s $550,000 or over P26,000,000. “And that’s just for the UMC hospital. That excludes the expenses for the rehab in the U.S. and the rehab when Z’s back to Cebu which might take between six months to one year,” said Michael.

“Good thing plenty are helping. There’s Frank Slaughter, there’s Dr. Ben Calderon, Tony Martin and his wife, Yvonne, and so many more. A group from the U.S. has also launched a website that accepts donations for Z. This site is www.ZGorres.info. We will also soon, here in the Philippines, provide everyone with Z’s account number so donations can be sent straight to their family’s account.”

“Also, Manny Pacquiao has communicated with us and is looking at a mid-February target for a benefit dinner,” he said. “According to interviews, Manny hopes to raise $500,000 in that charity dinner for Z. That would be a great, great help. Right now, with the $550,000 amount, we’re working with Top Rank to pay that off… they have the means. We’re also talking with the insurance companies. We have to come up with something. What’s good is this incident has caused massive awareness, especially in Nevada, where they hold fights every week.”

Mr. Aldeguer then e-mailed me an article published in the state’s top newspaper, Las Vegas Review-Journal, with a full-length story on Z’s catastrophe and his problem with paying the medical bills.

“People have taken notice. The UMC Hospital CEO has spoken. Same with the Nevada State chairman. Boxing promoters make a lot of money and they have to ensure that boxers are well taken-cared of. Many people only see the good side of boxing… but it’s a brutal sport,” said Mike.

“This is our quest now. To help push for this bill. This will be good for the sport. This will be good for the boxers. Because what happened to Z will happen again.

“Even around Asia, where there are plenty of irresponsible fighters, there is awareness now after the scare with Z. Some fighters from Thailand or Indonesia get involved in mismatches. These are very scary. Now, some boxing commissions are getting stricter; they’re reviewing thoroughly the sanctioning of fights. They’re also ensuring that fighters are medically-prepared before they fight. This is the good that has come out of the bad. God has a purpose for Z.”

Visit ZGorres.info.

Before Pistol Pete and Federer Express, there was The Rocket

The year was 1999. That was 11 long years ago. Yet, when I look back at that singular moment–at those few precious seconds–when I got to shake the hand and pose for a photo with an all-time tennis great, the flashback rouses my face to smile.

It was the U.S. Open. Not your ordinary tournament, it was the rowdiest and largest Grand Slam event on this planet. My dad Bunny and I watched the full two weeks, each night and day absorbing an overload of forehands and backhands. On the first evening–on August 23, 1999–we trooped to the Louis Armstrong Stadium for the Opening Ceremony. We were energized. This was New York City. Then, minutes before the start, a small commotion startled the audience.

He entered. “He” happens to be the only player in mankind to have won all four Grand Slam titles (in Australia, France and the U.S., plus Wimbledon) in the same year… twice.

Wearing a green coat-and-tie with a red necklace strap hanging on his neck, his blonde hair was disheveled and his white cheeks glowed pink. Acting quickly, I climbed the steps then waited for that precise opening when I approached from the side, introduced myself as Filipino, then asked for that one-click-I’ll-never-forget-this moment as my dad snapped the photo.

No, he’s not Roger ‘Federer Express’ nor is he ‘Pistol Pete’ Sampras. He’s not Agassi or Becker or Borg or McEnroe. In fact, if you’ve followed tennis as I have–starting the 1980s–his name might not be all-too-famous. But if you know the game’s history, you know him. Even better, if you watch today’s Australian Open, then you’ve seen his name plastered on the TV screen.

Rodney George Laver. Nicknamed “The Rocket” because of his explosive style and named after his hometown of Rockhampton, Queensland, he’s the reason why that August ’99 moment I’ll always cherish. For Rod Laver stood–figuratively–tallest among the giants of the sport when, in fact, he’s only 5-foot-8 1/2 tall. In this era of Juan Martin del Potro (6’6”) and Ivo Karlovic (6’10”), he’s minuscule. Add to the equation his weight (145 lbs.) then you have a “pocket-sized” player. Yet, he’s a rocket. For, in his prime, he possessed a game as complete as Federer’s today.

“Few champions have been as devastating and dominant as Laver was as amateur and pro during the 1960s,” wrote Bud Collins. “An incessant attacker, he was nevertheless a complete player who glowed in backcourt ad at the net. Laver’s 5-foot-8 1/2, 145 pound body seemed to dangle from a massive left arm that belonged to a gorilla, an arm with which he bludgeoned the ball and was able to impart ferocious topspin. Although others had used topspin, Laver may have inspired a wave of heavy-hitting topspin practitioners of the 1970s such as Bjorn Bord and Guillermo Villas. The stroke became basic after Laver.”

Why this R. Laver piece today? Because when you click on Star Sports today, his name is forever etched in Melbourne. The reason? While Wimbledon, for example, has their famous “Centre Court,” the Oz Open’s main stadium is named after it’s greatest… the “Rod Laver Arena.”

For “Rod Laver” is the synonym of “Grand Slam,” which means winning the four majors in the same year. Take Federer: though he’s won all four majors, he did not achieve this feat in the same calendar year. Only four others have accomplished the real Grand Slam, and each achieved it only once: Don Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly Brinker (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988). The Rocket did this twice, in 1962 and 1969.

As the BBC commentator Dan Maskell put it, he was “technically faultless, from his richly varied serve to his feather-light touch on drop volleys plus a backhand drive carrying destructive topspin when needed or controlling slice when the situation demanded it.”

Sounds like Federer, right? Yes. But with a difference: Laver is left-handed. Which means he has the all-around, no-weaknesses armada of Roger plus the lefty serves and lefty topspin style of Rafael Nadal. Imagine morphing these two to form one? That’s Rod Laver.

An Aussie speaks about the Australian Open

Graeme (center, seated) during his visit to Cebu last October with (from left) Noel Villaflor, Caecent and Mark Magsumbol; (standing) John P, Manny Villaruel, Calvin Cordova, Nimrod Quiñones, Mike Limpag and Raffy Osumo

Graeme Mackinnon lived in Cebu for 13 years. He was conferred the Cebu Hall of Fame award for bolstering the sport of football. But the Australian’s “first love?” The game he first played when he was only six years old? Tennis. And so I asked Graeme, now relaxing at home in Bateau Bay, a 100-km. drive from Sydney, to comment on the year’s first Grand Slam tennis event…

Who is your favorite Aussie player of all time? “There have been so many great Aussie players through the years although that list is definitely diminishing for whatever reason. My favorite would have to be “Rocket” Rod Laver. His four Grand Slams in the same year 1962 and 1969 set him apart from so many great players. He had finesse and guile and his touch was exquisite.”

How do you find Nadal’s pink/orange attire? “The fashion police should be out in force and just give Rafa a mirror. It is a shocker.”

Who do you find the prettiest? “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My favorite for the beauty stakes is Elena Dementieva. There are many lovely Russian players but Elena always looks feminine. The outfits she wears always look so good on her. But my favorite female player is Justine Henin.”

On the noise: “The grunt and shriek debate continues although with Mike Limpag’s “flame” (Sharapova) extinguished, it will be markedly decibels quieter. When I watched Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin play in the Queensland several weeks ago, I thought then that there was something wrong with the audio. Both of these girls played at the highest quality without grunting and shrieking. What a pleasure it was to watch and hear the noise of the racquet actually hitting the ball.”

What’s the favorite Australian chant? “Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi”

What are the ticket prices? “Depending on the day a day or night session a ticket will cost between $60 (P2,500) for the first few days before it starts to spiral upwards (some may say out of control) before peaking at $290 (P12,200) for the men’s or women’s final.”

A Roger-Rafa finale? “We can expect another Roger-Rafa final because they are the two most consistent players and their meetings are legendary. But will they play in the final? There are probably four who could make the final and it would not be a surprise. Roger, Rafa, Andy Murray (away from the expectation of Wimbledon), Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro’s my choice against either Roger or Rafa.”

Why is Australia a tennis-loving country? Did this start during the era of Laver and Rosewall? “No it happened well before them. In fact the Australasian Lawn Tennis Association was formed in 1904. We won the first of our 27 Davis Cup crowns in 1907. It also marked the year that Norman Brookes became the first of 12 Australians to win Wimbledon. Tennis has been around in Australia for a long time. Laver and Rosewall are just part of the legacy of those humble beginnings.”

Notice the drums beating in between points? “Because of our cosmopolitan heritage there is always strong nationalistic support for many of the overseas players. These players in many cases come from countries with a strong football culture and the supporters bring that football support to the tennis.”

Have you watched the games live? “No. And I most probably won’t in the future. With the unbelievable TV coverage that we get LIVE and the line-up of commentators who give such an insight into the players psyche I’m happy to be a couch potato for two weeks. We have around 12 hours of live coverage daily.”

Is tennis your country’s most popular sport? “In national participation, tennis ranks low. The Australian Football League and rugby league are No.1 in winter depending on what state you live. Soccer is No. 2 in all states. In summer, cricket, especially when the national team is playing, is No. 1. Girls netball is getting stronger. Tennis becomes No. 1 for couch potatoes in January when there are so many tournaments played around the country prior to the Open.”

Why is Lleyton Hewitt considered by many as arrogant? “He became famous at a very young age by beating Andre Agassi in 1998 in consecutive lead-up tournaments before the Aussie Open when he was 17 years old. He was the third youngest ever to claim an ATP title. He was the first teenager in ATP history to ever qualify for the year-end Tennis Masters Cup (ATP World Tour Finals). And his record of achievements goes on. Maybe it was a case of too much too soon.”

Federer vs. Laver, both at their peak, who’d win? “I think it is difficult to compare different eras. It most certainly would have been a great game but for no other reason than I am unashamedly biased, I would say Rod Laver.”

If Wimbledon has strawberries-and-cream and the US Open has hotdogs…. what does the Oz Open have? “We have a great tournament unfortunately now attracting publicity for all the wrong reasons. A small ethnic group of troublemakers are trying their hardest to disrupt the passion of the record crowds who are flocking to the tennis every day. Today for instance there were 45 Turkish troublemakers (I wont call them supporters) ejected from the Open because of the trouble they were making with flares and abusive language etc. On Monday it was a group of Croatians.”

How hot is it in Australia now? “We are in the middle of summer and it will get hot. Definitely weather-wise and court-wise the temperature will get hotter as the Open progresses. It will vary from a maximum 23 degrees to a maximum of 32 in the next seven days. On the court it will be much hotter though.”

Many years back, the Australian Open was not at par (in terms of prestige, etc) with the three other Slams. But now, it surely is. What did Tennis Australia do? “Moving the Open to its current location in Melbourne has meant a lot of money was able to be spent on upgrading the facility to its state of the art facility it is today. Previously the hosting of the Open alternated in the different states.”

Is Melbourne like the Cebu of Australia (and Sydney is Manila)? “It depends on where you live. Sydney (my hometown) is Manila and Melbourne Cebu. But I know many from Melbourne and there is definitely that same rivalry as Manila, Cebu so they would tell you Melbourne is Manila.”

Manny is just like his mommy, Dionisia

Last Saturday, I sat inside the grand ballroom of the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino. Beside me were Jasmin, my wife, plus four of our closest friends—doctors Ron Eullaran and Ronnie Medalle with their wives Raycia and Stephanie. We watched Pacquiao. No, it wasn’t Manny—he was readying for his trip to Los Angeles—but a lady named “PacMom.”

She’s like her son. Or rather, the son’s just like the mom. Nanay Dionisia is a superstar. On stage, she’s feisty and popular—just like her favorite son. During the Ai! Ai! Ganda! Mommy Dionisia! show three nights ago, she boogied, strutted, twisted, and whirled like an 18-year-old debutante with her red underwear visible as her blue dress swayed open.

Mommy Dionisia sang “Usahay.” Then, addressing the crowd in Bisaya, she belted out an Imelda Papin song which she confessed was her lullaby tune many years ago to baby Manny. Never mind if her voice was nowhere near the likes of Sinulog performers Pilita Corrales or Dulce, she thrilled us. For on stage was the mother of our planet’s most famous Filipino.

To me, the incredible part was midway through her dance routine when her partner gripped her arm and leg and catapulted Mommy Dionisia’s body around and around—as if she were a carousel floating and gliding on air. She’s 60 years old!

Wow. She wowed us. Now I understand why Manny is “ShowManny.” He’s a showman. Because she is. He’s his mom’s son. She brightens when the spotlight is shone—just like MP. She sings. He does. Her footwork—for a senior citizen—is astonishing, just like his. She’s forever-smiling. She’s full of overconfidence. She delights in standing ovations. Mommy is Manny. Pacquiao is Pacquiao.

The rest of the show? Steph, Raycia and Jasmin enjoyed it the most because of hunks first-named Derek and Jon. How about Ai-Ai? To us, she appeared unrehearsed as she often missed her singing lines and owned a voice that was too ear-piercing. The star of the night? He—or she—was Vice Ganda. He was brilliant, humorous, lively. But what made his hour-long comedic act rotten and distressing was how he’d randomly call up onstage members of the audience and would insult them. One embarrassed man, after over 10 minutes of relentless humiliation, stormed the stage and wacked the comedian’s hand to get back to his seat. Otherwise, the entire program—this type of comedy/celebrity show, a first for Jasmin and I—was fun and funny.

Mayor Tom: We need the Cebu Sports Complex

Good news! Just last Wednesday, Cebu City Mayor Tommy de la Rama Osmeña signed a contract with SM Prime Holdings, Inc. president Hans Sy for the mall giant’s purchase of 30 hectares of land inside the South Road Properties (SRP) for a whopping amount of P2,700,000,000. This is terrific. Including the investment of the Filinvest Land, Inc. (covering 40 hectares), this translates to billions of new revenues for the oldest city in the Philippines.

Expect the SRP, in a few years’ time, to be “The Fort Bonifacio of Cebu City,” the prime real estate location where skyscrapers sprout and 5-star hotels rise and businesses flourish. If you’ve been to the Mall of Asia along Roxas Boulevard in Manila, expect the same colossal SM Mall at our SRP. This is splendid.

But here’s what I hope our mayor doesn’t forget: Sports. Because while SM bought 300,000 sq.m. and Filinivest invested in 400,000, there’s still a lot, lot more open space left in the SRP, which totals 300 hectares. Can a portion be earmarked for sports? I hope so. And I think so.

You see, about three years ago, the mayor gathered all of Cebu City’s top sports leaders to a lunch of prime rib steak at the then newly-opened restaurant of Michel Lhuillier, who was also introduced to us as the Chairman of the Cebu City Sports Commission.

Mayor Tommy spoke about sports. He talked about the SRP. He said, if I recall his words well, that he will apportion a part of the reclaimed land for sports. Of course, he said, business comes first; which means that he’ll have to sell the prime lots before designating the area for sports. That was three years ago.

Today, thanks to SM and Filinvest, money has entered the city’s treasure chest. And so, dear Mayor, after the revelry and the confetti of the 30th Sinulog has settled, I hope you’ll revisit your grand plan for our city: A Cebu City Sports Complex.

For this is Cebu’s shortcoming. We don’t lack of international-caliber dancesport champions or ALA Gym world title-holders or the 7-footer Greg Slaughter and the 6-foot-10 Jun Mar Fajardo in basketball. What we lack is Infrastructure.

Our Cebu City Sports Center (behind the Abellana school), apart from the newly-built track oval at the Sacred School-Jesuit, houses the only rubberized track oval in Metro Cebu. The good news is, 16 years after it was built, the Abellana oval will be resurfaced—thanks to  the mayor’s approval—in a few months’ time.

Our New Cebu Coliseum? Ha-ha. That should have long been named the Old Cebu Coliseum.

Tennis courts? We hardly have a single hard-court where junior winners like Jacob Lagman and Niño and Em-Em Siso can call their practice ground.

Football? Thanks to the Aboitiz family—with their recently-opened Aboitiz Sports Field beside Makro—we now have a giant-sized football pitch.

But this is not enough. We need more. Football fields. Baseball/softball diamond. An athletic field with an international-standard rubberized oval. Tennis courts. An Olympic-size swimming pool with a grandstand. Volleyball courts. Basketball rectangles. And more.

Allocating, for example, 15 hectares—or only five percent of the total land area inside SRP—will be sufficient for this grand vision of a Cebu City Sports Arena.

And why not target for our city to host the South East Asian Games—this time not just a few events (as we did in 2005), but most of the games, including the grand Opening and Closing ceremonies? Or, to set our sights even farther… the Asian Games? Imagine the Asian Games in Cebu?

Yes, it’s possible. I know… this is all long-term. But if we don’t dream and envision the possible, then it remains impossible. And, if there’s a group of Filipinos who can achieve this, it’s us, the Cebuanos. Pit Señor!