Weightlifting 101

(Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It’s been 97 years since our first Olympic appearance in Paris. In total, we have joined 22 Olympic Games. The only times we skipped were in 1940 (World War II) and 1980 when we boycotted the Moscow Olympics.

In our 97 years of participation and 22 appearances, we have sent a total of 517 Filipino Olympians. Out of that, we have medaled 14 times — that’s eight bronze, five silver and one golden Gold.

Our 14 medals were won by 12 athletes. Teofilo Yldefonso (200-meter breaststroke) snapped our first hardware in 1928 in Amsterdam and he won bronze again four years later in Los Angeles. Our heroic Hidilyn Diaz, of course, won silver in Rio and gold two weeks ago.

Of our 14 Olympic medals, eight were won in boxing, and two each in athletics, swimming and weightlifting.

Weightlifting was one of the attractions in the 1896 Athens Olympics. Only 43 events in nine sports were played in the first Olympics and this included the sport of Ms. Diaz.

The first weightlifting event? One hand lift. They used dumbbells and the man (no women joined the 1896 Olympics) who could lift the heaviest dumbbell won. If they tied, the judges would pick the man with the best style and adjudge him the winner. 

Fast forward 115 years later, the Tokyo Olympics featured seven bodyweight categories each for the men and women. What’s the goal of this sport? As stated in the Olympics website, “The aim of weightlifting is simple: to lift more than anyone else. The result is pure sporting theatre and a real spectator favourite.”

Weightlifting might appear to be purely a physical sport but it’s just as mental. Lifing more than double your body weight requires explosive strength, focus, technique and unreal mental fortitude.

Hidilyn Diaz weighs 54.90 kgs. (121 lbs.). Her gold-winning lift in the clean and jerk event was 127 kgs. (280 lbs.). This means that she carried 2.31 times her bodyweight. Think about that for a second. Multiply your weight by 2.3 and carry that weight. I doubt it if we’ll be able to lift it a few inches off the floor.

Among the men, the greatest is Lasha Talakhadze of Georgia. Two weeks ago, I watched him (via Cignal cable) lift world records in the snatch (223kg.) and clean and jerk (265kg.) for a total 488 kgs. He won the Olympic gold and set the world record. He’s planning to become the first human being to lift a combined total of 500 kgs. (1,102 lbs.).

This is the good news. The sad news? There’s a chance weightlifting will be stricken off from the 2024 Paris Olympics. Corruption and doping issues are prevalent and these have tainted the sport. Some countries have incurred violations and been given outright bans. No less than the IOC has issued warnings to the International Weightlifting Fedeferation (IWF). Their mandate: Clean up or good bye, clean and jerk.

Yesterday, I messaged Monico Puentevella, our nation’s weightlifting chieftain. He’s hopeful the sport will continue, mentioning our Cebuana weightlifter (who placed 7th in Tokyo): “Glad (Elreen) Aldo will be in Paris 2024, too. She’ll be ready for a medal then.”

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Wonder Women

The Summer Olympics that started on July 23 will end today. The Closing Ceremonies will commence at 8 p.m. (Tokyo time) or 7 p.m., Philippine time. Our silver medalist Nesthy Petecio is expected to carry the Philippine flag tonight as we celebrate our most successful Olympics ever. 

Team PHI first joined the quadrennial meet in 1924 in Paris. (Coincidentally, the 2024 Olympics — our 100th anniversary — will also be held in Paris.)

There’s a saying that goes, “Ang una ra’y lisod.” (Only the first is most difficult.)

I believe this holds true for Philippine sports. After a 97-year-long wait before Hidilyn Diaz won our first Olympic gold medal last week, it’s possible that we’ll achieve another golden moment three years from now in the capital of France.

Petecio has gained extra Olympic experience in Tokyo. Carlo Paalam is only 23 and will be in his prime in 36 months. Same with Eumir Marcial, only 25 years of age.

Margielyn Didal is our Cebuana hero. In a field of 20 skateboarders, she placed a highly respectable 7th place. Didal, the Asian Games gold medalist, did better than the world’s No. 1 street skater, Pamela Rosa, in the Olympics. Only 22, she’ll inspire many in the Philippines to try skateboarding. She’ll also be aiming to compete and medal in Paris 2024.

Hidilyn Francisco Diaz is the gallant and gritty champion of the world. The tens of millions of pesos that she’s receiving — plus the cars, Manulife insurance, houses, PAL free flights, free food, etc. — will only motivate so many of our Filipino youth to take up sports and “Be like Hidilyn.”

Thanks to Hidilyn and Nesthy and Margielyn, the Tokyo Olympics is also a celebration and triumph of the women. 

The same is true for the entire Olympic movement in Tokyo. Of the almost 11,000 athletes, nearly 49 percent are women. This is up from 45.6% in Rio and 44.2% in London. This focus on “gender equality” is good. 

We only need to remember the lone athlete who lit the Olympic flame during the Opening last July 23. It was Naomi Osaka.

Mixed-gender events — a total of 18 — were included in the Olympics. These included archery, athletics, badminton, equestrian, judo, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, tennis and triathlon.

Four sports federations (for the first time) have moved to gender-balanced events. These include canoe, rowing, shooting and weightlifting. 

One example of mixed teams is triathlon. Each squad is composed of two women and two men. Each triathlete has to swim for 300 meters, pedal for 6.8K and run a 2K before tapping the hand of a teammate for him/her to continue.

“The mixed events are truly important because they really embody the equality of male and female athletes on the field of play,” said IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell. “There is nothing more equal than a male and female competing as one team on the same field of play towards the same sports performance.”

The Tokyo Games is a winner — the most gender-balanced Olympics ever. To our Philippines, this is affirmed by the golden Ms. Hidilyn Diaz.

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Empty, Resilient Japan

Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

I have watched every single Olympic Opening Ceremony that’s available in YouTube and what I witnessed last Friday was the saddest.

The Opening Ceremony is the kickoff party. After seven years of preparations, the celebration commences and the proclamation says, “Let the games begin!”

The Olympic host nation brags about its history and nation. Movie stars and Hollywood singers emerge to captivate the billions of TV viewers. Remember Mr. Bean in London 2012? Or James Bond and the Queen landing via helicopter?

Not in Tokyo. Not after 194 million people worldwide have succumbed to Covid-19 and 4,159,546 people have died.

The Japanese are a rich people. They are rich in culture and history, in wealth and technology. Originally, I’m sure they wanted an outlandish Opening with robots flying 110 feet above the ground. The robots would be holding samurais and fencing in midair.

Not in 2021. 

Last Friday night, the mood was somber and dim. Aside from the showcase of the 1,800 drones and “Imagine,” and the human pictograms performance — I won’t divulge more so you can watch the show — the Opening was hushed and muted. The beginning (Opening Act) was so unremarkable that Ricky Ballesteros could have scripted just as good a show.

But we understand the situation. The 60,000 spectators inside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium were not allowed. They were reduced to a few thousand that included Emperor Naruhito, Jill Biden, the IOC officials and the media. 

Empty. The seats were empty. 

Covid-19 has made everyone suffer and grieve. And this sentiment was woven throughout the Opening. The music was often solemn and sorrowful. The presence of doctors and nurses throughout the show — an appropriate decision but one previously never seen before — showed the world audience that our greatest battle is still against the coronavirus.

The Tokyo Games organizers also had to contend with the public opposition to the Games. In a poll, as much as 59 percent wanted the Olympic Games postponed or canceled.

The 17-day-long Olympics of Japan has also been over budget. The original cost of US$7.3 billion has ballooned fourfold with a final estimate of $30 billion. By contrast, the 2016 Rio Games cost $14B and the London Olympics was $15B. Tokyo is exceed the combined costs of the last two Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 has become Japan’s unwanted Games. 

But, if there’s one trait that’s evident in the Japanese, it’s resilience. 

The Japanese have a proverb “nanakorobi yaoki.” It translates to “seven times down, eight times up.” They also have a term called “ganbaru” which means to “tough it out.”

After wiping away the tears in that cheerless and empty Opening Ceremony, Japan will emerge victorious.

Covid-19 will not win over the Olympics.

No vaccine, no play

The 31st edition of the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) will unfold in Hanoi, Vietnam this Nov. 21 to Dec. 2. 

Back in 2019, our Philippines hosted 5,600 athletes and we captured the overall title in the biennial event that featured 56 sports and 530 events. 

When the Hanoi SEA Games unfolds six months from now, an important ruling has been announced: No vaccine, no play. 

“Their policy (no vaccine, no participation) is for the good of everyone,” said Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Bambol Tolentino. 

This ruling involves all SEAG athletes including the 626 Pinoy athletes that will take the 3-hour, 35-min. flight from Manila to Hanoi.

“Before we fly to Vietnam,” said Tolentino, “everyone should be vaccinated.”

Is this “no vaccine, no play” directive a good move? Absolutely.

Vietnam posts one of the lowest recorded Covid-19 cases in Asia. Since the pandemic started, our neighbor has recorded only 4,720 total cases and 37 deaths. Incredible! This, for a sizable country of 97 million people. How did Vietnam do it? Ha-ha. That’s another non-sports-page article.

But the last thing Vietnam wants is to be deluded with Covid-19 cases when tens of thousands of SEAG participants land at the Noi Bai Airport.

How about the Tokyo Olympics — just 61 days away — slated this July 23 to August 8? 

No such ruling. This, I don’t understand. There will be more than 80,000 foreign athletes, coaches and officials who will invade Japan. 

Can you imagine an outbreak in the Athlete’s Village where 11,000 athletes are housed in close quarters? One super-spreader can infect dozens of super-athletes and cause a super-storm halting the Olympics.

Plus, many sports entail close, physical contact. Boxing. Wrestling. Basketball. 

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach reiterated this “no need to vaccinate” order last March, saying: “The athletes and the national Olympic committees should follow their national regulations on vaccination. This is a clear government responsibility and in this, we will not interfere.”

We will not interfere. I don’t understand.

Well, of course, I do. The issue of vaccination is a complicated matter. We cannot force someone to be vaccinated against his/her free will.

A player like Novak Djokovic, for example, who has hinted of his objection to being inoculated, can the tennis world No. 1 be forced to get vaccinated prior to his joining the Olympics?

This is a thorny issue. And this will subject the IOC to hundreds of complaints and possible legal actions.

Instead, the Olympics playbook stipulates very soft guidelines. Among the gentle rules include daily testing and barring athletes from using public transportation and disallowing them from dining at local restaurants or visiting shops.

I know this issue is complex but for the safety of all — including the Japanese people, 80% of whom are reluctant for the Games to continue — I wished they’d enforce the “no vaccine, no play” rule.

If the SEAG can do it, why can’t the Olympics?

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Tokyo Olympics

The world’s most populous metropolis is not New York, Metro Manila, London or Bangkok. With nearly 38 million residents, the Greater Tokyo Area holds this distinction. It’s also the richest; its GDP is US$1.8 trillion — five times that of the entire Philippines.

Tokyo was first tasked to hold the 1940 Olympic Games. But with plans of engaging in another sport — World War II — the Tokyo Games were canceled and transferred to Helsinki. When the dust of war dimished, Japan was asked to host again. This time, the cauldron was lit to start the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Fast forward to 2020, the same scenario transpired. No thanks to Covid-19, the Tokyo Olympics — like 1940 — was once again postponed.

But this July 23 to August 8, the Games in Japan’s capital are scheduled to happen. But will it? While 50 countries have already started injecting vaccines, Japan has not commenced yet. Their target date for vaccinations in late late February.

The Tokyo Olympics is a mere six months from now. Will the city be ready to host the 11,000 athletes all flying in from 206 nations?

I hope so. The Olympics will radiate a positive air in today’s “positive” world.  

The problem is many people are skeptical. In an article from The Times (London), it stated that 80 percent of Japanese do not want the games to be held. They fear that the deluge of Olympians, officials and fans will further spread Covid-19.

“No one wants to be the first to say so but the consensus is that it’s too difficult,” read The Times article, quoting a senior member of the Japan’s ruling coalition. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Immediately after this damaging story appeared, the IOC and Japanese officials were quick to denounce it.

“Six months ahead of the Games, the entire Olympic movement is looking forward to the opening ceremony on July 23,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “I had the opportunity today to speak with all the 206 National Olympic Committees of the world and they are all fully committed and looking forward to the Games.”

Bach said the Tokyo organizers are exploring all options to safely hold the Games. The issues range from immigration rules to vaccination policies to allowing spectators to watch.

Come July, my take is that the athletes would have gotten the vaccine and would be deemed safe to travel and compete. Also, worldwide, sports has started. The most successful was the NBA bubble in Florida that lasted for over three months with zero positive cases. 

“We know how passionate Olympic athletes are and this is why we know they will be flexible enough and they will adjust to this situation we are all in now,” said Bach. “They will enter the Olympic stadium on the 23rd of July with full pride and sending an important message … to the entire world — a message of resilience, of Olympic passion, of Olympic values like solidarity and peace.”

To be or not to be? That is the question. Six months from now, these words will be declared: “Let the games begin!”

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2020 vision

This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)
This image released Monday, April 25, 2016 by The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games shows the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Organizers unveiled the new official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Monday, April 25, opting for blue and white simplicity over more colorful designs. The winning logo, selected from four finalists, is entitled Harmonized Checkered Emblem. It features three varieties of indigo blue rectangular shapes to represent different countries, cultures and ways of thinking. (The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games via AP)

TOKYO — Akemashite omedetou! Happy New Year. When you visit sporting goods shops here like Asics or stroll along the corridors of the Metro Subway, the ever-present sign reads: Tokyo 2020. Exactly 1,300 days from today — from July 24 to August 9, 2020 — all of the world’s YouTube and Sony TV eyes will be transfixed on the capital city of Japan.

Back in Sept. 2013, when the rigorous Olympic bidding process ended and Tokyo subdued of the two other finalists (Istanbul and Madrid), preparations started.

Tracing back history, the first Olympics in Tokyo was scheduled in 1940. But we know our history class. During that time, Japan invaded China and helped usher the horrendous moment called World War II. The Games were moved to Helsinki. After the dust cleared from war, including the rehabilitation of Hiroshimi and Nagasaki, this nation bidded again.

In October 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were played. Then, only 93 nations and 5,000 athletes participated. Three years from now, an estimated 207 countries and 12,000 Olympians will join.

Jana, Jasmin and I got the chance to get a glimpse of the National Olympic Stadium. When we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Govt. Bldg. last Wednesday, we climbed the 45th floor. From that vantage point and with perfect visibility, we saw the country’s tallest peak, Fujisan. And, set amidst the Meiji Jingu Gaien park in Shinjuku, we saw portions of the stadium construction.

The Olympic coliseum is located in the same spot where the original stadium of the 1964 games was held. They demolished the old structure in 2015 and built a new one with a seating capacity of 80,000. This structure has been controversial. The design was awarded to British architect Zaha Hadid, who envisioned a futuristic stadium; but the estimated costs spiraled beyond $2 billion — and the design was scrapped. In the end, they went nationalistic and voted for Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The Tokyo Games are expected to be the most high-tech in history. They’ll include the use of hydrogen-powered buses and self-driving taxis. Instant language translation will aid foreigners. And they’ll utilize facial recognition technology to verify ticket holders. But as computerized as Tokyo will be, for the Olympic Stadium, the architect has gone natural.

“I want to express a new, 21st century Japan,” the architect Kuma said. “The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were the Japan of the 20th century, an industrializing society, and it was a great symbol of that. But we are now in a post-industrial society and I want to symbolize the new era.”

Kuma will use wood, saying: “In the industrial society of the 20th century they used concrete and metal. In the post-industrial era we make use of natural materials. Even though you are using wood, techniques in that field have advanced. It’s not the case that using wood means it won’t last for a long time. In fact it’s precisely because you are using wood that it does last for a long time.”

I agree. We got to visit the city of Nara (40 minutes from Osaka) and found the Daibutsuden — the world’s largest wooden building — built many, many centuries ago.

COST. How expensive is it to host the Olympics? When Beijing organized China’s first ever Games, they spent $40 billion. That’s an enormous pile of money; in pesos, that’s P2 trillion. But that’s not the most exorbitant. The title goes to Sochi, Russia, who hosted the Winter Games in 2014 and spent $50 billion.

With Tokyo, they’re targeting “only” $13 to $15 billion. The original estimate was $30 billion but the organizers were able to substantially trim down the figure. This budget includes $5.5 billion for the venues and facilities (including the $1.5 billion Olympic stadium).

How did they cut the budget? Originally, they wanted a compact games (meaning, all the sites were nearby). That has been scrapped. My two favorite sports have been moved faraway: cycling will be in Izu (two hours from Tokyo) and basketball, an hour away in Saitama.

Adto ta!

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Peping and Buddy

I agree with Michael Jerome Limpag, our SunStar Cebu sports editor, in his piece last Friday, “It’s time for change, replace Peping in POC.”

Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr. turned 82 years old last Tuesday. It’s time for him to relinquish his throne and turn-over the baton to somebody else.

It’s funny how people want to cling to power forever. Isn’t this being selfish? Instead of thinking of one’s self, isn’t the greater good — Philippine sports — more important than a solitary person’s quest to hang on for life… like Peping’s mission atop the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC)?

Peping hasn’t even accomplished much. It’s not like our 100-million-strong nation has produced gold medalists. If not for the silver medal achieved by Hidilyn Diaz last month, we were zero for zero in Sydney, in Athens, in Beijing and in London.

He has been POC president since 1994. It’s been a dozen years of despondent Olympic success and he wants another term?

The same I-want-to-cling-to-power scenario is happening in tennis.

Salvador “Buddy” Andrada, one of Peping’s closest buddies and who’s nearly the same age, also wants to return to head the Philippine Tennis Association (Philta). Andrada headed Philta from 1986 to 2006. That’s 20 very, very, very, very long years. He eventually stepped down as president of Philta and later because a commissioner at the Philippine Sports Commission.

Now 81, Andrada wants to return as Philta president.

Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing but praises and love and respect for those who are older. My Lola Bebe Alcoseba is turning 96 next month and we still text each other and she still sports that infectious smile and laugh. Same with my dad’s mom, my lola Bing Pages, now 93. The grandma of my wife Jasmin (Corazon Gayanilo) is 105 years old! And I love them.

But, like the saying goes, there is a time for everything. And clinging on to power forever is unwise and awful.

With tennis, here’s what happened: It started last July when Edwin Olivarez, busy with his concurrent duties as mayor of Paranaque, asked to step down as Philta top honcho. Now, like in any organization, once a president steps down — and as stipulated in the Philta rules — the Vice-President takes over.

The VP is Randy Villanueva — the most active of tennis practitioners. (Randy heads the Davis Cup team as administrator and brought the Davis Cup sorties to Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu five times.)

But, no, like Peping, Mr. Andrada wouldn’t allow the 41-year-old Randy Villanueva to head Philta. Andrada supposedly called for a “special board meeting,” unanticipated to several board members, and had himself voted as president. It was a slick, dexterous and ludicrous move.

Here’s a funny but true story. Back in 1986, I was a newbie in tennis and I flew from Cebu to Manila to join my first tournament at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Center. The Philta president then, when I was a 14-year-old? Buddy Andrada. Fast forward to today, I have a beautiful and bright 17-year-old daughter named Jana who joins national tournaments in Manila. The person who still wants to head Philta.. 30 years later? Same guy.

My guess is that Peping must have called his buddy to return to Philta so the latter can vote for him anew in the POC elections this November. (The National Sports Association or NSA heads vote for the POC president.)

Prior to our country’s presidential elections, wasn’t this country’s mantra: “Change is coming?” We have a new president. Manny Pacquiao is now a senator and brilliantly asks simple yet sharp questions. Win Gatchalian is in; so is Risa Hontiveros.

With Philippine tennis, three weeks ago I attended the first-ever Philippine Tennis Summit.

Jean Henri Lhuillier, the largest benefactor for tennis in the country and a Class A netter himself, was in attendance. So was Bobby Castro, the CEO of Palawan Pawnshop, which sponsors dozens of tournaments around the archipelago. Coaches, parents, sponsors (of all the major sporting brands), champions (like Christine Patrimonio) were all in attendance. Randy Villanueva presented a new vision for Philippine tennis that got the hundred or so in attendance very excited.

As for Peping and Buddy? It’s time to rest, go on vacation, spend time with their grandchildren, take hour-long naps and surrender their selfish desires to new sports blood.

Change isn’t coming. Change is here.

Who’s happier: the silver or bronze medalist?

The above question sounds preposterous. Of course, you’d say, second is much better than third! Well, that’s true. But as to who’s “happier,” the answer might surprise you.

During the Rio Olympics, plenty of post-race footages were snapped and, obviously, the gold medalist grinned the widest smile; but when they examined the faces of the 2nd and 3rd placers, oftentimes the one who took bronze beamed a more jubilant face.

“Winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games brings glory, but a bronze makes people happier,” wrote Stefan Klein in “The Science of Happiness: How Our Brains Make Us Happy and What We Can Do to Get Happier.”

Mr. Klein continued: “While the runners-up imagine themselves on the top step and are upset, having missed their goal by a few tenths of a second, the bronze medal winners feel terrific, as the social psychologist Victoria Medcec discovered at the Barcelona games in 1992. Those in third place were happy that they won a medal at all and made it into the record books, whereas the silver winners were mainly aware of what they’d just missed.”

Makes sense? Yes. Back in 1995, a study was conducted by the psychologists Victoria Medvec and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University and Scott Madey of the University of Toledo. They asked their students to evaluate video footages of athletes who joined the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

From a score of 1-to-10 (“1” being “agony” and “10” being “ecstatic”), the students ranked the happiness level that they perceived the winning athletes scored. The result? Those who won silver scored 4.8 while those who got bronze scored 7.1.

Stunning result! Isn’t this why they often refer to the 2nd placer as “the first loser?” Based on psychology — a topic that I relish and enjoy reading a lot about — the term is called “counterfactual thinking.” In simple words, it means that people compare their achievements to “what might have been.”

A silver medalist thinks… sayang, I missed being No. 1. A bronze medalist realizes.. salamat, I won a medal!

This happened in the 100-meter race in Brazil. After crossing the finish line first, Usain Bolt exhibited the happiest of smiles. He then uncorked his “Lightning Bolt” pose. The third placer Andre de Grasse looked equally overjoyed. The sad one? Justin Gatlin, silver medalist.

William James, the philosopher, wrote these words in 1892 and they still hold true today: “So we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn’t do that nothing else counts.”

In Rio, this also happened in golf between Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar. All the way to the 18th hole, Rose and Stenson were tied. But when Rose birdied the final hole to triumph, Stenson was downtrodden. He lost, Rose won Olympic gold and Kuchar celebrated his bronze.

“We are not suggesting, of course, that finishing second or coming close to a cherished outcome always leads to less satisfaction than a slightly more modest performance,” the study, led by the psychologist Medvec, continued. “Finishing second is truly a mixed blessing. Performing that well provides a number of direct benefits that increase our well-being: recognition from others, boosts to self-esteem, and so on. At the same time, it can indirectly lower satisfaction by the unfortunate contrast with what might have been.”

China has one such example: her name Fu Yuanhui. The Olympic swimmer is now world-famous not because of her achievement last month but because of her reaction after the 100-meter backstroke. Minutes after her Olympic swim — all captured in YouTube and with views exceeding a million — you can see Fu Yuanhui completely ecstatic and happy. The reason? She won bronze.

What’s the lesson for us non-Olympians and mere mortals? The meaning of success often depends on one’s expectations.

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Golden boy of swimming

schooling-win(Photo: Reuters/Dominic Ebenbichler)

Singapore is tiny. Based on land mass, it has an area of 719 sq. kms. — that’s one-sixth the size of Cebu province or a little over double the size of Cebu City. Singapore is diminutive — but in terms of economic prowess, it ranks third worldwide in per capita income!

In sports, because Singapore’s population is a measly 5.5 million (of which only 40 percent are permanent residents), they have not achieved as much glory as, say, Japan or South Korea. This is understandable because Japan, with its 130 million residents, is huge. Japan has accumulated 142 Olympic gold medals and 439 total Olympic medals. South Korea (population: 50+ million) is equally impressive; it has garnered 90 gold and 264 total medals in the Olympics.

Back to Singapore: Prior to the Brazil Games last month, our ASEAN neighbor had won a meager four medals: three in table tennis and one in weightlifting. Their four Olympic medals were nothing to brag about compared to the nine that our Philippines won and the six that its next-door neighbor Malaysia won (prior to Rio).

But what a difference one event makes. All it takes is 50.39 seconds to change everything. That’s because, last August 12 during the 100-meter butterfly finals, Joseph Schooling became its nation’s first-ever Olympic gold medalist.

Today in Singapore, Joseph is a national hero. If Brazil has Neymar and the U.K. has Andy Murray and Australia once boasted of Ian Thorpe (and we, obviously, have Manny Pacquiao), the Republic of Singapore has their hotshot.

What makes his achievement even more astounding were numerous things. He defeated Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever, handing the American his only loss in Rio. And his time of 50.39 was not only an Asian record but also an Olympic record.

Three days after his golden performance, he arrived in Singapore to a welcome never seen before. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took a selfie with him, saying “Usually people ask me for selfies, but today I felt so proud to ask Joseph for one!” He was exempted from the mandatory four-year military service. He received one million Singapore dollars (or P35 million) as monetary reward. 

Hundreds of fans waited for six hours at the airport last August 15 to welcome him. The TV screens at Changi Airport changed from showing flight schedules to announcing the words, “Thank you for making us proud.” Hundreds carried flags, signs and banners.

And Joseph Schooling is only 21.

Schooling was born and raised in Singapore. His amazing story started at the age of six when he was told about the story of his grand-uncle Lloyd Valberg — who happens to be Singapore’s first Olympian (1948 London). Inspired by that revelation, he tells his dad Colin that he wanted to be in the Olympics.

He trained in Singapore. A life-changing moment in his life happened in 2008. That’s when the US Olympic team visited Singapore and he had an iconic picture — the then-13-year-old boy beside a shirtless, off-the-swim Michael Phelps.

michael-phelps-joseph-schooling-reuters

The next year, at the age of 14, he moved to the US for more extensive training. His high school: Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. (I have fond memories of that school because two Decembers ago, when I joined the Jacksonville Marathon, it was in that campus where we started and finished the 42K race.)

After Florida, the six-footer moved to the University of Texas, where he now studies college (incoming junior).

Speaking of college and prize money, there’s an NCAA ruling that prohibits their collegiate student/athletes from receiving prize money because of their amateur status. But there’s an exception for Olympic medalists: if the athlete’s country of origin rewards the prize. In this case, it’s one million (Singapore) dollars — the largest Olympic prize money offered by any nation.

Congratulations, Singapore. I can’t wait until our Philippines, an Olympic participant since 1924, wins its first Olympic gold.

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Brazil: spectacular victory or catastrophe?

Only 33 days remain before the August 5 to 21 contest in Rio de Janeiro that’s called the Olympics. Over 10,500 athletes representing 207 countries will be flying to Brazil for this once-every-four-years spectacle. The Olympics will feature only 28 sports — including golf and rugby sevens — with a total of 306 sets of medals.

Rio de Janeiro is the main stage with 33 venues but it’s not the only city to welcome the athletes; there will be five others, including Brasilia (the country’s capital) and Sao Paulo, the nation’s largest.

What makes Rio special? First, it’s the inaugural Summer Olympics to be held in South America. When the final decision was announced in October 2009, Rio bested three other world-renowned cities (Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid) for the prize.

Second, Brazil’s hosting means that it is organzing two of the world’s greatest tournaments one after the other. Back in 2014, the FIFA World Cup football games of 32 nations were played in 12 cities scattered around Brazil. Now, just 26 months later, it’s an even grander gymnasium: the Olympics.

Which brings me to ask this query: Is it too much-too soon for Brazil, the world’s fifth most-populated nation with 205 million residents?

Maybe. While the allure of hosting the World Cup and the Olympics just two years apart was appealing many years back, now, with so many issues involving their financial woes, the Zika and dengue virus, the political turmoil that suspended Pres. Dilma Rousseff, the security breaches, the unfinished Olympic venues — is Rio headed not for gold but for a stumble?

The problems just keep on rising. Days ago, CNN reported that human body parts were found on the shoreline fronting the Olympic Beach Volleyball Arena. The Zika virus has prompted Rory McIlroy and Jason Day to back out; this is sad because golf is making an Olympic comeback since its last showing in 1904.

Money problems? A mammoth headache. Brazil has been struggling with its worst recession since the 1930s. They rely on oil revenues and we know how this commodity’s price has plummeted. Their economy, Latin America’s largest, shrank 5.4 percent in the first quarter.

How much did the World Cup and the Olympics cost Brazil? Roughly $15 billion was spent for the WC while next month’s 16-day tournament is estimated to cost $10 billion — not including cost overruns (which, as any good builder will tell you, is sure to happen). They may have overspent. Remember Athens? They hosted the 2004 Games. Now look at Greece.

Worse, protests have sprouted. The police staged demonstrations over unpaid salaries and a banner read: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” Reports have surfaced that robberies increased by 43 percent in Rio because of the lack of security services.

Scary. This is the bad side. But, like what has happened in Beijing and in several other cities of major sporting events, at times, this negative press is exagerrated. Let’s hope this “low expectations, high aspirations” mantra of the Brazilian organizers unfolds.

As to our beloved Philippines in Rio? There’s Eric Shauwn Cray, the 27-year-old Fil-Am and SEAG gold medalist, who’s slated to hurdle the 400-meter hurdle event. In boxing, our best chance of pocketing that elusive gold medal, we have two entrants: Charly Suarez (lightweight) and Rogen Ladon (light flyweight).

We have Ian Lariba for women’s table tennis — the first time that we’ve entered a competitor for this game we call ping-pong. Kirstie Alora will fight for our nation in taekwondo. She’s entered in the formidable women’s heavyweight division. In weightlifting, our two representatives are Hidilyn Diaz (women’s -53 kg.) and Nestor Colonia (men’s -56 kg.)

Lastly, our pride and joy: Mary Joy Tabal, whom we hope will hurdle all obstacles so she can join the 42-km. race — to be held at 9:30 a.m. on August 21, the very last day of the Olympics.

We have eight athletes going to Rio. Do we add Gilas Pilinas? Let’s watch next week.

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