Golden Milo and the elusive gold

Not again. I recall, last year, looking at the face of Ricardo Ballesteros, Jr. We were standing on the oval of the Marikina Sports Complex. It was a Sunday. It was supposed to be an evening of celebration.

Ricky’s face explained it all: a dry smile that transformed into an unhappy frown. We – the Visayas contingent – had won the last three overall championships of the Milo Little Olympics National Finals from 2009 to 2011. The trophy was ours. But, as we stood there in Metro Manila, we had to relinquish it to the hosts. Manila won. Cebu and the Visayas lost. By a mere 11 points! This was last year.

Two nights ago, history did a rewind. This time, by an even more painful margin: six points. NCR garnered 615 total points; Visayas, 609. Ouch.

“Are you sure?” I asked Brando Velasquez, when I heard the miniscule difference. “Did you compute it properly? What if there was an error in addition?” Ha-ha. Wishful thinking. Of course they had tallied the scores correctly.

On home soil, inside the Cebu Coliseum last Sunday, on venues that we’ve practiced on for years, we were beaten. Again. By the National Capital Region. (I hope that next year – after reducing the gap from 11 to 6 points, a five-point margin – we don’t lose by one point!)

Despite the pain, despite the nearness of victory for our nation’s middle region, despite the beautiful ending that should have transpired given Visayas’ twin earthquake-and-typhoon calamities – it wasn’t meant to be.

Despite the loss, Ricky, this time, smiled. I guess he’d gotten accustomed to accepting both failure and triumph with positivity. Plus, he had wowed the crowd.
Last Friday during the Opening Act of the Milo Games, Ricky and Co. welcomed the thousands who arrived from all part of the archipelago to a greeting that only Cebu can offer. Fireworks. Glittery costumes. Acrobatic dance moves. A heart-stopping torch lighting. That was the Opening.

During the Closing, it was just as grand. Inside the Cebu Coliseum, as warm as the arena was, the performances were even hotter. They were terrific.

Nobody – and I mean this with zero bias and this will not be contested by any other sports official – nobody can put up a show like the Cebuanos. We may have lost the games but we won the crowd.

It started with the song “Gold” by Spandau Ballet. One of my all-time favorite bands (from the 80s), dancers covered in gold, including masks in gold, did a rousing opening intro. They brought out two numbers, “5” and “0.” Why these digits? Formed together, they spell out “50.” This number is golden, right? We celebrate 50 with gold. Next year happens to be the 50th anniversary of Milo in the Philippines.

Go for gold. Nestle’s top executive, Andrew Neri, gave an inspiring speech, talking of how these games have touched little kids and inspired them to excel through sports.

The Most Outstanding Athletes – a couple of dozen of them – were called and honored on-stage. (On a personal note, my daughter Jana won, for the 2nd straight year in tennis, the Most Outstanding Athlete trophy after she and her Bright Academy tennis squad blanked NCR, Luzon and Mindanao.)

Apple Abarquez was next called to perform. The song “Go The Distance” (by Michael Bolton) was perfect. Read the lyrics. It was made even more perfect by Apple’s amazing rendition of the tune. Right behind Apple on-stage were the three giant LED screens that showed HD-quality photos of the past weekend: boys sprinting, girls spiking the volleyball.

Towards the finale, three groups of dancers (New Friends, Don Juan and Disco Jammers) strutted and did break-dances and hurled themselves on air as they pumped extra excitement to the crowd.

In the end, the song “Celebrate” by Kool & the Gang was celebrated by boys and girls, coaches and parents, Milo executives and Cebu organizers, Mayor Mike Rama and Milo’s top official Robbie De Vera.

We lost but, by hosting possibly the best-ever Milo Little Olympics in history, we were victorious.

After “7.2” and Yolanda, Milo inspires


I’m typing this while facing one of the most picturesque views that our eyes can survey in Cebu. I’m seated on the balcony of Alta Vista Golf and Country Club gazing at southern Cebu. From this porch, a slice of green earth glistens right below; it’s the elegant Alta Vista golf course. But I’m not here to swing golf putts. Instead, we’re here to observe smashes and volleys. It’s tennis and the 2013 Milo Little Olympics National Finals.

My daughter Jana and her Bright Academy team are representing Team Visayas. Like they did last year in Marikina, we hope they’ll score gold at home. These Milo games energize the youth. They’re contested nationwide. A total of 13  sports are being played with 1,600 athletes (from the 22,000 who competed regionally nationwide) here to compete.

Two nights ago, on a perfect Friday night that showcased clear skies, it was the Opening Ceremony.

Ricky Ballesteros, the indefatigable architect of the Sinulog, is the man spearheading Cebu’s hosting of Milo. Ricky promised a subdued, toned-down Opening. Nope. Instead, it was spectacular. Like it should be. With thousands who landed in Cebu to do sports battle for two days, it’s essential that they be welcomed with a rousing Opening. That’s what Milo and Ricky showed the audience.

On the football field of the Cebu City Sports Center, there sat a giant stage — just like the Sinulog. Three large-size LED screens formed the backdrop. We arrived at 5 p.m. A band of dancers performed upbeat songs. Moments later, two of the top VIPs that the crowd awaited descended: Mayor Mike Rama and Nestle CEO John Miller.

Let the festivities begin! Song numbers were rendered. Dance presentations were flaunted. The entire Abellana sports grounds were covered in one color. It’s the same color of the Boston Celtics: Green. It enveloped our sports complex.

Team Visayas, struck by twin mega-calamaties the past two months, wore the appropriate shirt with these designs: On the front were the words “Signal 4” (typhoon) and on the back was “7.2 Magnitude” (earthquake). It was a reminder both to these shocking events and to the resilience of sports that, despite the distress, the battle on the sports arena will live on.

Mayor Rama not only joined the activity, he literally joined — walking with the Visayan contingent as it made its way from the oval bend to the front stage. The sportsminded mayor, like he often does, greeted the visitors with his “Maayong Gabii” version spoken in multiple dialects. He then talked about the importance of sports, especially during these times of adversity.

Chosen to do the Oath of Sportsmanship was last year’s Most Outstanding Athlete in Tennis: my 15-year-old daughter Jana. After that, Dr. Vivian Ginete, one of the chieftains of DepEd in Region 7, inspired the audience with her speech.

Then, the most thrilling portion happened: after Mario Ceniza, Glen Ramos and Alex Ballesteros dribbled the football to “get the ball rolling,” it was the lighting of the torch — culminating when a footballer lit an “arrow” that zoomed fast and lighted the urn. It was dazzling; our version of the Barcelona Olympics.

Danielle May Ozaraga sang “Power of the Dream.” She emerged from the back of the stage and was slowly lifted by a mechanized small stage. While singing with her beautiful voice, images of the athletes were exhibited in the back. Breathtaking. Goose-bumps inducing. A production that only the likes of Junjet Primor and his gang can concoct. It makes you feel proud to be Cebuano.

But, just moments prior to The End, a silent minute was observed. Fittingly so, Ricky and the Milo organizers showed a montage of photos of the destruction of “7.2 and Yolanda.” Lights were dimmed. Only the three LED screens were illuminated. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” blared on the loudspeakers. Reminiscing on that moment now, I get goosebumps. It was painful yet inspiring.

Then, after a moment’s silence, the finale: Since next year will be Milo’s 50th year in the Phils., songs from the 1960s to the present were rendered.

Through sports, Milo uplifts.

Agony, ecstasy for AJ and the Milo Olympics

While in Metro Manila last weekend, I watched two sporting events: the 4th National Milo Little Olympics and the AJ Banal championship fight.

First, Milo. Their opening ceremony last Friday was spectacular. After Ricky Ballesteros wowed the Milo officials with his opening act here at the CCSC three years ago, the high standards have been set.

Marikina City was a superb Milo host. So was Nestle, who spared no expenses to give the best; all athletes received green shirts, jackets, bags, magazines with their names printed on it, plus nicely-crafted medals for the winners.

For tennis, our elementary and high school girls played at the Marist School. That was the same venue as football — won by our Team Visayas. For the high school girls, we defeated Luzon, NCR and Mindanao to win gold. My daughter Jana, who played singles, won her matches with impressive scores: 8-0, 8-0, 8-3. Jana’s other teammates from Bright Academy were Stephanie Kim, Shyne Villareal and Anday Alferez.

In the elementary girls, we won silver. Led by Kara Salimbangon, who won all her games, we barely lost to Mindanao in the finals. Still, a proud silver-medal achievement for the St. Benedict girls. Kudos to coach Ken Salimbangon.

Team Visayas

Gold medalists, High School

MARIKINA. The past three days, I drove all over the streets of the country’s Shoe Capital. You know what impressed me most? The bike lines. Everywhere in Marikina, there is a dedicated lane for bikers. We should adopt this!

Imagine if more people biked? In a trip to Copenhagen and Amsterdam several years back, everybody biked. There’s less pollution, less traffic and we’re all healthier. (Ask Jourdan Polotan about climbing Maria Luisa.) With the BRT project to be realized, why not include dedicated bike lanes as part of the master-plan?

MOA. It stands for Mall of Asia. It also stands for Milo’s Most Outstanding Athlete. At the SM MOA Arena, one word best describes the entertainment complex, said Rico Navarro: beautiful. Yes, it is majestic and world-class.

Our seats were soft and cushiony. When Randy Villanueva brought me a cup of beer, the seats had bottle-holders ready. A giant LCD screen with the most advanced scoreboard loomed at the center. The aircon? Colder than Cebu Coliseum’s! Imagine if, a few years after the SM Seaside City rises at the SRP, it also decides to build such an arena. Let’s hope.

BANAL. Driving for over an hour from Marikina to the Mall of Asia, I arrived past 8 P.M. Jason Pagara was next. His fight started and finished in haste. It was over in a minute as the enemy quit.

Boom-Boom Bautista fought next. Though the fight was close and a split-decision decided the outcome, it was obvious that our Boholano won. Their Round 2 slugfest was one of the best three minutes I’ve witnessed. Still, despite the win, it wasn’t an overly remarkable or superb result. Boom-Boom defeated the Mexican but can he win a rematch vs. Daniel Ponce de Leon?

With Banal vs. Sor Singyu, from rounds 1 to 8, it was entertaining. No one backed off. AJ attacked. The Thai stepped forward. When AJ trapped him against the ropes, Sor Singyu shielded himself then unleashed his own retaliatory barrage. Wallops on the head were countered with pummels to the abdomen. AJ’s right upper eye bled. Low blows were repeatedly thrown by AJ. Up until the 9th round, I thought AJ led the scorecards. I thought it would end in the 12th without any KOs. But, like I was at the Cebu Coliseum four years ago to witness AJ’s shocking surrender, the same shocking end followed last Saturday.

Lack of training? Lack of stamina? Of heart? Prior to Round 9, AJ didn’t look beaten. He was exchanging strikes with punches. He looked alright. Then again, we didn’t know what his mind and body felt. Sadly, in the 9th, the worst-scenario moments arrived: AJ was punished, leaned against the ropes, almost fell off the ring in what should have been a knock-down; then, seconds later, after a succession of blows, AJ collapsed. He stood up but his eyes said it all: No Mas.

The ‘big’ Little Olympics by Milo was dazzling

Confetti showered. Cheer-dancers somersaulted. The Dancesport Team Cebu City boogied and waltzed. Fireworks erupted. Athletes screamed. Lights circled the stage. Smiles and hugs and fist-pumps and outstretched arms swamped the arena.

What a Closing Ceremony! I’ve witnessed the 2005 SEA Games opening and, last year, was in Beijing when the first-ever China Olympics were held. But the party and presentations and parade that was showcased last Sunday night when the 1st Milo Little Olympics National Finals concluded was just as breathtaking.

Cebu City should be proud. Ricky Ballesteros should feel proud. Nestle and Milo should be applauded with a city-wide standing ovation. For what a super-successful staging of a nationwide sports meet that’s world-caliber.

Little? Milo calls these Olympics…. little? With over 1,223 athletes from Mindanao, Visayas, Luzon and the NCR, plus a thousand more officials and coaches, plus thousands more of parents and cheerers and spectators, can I suggest that these games be called… giant-sized? Or amazing? Or splendid?

I witnessed the games first-hand. As a sports aficionado, I doubled as a parent last weekend to my daughter Jana who won for Visayas the bronze medal in girls elementary tennis. I sat during the Opening. Was a spectator during the athletic sprint events. Observed the Closing. And, you know what I heard from players and coaches from Manila and Davao and our Visayan neighbors?

Cebu is bad!!! You know why? Because we’ve set such a high bar of excellence in organizing the Milo games that future host cities can’t meet our standards. “From now on,” they tell me, “all other athletes and delegates will be disappointed!” Amazing, Cebu. I second the motion.

More on last Sunday night… what was fun to watch was, unlike the Opening when the officials wore formal attire, in the Closing it was a party. A giant soiree. Gone were the barong tagalogs. This time, everybody wore green Milo T-shirts and Levi’s jeans. The athletes? While, during the Opening, they paraded with their respective contingents, two nights ago it was this sight: Luzon mixed with Mindanao who mixed with NCR who mixed with the Bisdaks from Visayas. It was one humongous party. Win or lose, the athletes all celebrated. Everybody won.

Mayor Tommy Osmeña, who arrived with his beauteous wife Margot at 6:30 p.m., in his brief speech thanked Milo for having chosen Cebu City to be the event’s first host. Well-said, mayor.

Among the many entertainment theatrics we witnessed that evening, to me one of the most moving episodes was when a lone singer sand the Lea Salonga hit song, “Journey.” With the Cebu City Sports Center in total darkness and only seven large screens were lighted on stage displaying the children in action, she sang, “What a journey it has been… and the end is now in sight… But the stars are out tonight… what a journey it has been.” It was fitting, emotional, powerful. I had goose-bumps.

Finally, the highlight was the announcement of the winners. In the overall championship, after the names of Mindanao (3rd place) and NCR (runner-up) had been announced, the boys and girls with the blue-colored Milo sweatshirts started sprinting for the stage. They knew. The Cebuanos knew. Team Visayas knew. Nicknamed “D’ Bisdaks” by Ricky Ballesteros, wasn’t it fitting that we won as champions?

Joy Augustus Young, who first started these Milo Little Olympics here in Cebu back in 1996 when he was a Cebu City Councilor, was back where he belonged: on stage to receive the Grand Prize as the Visayas team’s Chef De Mission.

In all, it was astonishing. Thanks to a company who builds “champions in life.”

Milo and Nestle: Building champions in life


Last Friday night, I attended a spectacle. The Lumad Basakanon dancers, many-time Sinulog champions, astonished the crowd. Raki Vega sang the Olympic theme, “Reach.” Marichu Jao San Juan, the Hall of Fame volleyball star, helped light the torch. Govt. cabinet secretaries Ace Durano and Jesli Lapuz spoke. So did Vice Mayor Mike Rama.

It was the Opening Ceremony of the 1st Milo Little Olympics National Finals. And, who else to host this “first” but our very own, Cebu City? A total of 2,333 athletes and coaches jam-packed the Cebu City Sports Center. The four contingents that paraded the oval—representing Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and NCR—were, I’m sure, impressed.