TAIPEI — Taiwan is small. If you open Google Maps and compare the Philippines with our neighbor up north, it’s smaller than Mindanao. Taiwan is only 12 percent the land area of our country. Population-wise, their 24 million people is one-fourth our overpopulated nation. But if we compare economies, their GDP of US$1.147 trillion is sizable versus our $793 billion.
Sports? If we base the analysis on the Olympics, they beat us. Since they joined in 1956 in Melbourne (while we started earlier at the 1924 Paris Games), they’ve accummulated 24 medals versus our 10. Plus, they’ve gained the shiniest of precious metals: two gold medals for taekwondo in Athens and, just last August in Rio, another gold medal for women’s weightlifting.
Last Sunday, I spoke about the Taipei Marathon and discussed the moniker, “The Bicycle Kingdom,” conferred to this nation that manufactures millions of bicycles each year.
Biking and running are popular in Taiwan. Their streets are wide and planted with biking and jogging lanes — unlike our roads where the joggers and bikers have to negotiate the traffic with tricycles, private vehicles, jeepneys, pedicabs and, worse, motorbikes who “counter-flow.”
But as beloved as biking and running are in Taiwan, they’re not the most celebrated sport. This mantle belongs to baseball. If the Philippines has basketball, Taiwan has baseball. First introduced during the Japanese rule — which ran from 1895 until the end of WW2 in 1945 — baseball is Taiwan’s national sport. And if we cheer for the PBA, theirs is the Chinese Professional Baseball League. The Taiwanese have produced world-class players and have sent a few to America to play in Major League Baseball. These include Wei-Yin Chen (Orioles) and Chien-Ming Wang (Yankees and Nationals).
How good are the Taiwanese? According to the International Baseball Federation, Chinese-Taipei is ranked world no. 3, behind only the U.S. and Japan. They won silver at the Barcelona Olympics and bronze in 1994 at the Los Angeles Olympics.
With baseball, it’s the No.1 sport that they follow. But it’s not the top game that the Taiwanese themselves play. That honor goes to basketball and their top league is the Super Basketball League (SBL).
In tennis, their star netter is Lu Yen-hsun. He was ranked as high as world no. 33 (in 2010) and he currently sits at no. 64. I recall an interesting story involving this 33-year-old, 5-foot-11 player who resides in Taipei. Back in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, my wife Jasmin and I watched Andy Murray in singles. As he was ahead in the first set and was playing an unknown opponent, we moved to the other courts knowing that he’ll easily advance. An hour or so later, we saw the score flash: Murray lost! Minutes after the Briton’s shocking defeat, we saw his mom Judy walk in front of us, downtrodden and shocked. The man who beat Murray? Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan.
More on tennis: the Chinese-Taipei team has played Davis Cup in Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. For those who visited the five-star resort in Marigondon in 2011, you were treated to smashing tennis action which ended up with the Taiwanese winning, 3-2.
Among the women, it’s Hsieh Su-wei who has achieved the highest of goals. Two years ago competing in doubles, she was ranked No. 1 in the world.
29th UNIVERSIADE. One major sporting event that this nation is looking forward to will run from August 19 to 30 next year. It’s the 2017 Taipei Summer Universiade and over 12,000 athletes from 150 countries are scheduled to converge for these biennial games.
Dubbed “the largest multi-sport event in the world apart from the Olympics,” the Universiade is organized purely for university athletes. Last year, South Korea hosted and next year, it’s Taiwan’s turn to organize this event which consists of 14 compulsory sports, seven optional sports and one demonstration sport.
In summary, sports-fan or not, Taiwan (especially with the direct EVA Air flights from Cebu) should be part of your travel list in 2017.