Experience the Singapore Grand Prix

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Anton Villacin takes the pilgrimage every September. For the past six years, he has never missed watching the Formula One race in The Lion City.

“The plan was just to watch the inaugural race (in 2008),” Anton said, via email, two nights ago. “It being a street night race, we figured it will be more fun than a dedicated race track. It turned out we were right, and we got hooked ever since.”

The “we” of Anton includes his barkada from the Bimmercebu Club — the BMW owners’ group. “We took it one year at a time but never planned it to be 6 of 6,” he said. “The usual suspects in our group, Jude Flores (6 of 6), Charles Osmeña (5 of 6) and Choming Marques (5 of 6), are strong convincing movers of our annual trip.”

In the Sept. 22 (last Sunday) race, the gang grew bigger with the inclusion of Anton’s family (dad Dodong, mom Lelet, and sisters Ella and Louie) plus Harold Siasat, Justin Alfafara, Jenina Marques, Dondee Binoya and Drew Sarmiento.


Formula 1 racing is one of the world’s most popular of sports. Composed of 22 drivers representing 11 teams, they hop from one country to another and race their cars up to 350 kph. “For us, it’s the thrill and skill that speed brings; no other circuit motorsport is faster,” Anton said. “Second are the stories that evolve from the sport. And lastly it’s the discipline required of each driver and team. As they say, it’s the pinnacle of motorsport racing.”

The Singapore race last weekend was the 13th of 19 races. What started last March 17 in Melbourne, Australia will conclude at the Brazilian Grand Prix on Nov. 24.

Like in any sport, watching “live”is incomparable. “As an F1 fan, or a motorsport fan in general, I suggest you experience F1 live at least once,” Anton said. “Sure, watching it on TV keeps you updated on the goings-on of the race but nothing beats the sound of those v8s, the smell of gasoline around the track, and the energy you get from thousands of screaming fans. Not to mention the trackside spectacles like the sponsors booths, F1 merchandise, concerts and other entertainment. You can’t get all that while sitting in your living room!”

(Ticket prices? From SG$228 for a walkabout ticket to SG$1,288 for a pit grandstand. “This year we got the bay grandstand for $298,” said Anton. In the group, the luckiest were Charles Osmena and Drew Sarmiento, who won a pit tour on Thursday night; both got to see the pits, crews and cars up-close.)

What’s fun about F1 is that it’s an entire weekend of partying. Anton & Co. watched The Killers on Saturday and Rihanna on Sunday after the race. When you visit the website, you’ll be bombarded with dozens of talents, including Tom Jones, Bob Geldof and Justin Bieber.

The 61-lap Singapore race was won by Sebastian Vettel. An Alonso/Ferrari fan, Anton commented on the world champ: “Although we have all respect for Seb and we consider him one of the elite drivers, we’re definitely not fans. In the F1, just like in most motorsports, the team, especially the engineers, is the major reason for winning. Not to take away anything from Seb but he’s very lucky to have a very good team which gives him a very good car. Seb’s clear focus on winning in most of his comments and actions definitely don’t help his popularity, and the ‘Multi 21’ saga in Malaysia just made it worse. We’re not in any position to decide who’s the greatest but Seb will definitely be in a lot of fan debates and conversations for years to come.”

Finally, convincing us to join him next year for his 7-of-7 quest, Anton concluded: “F1 fan or not, it’s one of those events that we recommend others to experience. For the F1 fan it’s one of the nearest for us; it’s one of the few night races and street circuits. Singapore is such a great city to visit. And even if all you do is stay inside the circuit for three days, you’ll be more than entertained with not only the race but all the circuit events around the race, especially the concerts. And while in Singapore don’t forget to indulge in a food trip. Ask Charles for recommendation!”

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Got this email from my friend BOBBY LOZADA:

Hi John.

We too were at the GP last Sept. 22. While the Bay Grandstand, mentioned by Anton is a good place to watch the race, it is a slow portion of the track because of the relatively short straight in front of it. Since the Pit Grandstand is horribly expensive, I would suggest buying the Walkabout ticket, where we were (for a considerably lower price than the Bay GS). If you position yourself well, you can watch across the Connaught GS (which is the second costliest GS and priced a little under the Pit GS, the costliest GS).

The straight leading to the Connaught GS and the Walkabout is very long and when the racers reach this GS they are going at full throttle! Believe me, the wail of their engines are deafening in this section! And you may catch the shapes of the lead cars as they pass, but the trailing cars are but just a blur. I loved the scream of the engines at first, but after 30 minutes, I had to stuff my ears with tissue.



Categorized as Formula One

14 reasons to join the ‘14 Cebu Marathon

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It’s official. In two weeks’ time, the registration for one of this nation’s most celebrated of road-running races begins. Here’s why you should join:

1) It’s international. Few races in the world — and there are thousands — are certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations/Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (IAAF/AIMS). Cebu Marathon is one of them!

2) RunRio. Founded by our group, the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC), in our first two years, we organized the Half-Marathon. In the four years after that, from 2010 to 2013, it was the 42K. This time, we’re partnering with Rio de la Cruz, the country’s premier organizer of running events. Rio will be the lead organizer and will extend his expertise in making this the best Cebu Marathon ever.

3) Same registration fees. Yes. Even with the international accreditation and even with so much more offerings, the entry fees will be the same as 2013. The only minor addition is P100 for the 21K — which is more than justifiable because of… (See # 7.)

4) Sinulog. Ours is the only true festival-type event. It’s not manufactured. When we say that there will be loud music, street dancers, hanging buntings and that once-a-year Sinulog spirit, it’s because the Cebu Marathon is part of Sinulog. It’s held during the Sinulog season, exactly seven mornings before the grand mardi gras.

5) New medals. In our first three editions, it was the mango design. Last January, it was the hanging rice (“puso”). In 2014, it will be unique. I know what it is but I’m not about to announce it here. We’ll reserve the exciting news soon. But here’s a guarantee: You’ll “sing” praises for the medal!

6) Goodies. There will be plenty: singlets, finishers shirts (the 21K will have “Half-Marathoner” at the back while the 42K will have “Marathoner”) and loot bags.

7) Medals for the 21K. As part of the organizing team for the previous Cebu Marathons, we’ve heard this complaint every January. “Why no medals for the half-marathon?” Finally, it’s here. All who cross that finish line at the Cebu I.T. Park after running 21 kms. will receive that well-deserved award.

8) Food and drinks along the way. I remember Joy Polloso handing out roasted calf. The UNGO group gave out plenty of food. Some organizations, those manning the 13 water stations, prepared lechon, humba, puso, barbeque and so much more. Just a warning: don’t eat too much — you still have to finish the race!

9) RunRio cards. This is a new addition. How do you register? Not by filling-up a registration form. That’s a waste of precious paper. This time, when you visit the Active Zone of Ayala Center Cebu, you can purchase the RunRio card. You scratch a portion at the back and it will reveal a code number. You may register on-site (Ayala Center) or online. More details to follow.

10) Prize money. We’ll make this announcement soon but it’s guaranteed that the cash prizes will be an increase from last January. For the men and women champions, we’re looking at six figures!

11) Historic sights. Cebu is one of the most historical of cities in our 7,107 islands. There’s the Magellan’s Cross. There’s Colon Street. There’s Plaza Independencia, Osmena Blvd., the City Hall and the Provincial Capitol, Fuente Osmena — all must-visit sights for tourists and all places that you, the Cebu Marathon participant, will see by foot while running. Plus, of course, the Tunnel…

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12) No cups. This is the country’s first ever marathon which will not use cups. “What, no cups? How do we drink?” you ask. We will be providing extra manpower at each water station so they can personally pour the water in your handheld bottles (which we’ll be giving you for free). The reason for this no-cups-new-idea is because we want an…

13) Environmentally-friendly race. In this era of too much waste, Coach Rio has pioneered an idea to reduce waste. Usually, over 200,000 cups are thrown at each race. Imagine the cleaner streets and lesser plastic usage with this concept.

14) It’s the new year. Yes! Imagine finishing a 21K or 42K just days after the year starts? (Race day: Jan. 12, 2014.) Imagine the positive impact and momentum this will give you throughout 2014?

He walks the talk

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Ed Hayco, PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez, Mayor Mike Rama, PSC Chairman Richie Garcia, Dondon Sombrio, John Pages and Ricky Ballesteros

Wearing one’s black leather shoes while hiking the track oval of the Cebu City Sports Center is disallowed. So is strolling along the maroon-colored rubberized surface wearing long pants. Worse, if you wear long-sleeves — even if the brand is Lacoste — that’s unacceptable attire to be worn while circling the Abellana oval.

One man did that two Sundays ago. And, no, he wasn’t reprimanded or asked to change to sleeveless running wear. In fact, right beside him was the Sports Center manager, Ricky Ballesteros.

How was this possible?     Because that man was our city’s chief executive officer. And he was walking the entire circle not to exercise or sweat but to give instructions on the upliftment of the CCSC.

Mayor Mike Rama, two weekends ago, was inside our sports complex together with our nation’s top sports leaders: PSC Chairman Richie Garcia and PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez. Part of the group was Edward Hayco, the “Guinness World Record” man who is our city’s sports honcho.

After the formal turn-over of the gymnastics equipment from the PSC to the CCSC and after speeches were delivered by Garcia, Rama and Hayco, that’s when we stepped out to the track oval.

The Cebu Sports Museum is one of the major projects of our city’s sports commission. As the past president of the Sportswriters Association of Cebu (SAC), now headed by Rico Navarro, I volunteered to help develop the museum.

Mayor Mike gave us tips. One of the most passionate and energetic of men that you can find — always on-the-go, forever smiling and chatting, endlessly hopping from one project to another — Michael Rama was his usual charismatic self when he talked to Ed Hayco, Ricky Ballesteros, Dondon Sombrio (our bemedalled archer and architect of the museum), volleyball’s Eric Licain, and myself.

“Let’s call it ‘Walk and Run with the Sports Heroes,’” said the mayor. Originally, we wanted the sports museum to be confined inside the building complex.

Why don’t we include the outside, the oval, the entire complex? the mayor suggested. Excellent point. With thousands of joggers and people who exercise around the track oval, why not let them be witnesses to the museum?

Like Hong Kong’s Walk of Fame boardwalk where, along the breathtaking view beside the water, you walk amidst heroic men and women who’ve made Hong Kong popular, we can do something similar in Cebu — for sports.

“We can place Flash Elorde’s statue here,” said the mayor, pointing to a spot at the oval’s first bend. Then, several meters later, he pointed to another vacant area. “If Manny Pacquiao is okay, we can ask that he be included here and we can place Manny’s life-size figure here.”

Brilliant. Under the 11 a.m. morning heat — when Mr. Sun’s rays beamed brightly upon us — and with Rama wearing a red-striped Lacoste, he toured us not on a halfway walk of the 400-meter oval — but the entire turn, pointing at a possible idea there, excitedly and animatedly expressing his views at another spot there.

Along the way, he shook hands with athletes. We spotted the UC football team (my UP classmate Tirso Roa, who helps the squad, was there). About to play next on the soccer field, Mayor Mike shook hands with them. Then, he did another unexpected act: with long-sleeves shirt and cowboy-style jeans, he borrowed a football and dribbled it. He did a cross-dribble that delighted the UC players. They clapped.

In the oval’s final bend, we spotted an oasis with a huge grass area. Like a little boy who found a playground, he said, “We can make this the Sports Garden!”

In our entire tour, one word described the experience: Passion. This man has it. Finally, as we reached the exit and as his white Toyota Hi-Ace with the “MAYOR” plate number was waiting, we chatted for a few final moments.

Ed Hayco, applauded repeatedly by Mayor Mike (the day before was the Dancesport Championship at the Waterfront Hotel), ended our talk with these words: “Mayor, your passion comes from here,” said Ed, pointing to the heart.

Best speech I’ve heard from MLR

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PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez, PSC Chairman Richie Garcia, Mayor Mike Rama and John Pages

I have listened to Michael Lopez Rama render an oration many, many times before. Often, our Cebu City mayor is accused of speaking too long; enunciating words that curve and twist and stretch longer than desired.

Not seven days ago. We were inside the Cebu City Sports Center. It was a multi-ceremony occasion: Cebu’s Olympians, CCSC’s quarterly newsletter, was being launched by the indefatigable Ed Hayco. So was the Monthly Relay event. Gymnastics equipment were turned-over. The Cebu Sports Museum was being presented.

In attendance last Sunday morning were the country’s top sports leaders: Phil. Sports Commission (PSC) Chairman Richie Garcia. PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez. Our own chieftain, Cebu City Sports Commission (CCSC) Chairman Edward Hayco. Ricky Ballesteros, who heads the Sports Center and our numerous sporting events, including today’s Milo Half-Marathon. Volleyball supporter Eric Licain and archery legend Dondon Sombrio.

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Edward Hayco

RICHIE GARCIA. The PSC chairman spoke first. “I was born and raised in Bacolod City but I’ve always loved coming to Cebu,” said Mr. Garcia, a dapper mestizo with golden white hair and an even more golden score in golf (4-handicap). Garcia has numerous friends in Cebu, including his golfmate Montito Garcia.

“We donated a full container of gymnastics equipment,” said the PSC top honcho. “Next, we will send a boxing ring.” Speaking to the dozens of children who sat and listened, he said that Cebu is lucky to have a sports leader like Ed Hayco.

Richie Garcia mentioned that he’s been appointed to the PSC a record three presidents. First, with Pres. Erap. Next, with GMA. And now, as chairperson, with P-Noy. Why? he asked. Because he’s not a political person. He strays away from politics at all costs. “Politics should have no place in sports,” he said.

MAYOR’S TALK. Mike Rama gave the inspirational speech. As I said, I’ve heard him give a homily plenty of times in the past — and this was the best impromptu, from-the-heart speech I’ve heard him deliver.

“Hi!” he started. “Hello,” the children answered. “Hello,” he countered. “Hi,” the children echoed.

Instead of standing in front of us — the adults — he walked towards the children, who sat by rows on the staircase. He stood with them. Yes, he was speaking to the sports leaders but, more importantly — and instinctively — this inspirational speech was intended to inspire one audience: the boys and girls.

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Michael Rama

MLR talked about gymnastics and basketball — but beyond games, he touched on the greater good that sports imbibes. Minutes into his speech, he integrated words that sounded familiar:

“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.” Then, in a deliberate and articulate voice, he whispered… “Give them a sense of pride.”

Yes, we know our mayor to be a singer, but this time, he voiced-out the words — not singing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” — weaving the words perfectly into his speech.

“Give them a sense of pride,” he told us, looking and smiling at the children.

Sports = Pride. The mayor made perfect sense. Those words made sense. He spoke to the teachers who joined us. He spoke to the leaders. He spoke in behalf of the children. Sports give pride to our children.

Gold medals, the mayor added, are important; but what’s even more important is what the children learn from and through sports. Being fair. Accepting defeat. Sportsmanship. Sport is more than physical development. It’s about developing the whole person. It’s when we develop individuals while they’re still young — the children — that we help mold them for life, said our impassioned leader.

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Roller-coaster ride inside Plantation Bay

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Painful. Depressing. Bitter. Heartbreaking. These are some of the emotions and words that best describe last weekend.

The Phils-New Zealand fight at Plantation Bay Resort and Spa was a see-saw, you-never-know-who’s-going-to-win encounter.

Ruben Gonzales held match point in Game 1. We still lost. Rubin Statham of NZ led two-sets-to-love but succumbed to cramps; he could have lost but won. NZ up 2-0. Team Phils. won the 3rd match — the doubles, behind the superb quickness of Nino Alcantara and Treat Huey.

In last Sunday’s Game 4, Rubin (Statham) led Ruben (Gonzales) by two sets to one. After a rain delay, Gonzales recovered to force a fifth set — but trailed 3-5. He wins five of the next six games to triumph, 8-6, after four hours. From down to up, it was all-square, a 2-all tie.

Treat Huey, world no. 28 in doubles, emerged from the dugout to play Michael Venus. Fresh from his US Open stint the week before, Treat provides the Cebuano crowd a treat — he wins the first two sets, 7-5, 6-4. He toys with the male Venus (not Williams). Drop shots. Lobs. Slice forehands. This is it! we thought.

Time check: 12:30 a.m. (Yes, in the morning!) We were up… then down. Unexplicably, Treat’s first serve percentage went down. He lost the third set. And the fourth. The Kiwi scored aces. He tracked down the previously-unreachable drop shots. He fired gun shots from corners. Oh no!

Down 0-2 on Friday, we escaped with a 2-all tie and led two sets to love behind Treat by Sunday. But now, Monday dawn, the tide in Plantation Bay turned again — this time, with NZ winning the final point.

Painful. Devastating. More so because, for the dozens of us who stayed to cheer, we had come a few games away — so close — only to falter. And the clock read “1:50.” Yesterday morning! (Two city mayors — Paz Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City and my seatmate, Monico Puentevella of Bacolod — watched the entire show.)

In the end, like in all sporting endeavors, someone has to smile and someone has to frown.

TENSION. What added fire to the fight was a near-fight that ensued in the middle of last Sunday’s night’s two matches.

Out of nowhere, New Zealand’s captain, Alistair Hunt, a 6-foot-3 hulk of a Kiwi, confronted our own Randy Villanueva with these words, “Why don’t we settle this in the room!”

I was 20 feet away. At first, we were perplexed with their face to face encounter. Only after Randy pushed Alistair did we realize the threat that NZ’s captain made. He wanted a fight! Not to be contested on the clay court and by Babolat rackets — but, literally — a fight using fists.

Crazy. Good thing, amidst dagger looks and screaming, the two were restrained. Good thing also that Alistair didn’t throw a single jab; if he did, given that he barged into the territory where the Pinoys stood (beside the court), he could have been pummeled with fists of Pacquiao’s countrymen.

His aggressiveness was triggered by an earlier argument Randy had with one NZ team player and their team therapist. They exchanged harsh words during the Ruben-Rubin match.

Foolish. Uncalled-for. This act of Alistair. (And this is the guy with the Alistair Hunt Tennis Academy, who teaches children? What values you’re teaching, mate!)

“This is unprecedented!” Randy Villanueva shouted. True. Davis Cup is country versus country. It’s always heated. And the cheering and the drum-beating that we Filipinos exhibited — that’s mild and tame compared to the other boisterous Davis Cup settings.

We’ve been hospitable. The linesmen, honest. We welcomed these guests with our world-renowned Filipino hospitality. The aggressive, in-your-face threat by the team’s leader is disgusting.

END. Still, a loss is a loss. By 2 a.m. yesterday, as the resort winds cooled and the emotional heads cooled, the result was one we didn’t like but accepted. We lost. The Kiwis move up to Group 1 while we remain in Group 2. There’s next year. For now, as symbolic revenge, I’ll buy myself these brown-and-green fruits, slice them into chunks and gobble up these kiwis.

Battle of Mactan: Kiwis vs. Pinoys

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It could have been 2-0 instead of 0-2. Such is sport. It comes down to one or two points. At the “Battle of Mactan” inside Plantation Bay Resort and Spa between New Zealand and our Philippines, we nearly won. But “nearly” is not the same as “victorious.”

Sayang. In the first singles tennis match last Friday, Ruben Gonzales held a match point — just one moment away from triumph — before Michael Venus of NZ escaped to win in four hours.

In the second singles match, there was Jose Statham, nicknamed Rubin. (Plenty of Rubens this weekend: Ruben Gonzales, Rubin Statham and the New Zealand Ambassador, Reuben Levermore. Of the NZ ambassador, we had a chance last Wednesday night to talk sports while sipping San Mig Light at Plantation Bay’s Savannah Grill; a footballer turned rugby player, he follows cricket, NZ basketball, the America’s Cup and tennis; he was in attendance last Friday.)

Back to the 2nd singles match: Rubin Statham won the first two sets against Johnny Arcilla, 6-4, 6-2. He was en route to an easy straight sets win (Davis Cup is three-out-of-five). But, no, an unnerving and game-changing occurence was happening: Statham started to cramp! His calves stiffened. He wouldn’t sit down during changeovers. He served underhand.

Yes! Johnny Arcilla had a chance. He led in the 3rd set. Hobbled and near-limping at certain moments, Statham’s confident face transformed into one that was shocked.

Statham took his chances. Not wanting to prolong the points, he fired go-for-broke forehand winners. He mustered all energy to score aces. In one made-for-YouTube moment, Arcilla carressed a delicate drop shot. Running towards the net, Statham barely retrieved the shot as Arcilla calmly toyed with his opponent by hurling a lob over Statham’s head. We thought the Kiwi wouldn’t risk the painful U-turn to sprint back. He did. And, in the “Point Of The Weekend,” he managed to reach the lob and, in a no-look flick-of-his-wrist act, snapped the ball backwards for a zipping winner that had Arcilla stunned. Unbelievable.

Unbelievably, the cramping Statham broke Arcilla at 4-all then served for the match to win, 6-4. He slammed his racket after the final point and tore open his white Under Armour shirt — all in celebration of another improbable coup for New Zealand.

DOUBLES. The doubles last night? I didn’t have time to write this after the match — and so, I’m guessing: We won. With Treat Huey and Nino Alcantara as partners, it’s hard to imagine us losing. Treat (pronounced “Tret”) is a recent quarterfinalist at the US Open (with Dennis Inglot). He’s world-ranked No. 28. His teammate, Alcantara, is himself a Grand Slam winner — the 2009 Australian Open doubles champion in juniors. They form a formidable serve-and-return-and-volley duo.

Granted we won last night, today is the day. It’s the 3rd and final day. It’s two singles matches. In the first match, it’s No.1 versus No.1. That should be Ruben (Gonzales) against Rubin (Statham). If PHL beats NZ, it will conclude with the best possible scenario: a Game 5. If this happens, I hope Treat Huey will be fielded to play the decider. This scenario happened in South Korea a few years back: We lost 0-2, won the doubles, won the 4th match and Treat Huey played the 5th match to steer Team Phils. to a come-from-behind win. I hope this happens today!

NOTES. This weekend is historic. I know the Phil. Columbian Association (PCA) in Manila has hosted dozens of Davis Cup ties but I don’t think it has hosted three straight in one year — like Plantation Bay this 2013 … These events bring together tennis aficionados from all over; seen over the weekend were Rod Rafael, Romy Chan, Col. Buddy Andrada, Dyan Castillejo, Jean Henri Lhuillier, PSC Chairman Richie Garcia, PSC Commissioner Jolly Gomez, Philta’s Romy Magat, Lito Villanueva … Also here to receive his ITF Commitment Award is Johnny Jose, the 1962 Asian Games gold medalist; here with his wife, Mrs. Olie Jose.

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With Bacolod City Mayor Monico Puentevella

After New York, it’s D.C.

By “DC,” I don’t mean the U.S. capital. I mean “Davis Cup.” After two weeks of tennis at the United States Open in NYC, our attention shifts to the giant lagoon paradise called Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

But first, Nadal… Now that he owns 13 Grand Slam singles titles, can Rafa overtake Roger Federer’s 17? Yes. I think Nadal will exceed Federer’s number. Only 27 years old, at the French Open alone — where he’s won 8 of 9 — that’s a guaranteed handful of trophies.

Wasn’t Rafa relentless in New York? He’s always been — but more so this 2013 because, deep inside, he knows that he could have been forever-retired at a white sand beach resort in Mallorca, Spain.

Injuries plagued him. He missed defending his Olympic title. He lost so many ATP points that, in his return after injury, he joined an unheard-of Chile event.

But he persisted. Nadal is the most persevering athlete to ever wield a stick. You know what? His knee injury turned out to be a blessing. A “blessing in disguise” we often term that. He rested. He was forcibly asked to go fishing. He performed rehab. Most of all, he changed his game. The spin remains. The pump fists endure. But this time, he developed a more potent 123-mph serve. He volleyed. He also stood inside the baseline — a rarity for the counter-punching Spaniard — to become the aggressor. Needing to finish points quicker than usual (to save his knees), he now attacks that yellow fluffy ball with the ferociousness of a left-handed butcher.

In the weeks to come, a return to the No.1 ranking is inevitable. A year-end top spot is guaranteed. From injury to triumph, that’s Rafa 2013.

PLANTATION BAY. Last night, coach Tommy Frederiksen and I joined the Welcome Dinner honoring the two squads who will do a Battle of Mactan: New Zealand and the Philippines.

These Welcome Dinners are always fun. When Thailand visited last April, their top netter Danai Udomchoke was forced to sing. Yes, in front of a hundred guests, he mustered the courage to do karaoke. One time against Japan, Lapu-Lapu City’s top councilor Harry Radaza spoke in Japanese. This stunned the visitors and had them giggling.

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The Davis Cup teams of the Philippines and New Zealand with the New Zealand Ambassador

This morning, it’s serious stuff: the Draw Ceremony. It’s also an occasion to formally introduce the players. An International Tennis Federation (ITF) representative presides — and coordinates the “bunot-bunot” on who-will-play-who.

Tomorrow, the fencing starts. I got the chance, last Monday, to watch Johnny Arcilla, Ruben Gonzales and Nino Alcantara practice at the Plantation Bay — guided by our captain, Roland Kraut, and coach, Chris Cuarto.

They did first-to-10 points, without serves. They’d just flick the ball via a forehand to start the point. Drop shots were practiced. Slice backhands barely skimmed the net. Next, they played tiebreaks. After that, they exchanged serves and returns. It ran from 4 to 6 p.m. From 6 p.m. onwards, the Kiwis practiced. They’re tall. Plus, given their rankings (higher than ours, except for Treat Huey’s in doubles), they’re good.

Tomorrow, we’ll find out. We own the crowd. We like and have grown accustomed to the clay court. This climate – although the rainy weather may pose as a spoiler – is ours.

At 3 p.m. tomorrow, a symbolic opening ceremony will mark the formal start of the Davis Cup tie. Minutes after the parade, it’s the warm-up and, bang – the first serve is struck.

The question as to who Filipinos will play tomorrow’s two singles matches is not known to anybody except the players and their coaching staff. We’ll know tomorrow – hours before the match. But I’m sure that Ruben Gonzales will play.

In the doubles on Saturday, it’s almost sure that it will be a Treat Huey and Nino Alcantara duo. They partnered against Thailand and were exceptional.

Doubles is fun. We rarely watch it on TV (though we play it often). But watching top-caliber doubles is more exciting than singles. It’s quicker. The crowd is livelier. Exchanges are like Pacman punches – plenty and fast.

From Rio to Cebu, a fun and festive marathon

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From left: Steve Ferraren, John Pages, Rio de la Cruz, Dave Cundy of IAAF/AIMS, Jesse Taborada and Joel Juarez

Rio de Janeiro hosts one of the world’s biggest festivals. Before Lent each year, millions of revelers crowd Brazil’s second largest city. Rio is swarmed with sexy dancers, giant floats and the beating music of samba. That’s Rio. In Brazil.

Here in Cebu, we, too, have our own festival. Often called “the Philippines’ biggest mardi gras,” it’s organized in honor of the Blessed Sto. Nino and it’s held every 3rd week of January. That’s Cebu, Philippines.

Why this mention of “Rio” and the Sinulog? Because a different type of Rio is invading Cebu. No, it’s not the Rio de Janeiro of Brazil. It’s a different “Rio de…”

It’s Rio de la Cruz of running. Yes, the man we see on the covers of many magazines, Men’s Health, included; the one with the signature “Afro hair” who calls celebrities like Piolo Pascual and Fernando Zobel as his close buddies — this Rio is coming to Cebu.

Rio is helping run the run that’s adjudged as one of this country’s most fun and festive; finest and first-rate: The 2014 Cebu Marathon.

With Rio de la Cruz as the race organizer and our group — the Cebu Executive Runners Club (CERC), the founders — there to help him out, it will be a strong one-two combination that will elevate this race to superstardom.

IAAF/AIMS. These letters stand for “International Association of Athletics Federations/Association of International Marathons and Distance Races.” This is the worldwide body whose membership includes the planet’s top races — the New York, Boston, Chicago marathons…

For the past three days, Rio has been in Cebu together with an Australian who is considered one of the top race directors of their nation. His name is Dave Cundy. He’s the Vice President of AIMS and he personally measured — on a Vellum carbon-fiber road bike lent by Chris Aldeguer — the streets of Cebu; from Osmena Blvd. to Magellan’s Cross, down to the Tunnel and towards Talisay City at the SRP. (Dave Cundy, himself, is an accomplished runner, he finished 30 marathons; his best time: 2:41!)

JAN. 12. The Cebu Marathon date is on January 12, 2014. That’s over four months from today. There will only be two distances: the 21K and the 42K.

Why no more 5K? “This distance is being offered almost every Sunday,” said Rio. “We want to position the Cebu Marathon as the premier running event. We want to motivate runners to go farther.”

Medals for the 21K finishers? Yes, finally. While we previously did not give medals — Rio insists on rewarding those who complete the 21,000-meter distance.

Jerseys and Finishers’ shirts? Check. Timing chips? Check. Loot bags with plenty of goodies? Check. The Carbo-loading party at The Terraces of Ayala Center Cebu on Jan. 10? Check. Live bands and dancers along the route? Check.

The top marathon organizer of our islands, Rio is always offering unique and new additions. His novel idea for Cebu’s race: the first and only “zero waste” 42K race in the Philippines.

No plastic cups. Runners will be given free water bottles (or may opt to bring their own waist belts) and will be poured water (and, possibly, Gatorade) along the route. This makes the race environmentally-friendly.

With the registration, apart from online registration, there will be Rio’s signature “cards.” Instead of having to fill-in your personal details on paper, it will now be paper-less. (More on this in a future article.)

For now, I suggest you start preparing. The Milo Marathon this Sept. 22 — also organized by Rio, as are all Milo running events — is a good start. It’s time to look ahead. If you did the 21K and haven’t completed the 42.195-km. distance,  the date “01-12-2014” may be your lucky numbers.

What makes our CERC organizing group extra happy?

For one, we’ve found a partner who’s the best in the business (Rio is also one of our country’s fastest; his 10K best: 29 minutes; his 42K best: 2 hours, 31 minutes!).

Plus, we’re extra motivated because finally, after seven years of organizing, we can do what thousands of you have already done: We can run! See you at the starting line.

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With ‘Biggest Loser’ star Alan Choachuy