Can Manny win our first Olympic gold?

Rio 2016 Logo

Ever since the Philippines competed in this once-every-four-years intramurals called the Olympics (in 1924), we have failed. By “failed,” I mean we have not triumphed at claiming the ultimate prize: the gold medal.

Onyok Velasco reached the finals of the 1996 Games in Atlanta but lost in the men’s light flyweight division. Same with Anthony Villanueva in 1964. In totality, we have accumulated two silver medals and seven bronze medals.

Will this year be different? When, finally, after 92 years of wait, Senator Manny Pacquiao will raise his General Santos-bred arms in Rio de Janeiro, applauded by over 100 million of his fellow Pinoys?

If we look back eight years ago in Beijing, the flag bearer of our nation then was Pacquiao. But he didn’t compete. Will he participate this August?

Manny Pacquiao Beijing 2008

(Getty Images)

Maybe. A massive piece of news erupted just a few days ago. For the first time in Olympic history, boxing is considering the entry of professionals.

If we examine the other sports, they all include professionals in their rosters. Take basketball. It was in 1992 when the entry of the NBA stars was allowed. That’s when the “Dream Team” was formed and Michael, Charles, Larry and Magic annihilated the competition, besting all enemies by an average margin of 44 points per game.

Today, every sport invites both amateurs and professionals to compete in the Olympics. Remember Lionel Messi representing the team in blue-and-white stripes to win the gold for Argentina in 2008? For golf, which will be reinstated in the Olympics, the likes of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will battle on the Rio links.

The only sport that excludes pros? Boxing. And so the International Boxing Association (AIBA) has proposed a radical move to include the pros in Brazil. This ruling is not final yet. An AIBA congress will be convened in the next few months and a final decision on this matter will be conducted.

But one man is pushing for its inclusion: the AIBA president Dr. Ching Kuo Wo.

“We want the best boxers to come to the Olympics,” said Dr. Wu in a recent Phil. Star article by Quinito Henson. “It is AIBA’s 70th birthday and we want something to change, not after four years but now. It is an IOC policy to have the best athletes in the Games and of the international federations, AIBA is probably the only one without professional athletes in the Olympics.”

Granted it gets approved, no less than Dr. Ching Kuo Wo himself has offered the 37-year-old Pacquiao a wild card (direct) entry — not having to pass through the tedious qualifying process — in the main draw of the Rio Olympics.

Will he compete? Maybe. Maybe not. But if he does, there appears to be two divisions that he can choose from: light welterweight (141 lbs.) or welterweight (152 lbs.).

Olympic boxing, as we’ve observed on TV in the past editions, is vastly different from pro boxing. During the tournament proper (to run from August 6 to 21), Olympic boxing does not involve rankings or seedings. The competitors are paired off at random and it’s a knockout system. You lose and you’re out. Each fight consists of three rounds and each round has the same three minutes.

Previously, the scoring involved five judges who would hold electronic buttons and they’d press each time a boxer connects with a hit. When three out of the five press the button, a score is counted on that boxer. All the points are tallied and the highest-pointer wins.

Not anymore. Since 2013, it’s a 10-point must system (similar to pro boxing) and the scores of three of the five judges (randomly selected by a computer) will be chosen at the end of each round. Head guards, previously a must-wear item, will no longer be used. Is MP open to competing?

“OK naman,” he said, in a GMA News interview with Mav Gonzales two days ago. “Pinag-aaralan pa kung pwede tayo (We are still studying it if it’s possible).”

Now, just imagine with me for a moment: Imagine if Manny wins next month in Las Vegas, wins in May as one of the Lucky 12, and trains to join and wins gold in Rio.

Kennan Radaza Rooney talks about his son Maxime

Last Thursday, I wrote about how Maxime Rooney, three years ago, wanted to represent the Philippines in future swim meets. Led by his dad Kennan, they sought — and got — permission from the US national swimming association for Maxime to swim for Team PHL.

Unfortunately, they were informed by Mark Joseph, who heads the Phil. swimming association, that Maxime needed 12 months of residency in the Philippines — an impossibility given his studies in California. In the end, Maxime Rooney was told no.

Sorry, Philippines. The happy beneficiary? USA.

I ask these questions: Could other ways have been exhausted? I mean, the US officials already said yes to the Rooney family’s request. Maybe the Phil. swimming association did not realize fully the potential of Maxime — that he will turn out to be a junior world record holder and, very, very possibly, be a future Olympian? And, who knows, maybe even a gold medalist — what could have been our nation’s first Olympic gold?

The fact is, complained Kennan, months would often pass before a simple reply (from Mark Joseph) would reach his email inbox.

Now, it’s too late; Maxime competes for Team USA. And just the other week, he was sent an email by the national team with the words that are the most coveted of any American athlete: “Welcome! You’re a U.S. National Team member!” Among his teammates are two guys you might have heard of: Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Maxime Rooney is excited about the Olympics. Like any world-class athlete, the ultimate goal is to compete in this once-every-four-years event. For Maxime, the main target is 2020. That’s five years from now during the Tokyo Olympics and Maxime will be a ripe 22 years of age.

But, wait, next year, there’s Rio de Janeiro. And while he’s much younger than the other big boys, Maxime is ready.

“Maxime plans to join the US Olympic qualifying in July next year,” said his father Kennan, whom I met two weeks ago in Mactan together with his first cousin, Lapu Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza.

During my hour-long chat with Kennan, I got to hold with my fingers, for the first time, a gold medal and a silver medal. I’ve held dozens of similarly-colored medals before (courtesy of my daughter Jana), but these were Milo or Palaro or Batang Pinoy medals. Local hardware. What Harry and I held were FINA Junior World Championships medals — which Maxime won in Singapore. (Maxime not only won a pair of gold medals and a silver but he was also voted by the U.S. squad as “Team Captain.”)

Kennan Rooney

Kennan (center) with JP and Harry

After the possible stint in the 2016 Olympics, Maxime’s goal is to join the University of Florida team. Not only does the squad possess some of the nation’s best collegiate swimmers, but the coach (Gregg Troy) was the head coach of the US team during the London Olympics. Plus, one of the assistant coaches competed in the Barcelona Games. This means that, in the next several years as Maxime’s body develops and he churns out faster times — all focused on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when he’s peaking — he’ll be coached by some of the world’s best mentors.

Physically, the 17-year-old Maxime, who devotes 22 hours each week in the pool, will still grow stronger. He hasn’t engaged in weight training yet, instead focusing on building his lung capacity. 

Standing 6-foot-4, I asked his dad (who’s about my height, 5’8”), where Maxime got his tall build. “My wife Charlotte, who’s Belgian, is tall,” he said. (Speaking of Belgium, here’s an interesting side note: When the Belgian swimming officials heard of Maxime, they, too, wanted him to swim for them. In a two-way skirmish between the Phils. and Belgium, it’s the U.S. who’s emerged victorious.)

How big a celebrity is Maxime at home? Only recently, said his dad. Prior to the junior world record of Maxime, the school principal (in their town of 80,000) knew that their star athlete was superb — but the principal didn’t know he was that outstanding.

Maxime’s maxims? I asked his dad.

“It’s not that I love to win… I hate to lose!”

“Love God. Love people.”

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Maxime Rooney: the future Olympian we ‘almost’ had

maxime-rooney-2015-usa-swimming-junior-nationals-007-720x500

(Photo by Donna Nelson)

Senator (and VP hopeful?) Francis Escudero appeared in the newspaper back pages last week. No, the story did not revolve around him and Heart; it was about sports. Surprising. We know Sen. Pia Cayetano to be a triathlete, but Chiz? Well, when the elections are just eight months away, politicians will do all they can for self-promotion.

But Chiz made sense. He spoke about Brazil next year, lamenting how our 100-million-strong sports-loving nation has never won an Olympic gold medal. Worse, we might only have a handlful who’ll qualify for the Aug. 5 to 21, 2016 Olympics.

“So far, we only have one athlete qualified to play in Rio de Janeiro in 2016,” said Escudero, citing the trackster Eric Cray.

Since we competed in our first Games in 1924 in Paris, we’ve won a total of nine Olympic medals (seven bronze and the two silver medals in boxing by Anthony Villanueva in 1964 and Onyok Velasco in 1992).

Will we ever win gold? There is one athlete that I wrote about who “may have” delivered for us that elusive gold medal.

I’m referring to the swimming sensation in America who could have represented the Philippines. His name is Maxime Rooney and, just last month, he broke a junior world record in the 200-meter freestyle. His time of 1:47.10 last Aug. 7 is not only the fastest ever swum by a below-18-year-old but, had that time been recorded by Maxime in the SEA Games last June, he would have won gold and snapped the fastest ever SEAG time.

Maxime is only 17. I met his father Kennan the other week. After watching his son compete (and win two gold medals and a silver) during the 5th FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore, Kennan flew to Cebu to visit his relatives for a few days.

Kennan Rooney is a Radaza. He looks like one. Spending an hour with him and his first cousin (Lapu-Lapu City Councilor) Harry Don Radaza at Kennan’s mom’s (Amy Radaza Jessup’s) 18th floor condo unit at the Movenpick Hotel was memorable. It’s not often that you’re seated beside the dad of a future Olympian.

Maxime’s story began at the age of three when the family moved to a new home in California that had a small swimming pool. Maxime dipped in the water. No, it wasn’t formal and he wasn’t swimming laps. He simply loved the water. This was his first taste of being surrounded by this clear fluid that covers 71 percent of our planet’s surface.

When Maxime turned six, that’s when he started to join swim meets. Towering tall for his age, he quickly swam like a fish and won by several lengths over his stunned classmates. Coaches took notice. This kid is special, they thought.

Since then, Maxime hasn’t stopped and has clocked thousands of hours by his lone self, covering his eyes with Speedo goggles, knifing the water with his fingertips, breathing out and exhaling underwater.

Today, Maxime’s training schedule is not for you and me. He arises before 4 a.m. and swims from 4:30 to 6 from Mondays to Fridays. Then he goes to school. After, he’s back at the rectangular-shaped pit, strengthening his muscles in the pool from 3:45 to 6:30 p.m.

And you’d think, given his all-swimming schedule, that Maxime would do badly in school? This kid is Superman in trunks and in school uniform. He has a 4.3 grade point average.

The word is “sayang.” Lost opportunity. Three years ago, Kennan approached the Phil. swimming association, headed by Mark Joseph, and informed them that Maxime wanted to compete under the Phil. flag. Kennan exhausted all means for Maxime to represent us. He’d send Mark Joseph an email but would get a reply weeks or months after. In the end, Mark Joseph rendered this conclusion: Maxime was ineligible.

“Although Maxime, at an international meet in Dubai, competed under Team USA,” said Kennan, “I communited with the American swim officials our intention for Maxime to shift and swim for the Philippines. Our request was approved, first by the coach and next, by the US swim organization. The path was clear. Maxime was excited to swim for the Phils…” (to be continued on Sunday)

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Lightning Bolt

Usain-Bolt

(Reuters photo)

Last Sunday, right after a late night dinner with Jasmin, I hurried upstairs to switch on the TV. It was the IAAF World Championships — an event that happens only once every 24 months. Next to the Olympics, this gathering is the most prestigious. It’s being held at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing — the same 80,000-seater arena that Jasmin and I were at seven Augusts ago when China hosted the Olympics.

In this August 22 to 30 tournament, one spectacle is the most awaited. It’s the quickest-running event. It’s the shortest, in terms of time elapsed. But, if we speak of drama and adrenaline, nothing is grander.

It’s the 100-meter dash. The winner gets to be called “The World’s Fastest Man.” Of our planet’s 7.37 billion inhabitants, imagine being that one human being who’s fastest?

This year and last year, one person has been the earth’s quickest. No, he’s not Mr. Bolt (we’ll get to him later). He’s Justin Gatlin. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 183 lbs. He was born in New York and resides in Orlando but he’s most at home on the rubberized circle called the track oval.

Before Sunday, Gatlin was undefeated in 28 races since Sept. 2013. Though no longer young at 33 years old, Gatlin was also the quickest during qualifying, posting a 9.77-sec. time in the semis.

Usain Bolt? He was recovering from a leg injury (“a blocked sacroiliac joint which restricts his movement and puts pressure on his knee and ankle.”) And so last Sunday, it was a head-to-head battle between Bolt and Gatlin. What made this fight more enticing was this: There was a “good” vs. “evil” plot.

Bolt is good. Not only on the track but he’s never tested positive for drugs. He’s as clean as Lance Armstrong was “dirty.” Gatlin is the opposite. Back in 2001, he tested positive for drugs. But during that time, the regulators concluded that he was given medicine to treat his attention deficit disorder; something he’s been diagnosed with since he was nine. He was absolved. But not in 2006 when the 2004 Athens Olympic champion tested positive again. This time, there was no escape. It was for testosterone and, while the IAAF asked for an 8-year ban, he was sentenced to four. He was banned from 2006 to 2010.

When Gatlin returned, capturing bronze at the 2012 London Games and silver at the world championships two years ago in Moscow, he was criticized as a drug cheat. Thus, the good vs. evil setting.

Fast forward to the 100m race last weekend, you know what happened: Gatlin, in the last 15 meters and while neck to neck with Bolt, appeared to have stumbled and leaned too early.

Bolt won gold with a time of 9.79. Gatlin snatched the No. 2 spot — losing by 0.01 seconds! Ouch. To add to Gatlin’s misery, his fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, himself a former drug cheat who was banned six months last year, said: “No one wanted Gatlin to win.”

He’s right. Everybody loves Bolt and nobody roots for a former drug cheat.

“I never doubt myself,” said Bolt, after the win that was hailed by sprint legend Michael Johnson as “Usain Bolt’s best race ever.”

Bolt added: “I know my ability. It wasn’t a perfect race but I got it done. I definitely think this was my hardest race. I’ ve been through a lot this season, it’s been rough and Justin been running great showing up running fast times. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

This victory solidifies Bolt’s standing as the greatest sprinter of all time. He holds the 100m world record of 9.58. By comparison, Eric Cray holds the Phil. record at 10.25, which he set last June at the SEA Games in Singapore.

(On a personal note, our family is such a huge Bolt fan that we named our only dog (a chocolate Labrador Retriever) after him. It helped that we got “Bolt” on Aug. 8, 2012 — the day when Bolt won gold in London.)

On Bolt-Gatlin, the contest isn’t finished. There’s the 200-meter final. It’s at 8:55 p.m. tonight. If you have cable TV, it’s being shown live. Let’s watch it!

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In cold Cebu, an even colder Sochi

sochi_2014_mountains

The Olympics are held every two years. The Summer and Winter Games alternate. Two years ago, it was London. Two years from now, it will be Brazil. Those are the Summer Olympics that include games like basketball and archery and beach volleyball and BMX cycling.

Next Friday, starting February 7, it will be the Sochi Olympics. It’s the 22nd time that the Winter Games will be organized — and a first for Russia since the USSR was dismantled (they hosted the 1980 Moscow Olympics).

Sochi is a little-known Russian resort city. If you look at Google Maps, you’ll find it far away from big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I’ve had the privilege of visiting Russia. Together with Atty. Jacinto and Malu Mendez — my wife Jasmin’s parents — and their whole family, we rode the oversized ship named Princess Cruises in September 2011. We visited a dozen European Baltic cities including St. Petersburg. In what was formerly called Leningrad, we docked for two nights and three days in St. Petersburg and toured historical spots like St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and the world-famous Hermitage Museum.

Russia is exerting all it can to make the Sochi Games a success. It is billed as the most expensive Olympics ever — costing over $50 billion. Their supreme leader, Vladimir Putin, is hoping that sports will be a way to show the world the might and glory of his nation.

After the Olympics are done, the city of Sochi will also be hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix race. This is the first time that Russia will host Sebastian Vettel & Co. The Russian Grand Prix is set on October 12, 2014. Not contended with these twin events, Russia will host an even larger sporting milestone: the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Next to Brazil, we can say that Russia will be the face of sports in the coming years.

The Sochi Olympics will host 15 winter sports disciplines and 98 events. And, continuing the tradition, immediately after the Feb. 7 to 23 Winter Games, the Paralympic Winter Games will run from March 7 to 16, also in Sochi.

Pinoys? Though our temperature is relatively cold these days, do we have any who’ve qualified to join the snow-filled events in Russia?

Surprisingly, yes. Michael Christian Martinez, only 17, is the first homegrown Pinoy to join the Winter Games. He hails from Muntinlupa City and will be competing in the figure-skating routine. Based on my research, he started skating in 2005 as an eight-year-old at the SM Southmall Skating Rink in Las Piñas City. In the Phil. Star article “Pinoy skater to join 2014 Olympic Winter Games” last Jan. 22 and written by Chiara Mapa, Martinez was quoted as saying, “I didn’t really expect that I would make it to the Olympics. But while at Colorado Springs (in 2008), I saw that I was actually capable of doing the jumps and spins and was successfully learning the right techniques, so I thought, maybe I can make it to the Worlds…maybe even to the Olympics.”

The second Pinoy qualifier is 23-year-old Christopher Caluza. Born in California, the Fil-Am is the 2012 Philippines national champion — also in figure-skating. (There is a third Pinoy in the Sochi list — but the Canadian-born Gilmore Junio chose to represent Canada.)

The Philippines actually holds the distinction of being the first nation in the tropics to join the Winter Games. This was back in 1972 during the Sapporo Olympics when two skiers joined the giant slalom. But we have not sent a delegation since 1992. And so, 22 years after, this is welcome news.

Given the distance between our nation and Sochi — plus the endless terror threats that surround the Games — I doubt it if any Cebuano will make the trek to Russia to watch the games as a spectator. But the great news is that the Winter Games will be broadcast via TV5’s Sports 5 channel beginning 12 midnight on Feb. 8.

During the Opening Ceremony, with the Olympic flame burning amidst all the snow, I can imagine Pres. Putin saying… From Russia, with love.

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The POC Chairman speaks after London

At the Beijing Olympics four years ago, Jasmin and I pose with Monico Puentevella

Monico Puentevella could not take my call at 3:30 P.M. yesterday. He was huddled in a meeting. The chairman of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) was busy presiding over the POC’s first Board Meeting after London.

“We were complete,” said Monico, during our 15-minute talk late yesterday afternoon. “Peping Cojuangco, Manny Lopez and the POC Board members attended.”

Happy? Satisfied? Smiling? Those aren’t words best to describe Mr. Puentevella’s demeanor.

“The results are the same. Our analysis is the same. We need to strengthen the grassroots. We need the NSA (National Sports Associations) to improve. We need to take out the leaders who are not producing. We keep on singing the same song each Olympics,” he said.

That’s why the former Congressman of Bacolod City is looking forward to a full Senate and Congress hearing. While many are anxious to face the powerful lawmakers, Monico is not.

“I hope Congress will call an Assessment Hearing,” he said. This way, the nation will know that there’s no money allocated for sports.

“Peping (Cojuangco) talks about building the training center in Clark. We have so many grand plans. But the question is, ‘Where’s the money?’”

With Manny, Noel Villaflor and Jonas Panerio during the SAC Awards

ENGLAND. Buoyed by the success of their Olympic hosting, the English are jubilant.

“You know how many hours Great Britain wants to allocate for Physical Education?” Monico asked.

Two hours.

Two hours… per week? I asked. “No,” he said. “Two hours PER DAY. That’s how much they value P.E. and sports. And more so with their recent success in London where Great Britain won a record 29 gold medals.”

Two hours daily of P.E.?

Ours in the Philippines? “We have two hours… per week. And that’s divided into music, health and sports. Many students only get 45 minutes of P.E. for the whole week.”

How do we expect to win that gold if we devote so little time on sports? And, even if plenty of focus is apportioned for sports, there are still no guarantees. Look at Australia. They have the sports high schools. They operated the Australian Sports Institute, one of the earth’s best.

“But they lost to New Zealand,” said Monico. “Now, the Australians are going back to the drawing board, studying what went wrong, including in swimming.”

What did the POC Chairman watch in London? “Of course, I saw our Filipinos participate. Our BMX competitor? Sadly, he came from America but he was overrated. He wasn’t in the same league as the others.”

It was a sorry sight, said Monico, watching our Pinoys fall one after the other.
“We should forget about swimming and athletics in the Olympics,” he said. “The average height of the swimmers is 6-foot-5. I watched Usain Bolt, who also stands 6’5”, win the 100-meter dash. We can’t compete against them. We should focus on archery, shooting, ping-pong, badminton, boxing.”

Ever the tennis fanatic, Monico witnessed Roger Federer’s thrilling 19-17 third set victory in the semis against Juan Martin del Potro. The men’s finals in Wimbledon? “I saw that!” he said. “We were all excited to see Federer be aggressive but na luoy ko niya. He looked tired after that semifinal.”

Basketball? “I watched several of Team USA’s games including their gold medal win over Spain. That was scary. It was only in the last four minutes that the Americans won that game. This tells us one thing: everyone’s improving.”

As for his future plans, Monico revealed them: “I’m running for mayor in Bacolod next year. One of my goals is to build the best boxing gym in the Philippines. I’ll rebuild the old basketball gym at the Bay Center, fronting the Plaza, and will convert it into a world-class facility.”

Monico plans to hire a Cuban coach and to bring boxers from nearby Cadiz, Bago, Manapla and Himamaylan to “The City of Smiles.” Then, he added, “we’ll revive what Bidoy Aldeguer and I used to do… bring boxers to Cebu and bring yours over to Bacolod.”

Then, in the process, find our first Olympic gold medalist?

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Our only chance for Olympic gold?

BOXING. I’m watching this Saturday night. The fight at the Waterfront is called “The Rematch.” And aptly so: the last time Jason Pagara faced Rosbel Montoya, our Filipino boxer lost. This Mexican fighter is seasoned and tough: He’s won 34 times with 29 knockouts. That’s a scary record.

And so, while previous ALA Promotions events featured our Pinoys sporting the upper-hand, this time, it’s obvious that the enemy is stronger. Can Pagara avenge his previous defeat? Abangan.

OLYMPICS. Many critics proclaimed the London Games as the best ever. It’s possible. There were no hitches. Security? Nah. Plus… The Americans won 46 gold and 104 total medals. Great Britain amassed 65 medals, including 29 gold. Michael Phelps increased his harvest to 22 medals and Usain Bolt is six for six. Kobe Bryant’s boast of toppling the ’92 Dream Team of Michael Jordan? He makes sense. It may be true. (Although the 1992 Dream Team had a margin of victory of 43.8 points versus the 32.1 of the 2012 team.)

Our Philippine team? Zero. As expected. In almost all events, we lost early. The last time Team PHL won a medal? That was in 1996 when Onyok Velasco won silver. That’s four Olympics ago. In Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London, we’re zero for zero. Worse, in the sport where we have the biggest chance (boxing), we only sent one boxer (a wrestler?) to London. Conclusion: While the other nations get stronger, we’re staying the same or weakening.

With the Olympics’ current roster of 26 sports and 302 events, it’s hard to picture us winning gold in Brazil. Our only chance? If the IOC includes any of these three popular games: billiards, bowling or dancesport.

YONG VS. TIMEX. It’s happening again. Two years ago, one of the biggest running events — the University Run, organized by the CebuDoc group and Dr. Yong Larrazabal — collided with an unexpected rival: the Pilipinas International Marathon (PIM), sponsored by the International Pharmaceuticals Inc. (IPI) group. Both events were held on the same morning of Aug. 15, 2010.

This Sunday, two years fast forward, it’s de ja vu time: the 7th University Run (dubbed UR7) is met with another stiff resistance: the Timex Run – Cebu.

Same day. Same time. Coincidental? Yes. But unfortunate because both are outstanding. Rio de la Cruz, the famed coach/celebrity organizer, is teaming-up with the Pangilinans (Anthony, Maricel and family) for Timex, to start near the Abellana (Cebu City Sports Center) grounds. Piolo Pascual is expected to meet and greet with his fans.

UR7? It’s held at the Cebu Doc Univ. campus at the North Reclamation Area and, with their school’s thousands of students, it will surely be a full-capacity race.

Though Timex is conveniently-located in Cebu City, I think the hard-core runners won’t miss the chance to run 25K and climb the three bridges (Cansaga, M. Fernan, and the old Mactan Bridge).

Either way, what’s sure is this: the streets of Lapu-Lapu, Mandaue and Cebu (like it was two weeks ago during the Cobra Ironman 70.3) will be flooded with athletes this Sunday.

TEARS FOR FEARS. A self-avowed lover of 80s music, I trooped to Waterfront last Sunday to sing and listen beside thousands of others. We shouted “Shout.” We danced mad at “Mad World.” And, from the moment “Advice For The Young At Heart” was first played, we stood and clapped. Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith were celebrated. The only sad part? They sang several unfamiliar tunes and missed out on three favorites: “Break It Down Again,” “Mother’s Talk,” and “Woman In Chains.”

GLOBE. I’ve long been a loyal and satisfied Globe subscriber. So are all of my family members. But, starting last Saturday, a troubling occurrence happened. From where I live in Maria Luisa, there’s hardly any Globe signal! All part of the supposed “upgrade” of Globe? No wonder the TV stations are inundated with commercials by Smart on dropped calls, etc. Paging Globe and my friend Vincent Ong: kindly fix this not-so-smart problem.

Randy Del Valle at the Olympics

Over a week ago, I got an email from Randy Del Valle, a close friend from Cebu who has since been assigned in London. The avid tennis and sports fan that he is, Randy watched Wimbledon last month and took time to meet with the Filipino Olympians. Here’s Randy’s message…

The Del Valles with the PHL Olympic swimming team

Hi John,

Did you see the London 2012 Opening Ceremony?  While Beijing was big and grand, I think the London opening has more heart, soul and fun into it.  Specifically liked the history, Industrialization, Mary Poppins saving the day, JK Rowling and Voldemort, the Bond and the Queen diving, British pop music, hilarious Mr. Bean and the orchestra, the www founder and the lighting of the cauldrons to make up the Olympic flame.  There were lots of moments but there is a rich story in every cut – for me director Danny Boyle was great and he deserves a medal for planning the opening with lesser amount of budget. Anyways, been very excited this week, as we will see a lot of games here in London.

As mentioned to you before, Christine and I met up with the Philippine team delegation here in London. A good friend hosted a lunch with the athletes and we were able to visit them during practice for a couple of weeks.  We met Jasmine Alkaldi (womens 100m freestyle), Jessie King Lacuna (mens 200m freestyle – he lost today), Marestella Torres (Long Jump) and Rene Herrera (men 5000m)

Christine with swimmers Jasmine and Jessie and coach Pinky Brosas

With long-jumper Marestella Torres

I hope they will do well in the Olympics and score a medal. I know it will be a tall order but miracles do happen. Wishing all our Philippine athletes the best and make all the Filipinos proud!

I will send you more updates on the Olympics matches that we will watch: Swimming finals (Philippine Swimmer Jasmine Alkaldi will be competing there is she will reach top 8); Cycling (last weekend and this Wednesday) and Football Quarterfinals (August 4).

Cheers,
Randy

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The XXX Olympiad: Let the Games begin!

I watched the Opening Ceremony yesterday at 4 A.M. Two SkyCable channels–Solar Sports and TV5–broadcasted live the nearly four-hour-long show.

Fireworks, like a rainbow of explosions, erupted to light the London night. Confetti, instead of rain, showered. James Bond rode the helicopter beside Queen Elizabeth II. Mr. Bean? Ha-ha. He was, as usual, funny, playing “Chariots of Fire” and running by the beach. J. K. Rowling read a passage. And, the greatest British musician, Sir Paul McCartney, serenaded the 60,000 spectators with “Hey Jude.”

Impressive? No and Yes. Anytime you spend $42 million on a single production–then that show ought to be grandiose. And London was. But, compared to the last Opening in Beijing, this one pales in comparison. (Beijing spent $113 million!)

I found London’s show too much. They had too many simultaneous movements. The camera focus would jump from one scene to another too fast–maybe good for action movies but, for a live show of 10,000 volunteers (plus 70 sheep, 12 horses, etc.), I thought it was confusing and hurried.

To me, the show dazzled but did not inspire. The lighting of the torch? The 200 mini-torches was excellent –but maybe it could have been more dramatic? A few more seconds of pause to alert us of the Opening’s most awaited moment? My wife Jasmin and I, after the torches stood combined, were left wondering, “That’s it?”

Again, I’m basing my comparison with Beijing’s opening.

SPEECHES. Of all the portions of the Opening, the part I liked best was serious: when Sebastian Coe and Jacques Rogge spoke. A four-time Olympic medalist, Seb Coe is the head of the London Games. Here’s part of his speech…

“To everyone in this stadium attending our opening ceremony, to every athlete waiting, ready, prepared to take part in these Games, to everyone in every city and village in the world watching as we begin, welcome to London…

“To the athletes gathered here on the eve of this great endeavor, I say that to you is given something precious and irreplaceable. To run faster, to jump higher, to be stronger.”

The IOC President Rogge himself gave an excellent speech, talking of this Games as the first ever where all nations have women athletes, with Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia sending female athletes for the first time. He also paid tribute to the hosts, saying:

“This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations.

“The British approach to sport had a profound influence on Pierre de Coubertin, our founder, as he developed the framework for the modern Olympic Movement at the close of the 19th century…

“I offer this thought: Your talent, dedication and commitment brought you here. Now you have a chance to become true Olympians.

“That honor is determined not by whether you win, but by how you compete. Character counts far more than medals.”

TEAM PHILS. Our Philippine flag bearer was 21-year-old weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who also competed in 2008. With uniforms designed by Rajo Laurel, our 11-athlete contingent looked plenty–thanks to the usual cast of coaches and officials who outnumber our athletes. Seen all-smiling was a familiar face: Monico Puentevella, the POC chairman.

TO WATCH. Out of the 10,902 athletes competing, only a handful standout as the superstars of superstars. The rivalry all are awaiting? Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte. (One writer terms it “Phelpte.”) Phelps has 14 gold medals and is aiming to be the first male swimmer to win gold at three straight Olympics. Lochte is the defending 400-meter individual medley world champ and beat Phelps at the US Trials. Says Bob Bowman, the coach of Phelps: ‘‘A very rough race. It will be a coach’s dream, but also a spectator’s dream. It will be fantastic.’’

On land, the 100-meter dash is, of course, the most anticipated. Usain Bolt is the record-holder but lost his last race to Yohan Blake. Tyson Gay is healthy. Justin Gatlin is back. And so is another Jamaican, Asafa Powell. These five will sprint come August 5.

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London’s Olympics and Cebu’s Ironman

Only nine days remain before the Ironman 70.3 begins at the Shangri-La Mactan Resort. Cebu has hosted plenty of big-time sporting events before. Last year’s Davis Cup tennis events against Japan and Taiwan were huge. So have been the ALA Promotions-organized boxing fights. I recall watching Dennis Rodman slamming a dunk in Mandaue. We struck gold in Dancesport during the SEA Games of 2005. And last week, the World Eskrima Kali Arnis championships were held at the CICC.

But there’s never been as much excitement as the August 5, 2012 swim-bike-run spectacle. Over 1,700 triathletes—including Jenson Button and his sexy supermodel girlfriend, Jessica Michibata—are landing in the shores of Mactan next weekend. In swimming pools all over Cebu—from Casino Español to Abellana to Holiday Gym—the waves are splashing with freestyle strokes. Everyone’s practicing.

Yesterday, together with Neil Montesclaros, I biked 72 kms. from Consolacion to Catmon. Along the route, dozens of cyclists—on a Wednesday—are cramming their pedaling rotations.

Runners? Wake up at 5:15 A.M. and you’ll encounter sweaty, sleeveless-wearing athletes pounding our newly-asphalted streets.

Why does this Ironman have an accompanying “70.3” number? That’s because the race totals 70.3 miles. In our usual kilometer readings, that’s 1.9 + 90 + 21. That’s a swim of 1.9 kms., a 90K bike ride and a half-marathon run.

Cebu awaits—and welcomes—our triathlete visitors.

DONDI. Gordon Alan “Dondi” Joseph, my fellow Rotarian from the RC Cebu West and a top civic leader (he’s the president of the Cebu Business Club), is now in London, England.

“Not really to watch, John!” was his reply when I asked if he was there to witness the Olympic Games. Dondi, whose brother, Mark Joseph, is the head of Philippine swimming, emailed me yesterday a few observations…

“There is a palpable buzz in the air and while many Londoners with their usual aplomb consider the Games a a bit of a bother, the city is gleaming, literally and figuratively. Signs of last-minute preparations are everywhere as Olympic-related event venues are being spruced up and constructed.

“The weather is beautiful with temperatures ranging from 17 to 31 with only the sun to greet you. People are in shorts and T-shirts and around parks, large and small. All have people sunbathing in Olympic-marked sun chairs.

“I didn’t plan to get involved in any event but am now determined to try and watch the torch along its route to the stadium. It’s simply contagious and I want to be part of the greatest show on earth!

“Tickets to the Opening are over 5000usd. Yup 5,000. Too rich for me. But everything else is going on and there are concerts galore! This is just fantastic!!!

“And by the way, with the end of the rains and the entry of the beautiful sun, the skirts are really shorter! Beautiful… ;-)”

PHL OLYMPICS. What time is the Opening Ceremony? It will be (Philippine time) two days from now… at 4:30 A.M. on Saturday. It is expected to be shown on both Solar Sports and Star Sports.

With our Philippine delegation, did you know that our 11 Olympians will be the smallest contingent we’ve sent—if my research is correct—in 80 years (during the 1932 Los Angeles Games).

Back in 1924, we were the first Southeast Asian country to join the Olympics. Excluding the 1980 Olympics (when we boycotted Moscow), we have never missed participating in the Summer Games. Thus far, we’ve accumulated two silver medals and seven bronze medals. Of these nine medals, we won five in boxing and two apiece in athletics and swimming.

Our last medal? It was Onyok Velasco’s silver in Atlanta, 1996. Gold? Nah. Even if there’s a P5 million bounty (Sports Incentive Act, RA 9064) offered by the government, there are no takers. Or, rather, no one’s good enough to take gold.

And here’s one more trivia: After Mongolia won their first gold medal in 2008, we now hold the infamous record as the nation with the most medals… but no gold medal.