In cold Cebu, an even colder Sochi


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.

Categorized as Olympics

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?

Categorized as Olympics

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).


Categorized as Olympics

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.

Categorized as Olympics

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.

Which Dream Team is better, 2012 or 1992?

Kobe Bryant created a Ruping-like controversial storm last week when he broadcasted this boast: “It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”

Calling today’s USA Olympic basketball team “a bunch of racehorses who are incredibly athletic,” he insulted the 1992 squad, saying they “consisted mainly of players at the tail end of their careers.”

Ouch. Charles Barkley, the offensive rebounder, took offense, saying, “How old is Kobe Bryant? He’s 34? And he’s calling us old? … Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”

Now that reply’s a slam dunk. Michael Jordan added: “For him to make that comparison, it’s one of those things where it creates conversation. I guess we’ll never know. I’d like to think that we had 11 Hall of Famers on that team, and whenever they get 11 Hall of Famers, you call and ask me who had the better Dream Team. Remember now, they learned from us. We didn’t learn from them.”

MJ is right. Team 1992 was composed of Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Christian Laettner, David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Barkley and Jordan. (All are Hall of Famers except for Laettner.)

In the Barcelona Olympics, they beat Angola by 68 points, Croatia by 33, Germany by 43, Brazil by 44, Spain by 42, Puerto Rico by 38, Lithuania by 51 and, in the final, beat Croatia, 117-85. Their average margin: 44 points.

So, 1992 or 2012? Who’s better? The funny thing is, the London Games haven’t even started! Team USA hasn’t even won a single game.    Still, if this hypothetical encounter were to happen, what would be the result?

One dominant theme arises: Size matters. “There’s no question about it — we’d kill them,” said Ewing. “We were much bigger. Our bigs were much bigger and if not the same, [even] more athletic. We had Magic, Michael. I think we would dominate them.”

While the 2012 US team only has one natural center with Tyson Chandler at 7’1”, the ’92 team had plenty of giants: Robinson (7’1”), Ewing (7’0”), Laettner (6’11”), Malone (6’9”). And should we forget, Bird and Magic stood at 6-foot-9.

“Because we don’t have a lot of big guys, Carmelo, LeBron and Kevin Durant will all be at the 4 [power forward] and 5 [center],” said coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Andre Iguodala will be at one of the bigs, too. We have to compensate our loss of big guys with athleticism.” The coach added: “The quickness of this team, this is the quickest team I’ve ever coached, including U.S. teams. We have to build on that. Instead of talking about the fact that we don’t have many centers — it would different if we had Dwight and Chris Bosh. We’d play a little bit differently. We don’t, so we have to rely on our strength, which is versatility, quickness, speed.”

In the end, all this trash talk serves one purpose: to draw attention. And, for that alone, shifting the focus from Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to the American basketball team, why, that’s good for Kobe and LeBron.

And you know how good Americans are at trash-talking. Very often, these words scare the enemy. That’s an added purpose. Still, some players don’t like this verbal war, LeBron included. “It’s nothing fun about it,” said LeBron. “That’s a great team, we understand that. They set the standard for a lot of us. We’re trying to make our own mark so that teams will come after us.”

Carmelo Anthony agrees. “Why can’t it all just be love? It’s always got to be us against them or them against us,” said Anthony. “We all USA basketball players, man. I’m not here to sit and say we’re better than them, or better than this or that. We’re trying to make a statement with the game we have. What they did back in ’92 will never be duplicated. We’re just trying to start our own thing and hopefully continue our legacy.”

As for Deron Williams, he wants this issue settled, joking, “I think right now, if they come out here, we’ll beat them,” Williams said. “Right now.”

Yep, when MJ is 49 years old!

Sure shot! The A-Team to strike gold

Twenty years ago in Barcelona, a group of giants named Magic, Larry, Michael & Co. won the Olympic gold medal in basketball. Their average winning margin? An unfathomable 43.8 PPG. That was the 1992 Dream Team, acknowledged as the greatest ever cast of athletes assembled—of any sport.

Now, it’s 2012. It’s London. Will Kobe, Kevin, LeBron & Co. become today’s “Avengers” and win gold? Absolutely. As sure as basketball was invented by an American, Team USA will beat Spain, Argentina, France and Russia.

Look at the roster: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Andre Guodala, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams. These are the 12 best ballplayers of our planet’s seven billion inhabitants.

Durant? Bryant? James? Those three alone can beat the five-man squad of Tunisia.

“When I think about ’08, we were really good then. But like me, LeBron and D-Will, all of us talk about, you’ve got to think about how much better all of us are now than we were in ’08. All of us as players, we shoot the ball better. Guys are more athletic, guys are more confident. One through 12, no question we’re deeper than we were in ’08.” Who said those words? Chris Paul, the 6-footer point guard.

In Beijing, Team USA won by an average of 32.2 points in the elimination round. In the quarterfinals, they defeated Australia, 116-85. In the semis, Argentina got trounced, 101-81. And, in the finals, it was closer than expected: 118-107 versus Spain.

While 2008 was The Redeem Team, the 2004 squad was The Nightmare Team as the US (with Dwayne Wade, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony) lost to eventual gold medalists Argentina in the semis.

This 2012, the country of Barack Obama wants to ensure that they’re all-smiles during the Awarding.

One man who’ll savor his first time Olympian status is Kevin Durant who, at age 19 four years ago, was not selected. “It was almost end of the world,” said Durant, “especially seeing those guys win it—celebrating the gold in Beijing. I couldn’t stand it.”

LeBron? The 27-year-old has the opportunity to match a record that only one other human being has accomplished: Michael Jordan. In 1992, MJ earned the MVP and Finals MVP awards, the NBA ring plus an Olympic gold medal.

Kobe? He’s the “senior citizen” (oldest player) at age 33.

There are a few notable no-shows: Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and Miami teammates Wade and Chris Bosh. They’re injured.

Studying the line-up, it’s obvious what Team USA lacks: height. Of the 12, only three players stand 6’10” and taller. Spain has the Big Three: Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka—two brothers who are All-Stars plus a player who led the NBA in blocked shots (3.7/game) last season. Are the Americans concerned? Ever the confident people, they say, No way! As their one true center, 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler puts it, “we’ve got some hybrids.”

USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo answers this lack-of-big-men concern: “People keep throwing Spain in our face, ’What about the Gasols?’ And I say, ’Well, what about the Gasols? Our guys play against them every day. And matchups always go two ways. They have to be able to guard our quickness, our speed, our versatility, and so I’m not really concerned about that.” He added: “There are a lot of 6-9 and 6-10 guys who are much better than 7-footers.”

“The United States will rely on the same formula it did in winning the gold medal in Beijing when it overwhelmed every opponent with its full-court pressure and transition game—until the final, when it took scintillating shooting to hold off Spain,” wrote Fox Sports’ Billy Witz.

Athleticism. Speed. Offense. They’ll spread the court and drive to the basket to create opportunities. Added Matthew Kitchen of NBC Olympics: “You realize how stacked Team USA really is: six rings, six scoring titles, four MVPs, the reigning Sixth Man and Defensive Player of the Year.”

Dream Team Part 2? Yes. The A-Team.

64 days to go before the London Olympics

Back in July of 2005, I was fortunate to have been in Singapore when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) convened in the Lion City to decide on the host for the 2012 Olympic Games. As we now know, Moscow, Paris, Madrid and New York lost to one city who’ll host the Games from July 27 to August 12.

London. Yes. Is there a place more cosmopolitan, diverse and sports-crazy? Exactly 64 days from today, London will become the only city in history to host the Olympics thrice (they also did in 1908 and 1948).

Wanting to get a first-hand look at the Olympics, I asked a long-time resident for his thoughts…

Jack Biantan was SunStar Cebu’s former Sports Editor. A giant both in size and in his love for sports, Jack has resided in London for 11 years now.

“Everyone here is excited,” said Jack, in our e-mail exchange last week. “But not the entire London has benefitted from this Olympics. Only the West part of London where the Olympic Village and the infrastructures are.

“Our only concern in North London specially we Tottenham Hotspurs fans is the Olympic stadium. Shall we get the stadium after the Olympics or shall we remain in the congested White Heart Lane stadium.

“As you can see John, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspurs are contesting in courts right now on who will be right full tenants in the Olympic stadium. The London Olympics organising committee has given the rights to West Ham because of the Hammers proposal to keep the track oval after the games.

“Tottenham however want to get rid of the oval and convert the entire stadium into a football specific stadium just like what Manchester City FC did to the Manchester stadium after the Commonwealth games fews years back. The Hammers have all the advantage also because West Ham is based only very near to the stadium while the Spurs are based some kilometres away.

“But in my opinion the Spurs are just using the Olympic stadium as leverage to their negotiations with the Haringey council (Tottenham is located in the Haringey borough) for the extension of the White Heart Lane stadium. The Spurs management has brought all the properties around their stadium and are waiting for their permit to construct to be approved. The Spurs stadium has only 36,000 capacity and I have been waiting for the past 11 years to get a season ticket. They are planning to extend the stadium to 60,000 once the council approves the permit.

“The London Olympic committee is also facing another problem in court as Leyton Orient FC the club nearest to the Olympic stadium has also sued and claimed their own right to the tenancy to the stadium. The games have not even started yet but the battle in courts have already been busy.”

Jack planned to watch the games in person but was appalled by the exorbitant ticket prices. “The tickets are astronomical for ordinary salaried people like us OFWs from the Philippines,” said Jack. “I have a daughter in college in Cebu and a six-year-old son who is in an Opus Dei School in CDO. I also have to pay high rental to the flat I rent here.”

Based on my internet research, a ticket to, say, an Olympic basketball game can cost anywhere from 40 Pounds (about P2,700) to, in the Final game, a whopping 425 Pounds (P29,000). Tennis in Wimbledon? The final can be as expensive as 225 pounds (P15,000).

Worse, the tickets are not only expensive—they’re also nearly impossible to get. “Most are sold out and been snatched by the black market peddlers,” said Jack, driving the prices further upwards.

“I planned to buy tickets for boxing where there is only one Filipino athlete competing. But since he is alone, and the odds for him to win a medal is very slim, I might as well stay at home and watch TV,” said Jack.

Joking, he adds: “Unless we are lucky to win the ticket lottery the Olympic committee has organised, then we would be more excited.”

This has not stopped Jack, though, from visiting a few sites. He’s toured the outside area of the Olympic Stadium and has explored the Westfield Mall in Stratford City.

The London Games will be the 30th Olympics. And since Roman Numerals are often used, you know what these games will be? The triple-X Games. Or the Games of the XXX Olympiad.

When the battle starts on July 27, an estimated 10,000-plus athletes representing 204 countries will compete. There are only 26 sports but a total of 302 events.

Like us here in Cebu, Mr. Biantan will be watching the flat screen.

“BBC is covering the games for free so we would just contend ourselves in watching the games on TV,” he said. “Our only problem is that the BBC coverage will be concentrated only to British athletes. But the Filipino community is excited to watch Olympic basketball games live this time because there is a British team competing in it. Unlike the previous games where only the finals were aired.”

I asked Jack, who’s resided in the United Kingdom capital since 2001, if he plans to reside there for good and he says no.

“Once our mortgage in CDO is finished in five years time and my daughter finishes her college education I will be back in the Philippines to take care of my young son. That, if I stay healthy during those times. I am getting old now John and I want to enjoy my life a little bit before I go to another world. Life here is hard and there is too much stress. I had a great time in Cebu when I was there. I lost my hair and gotten sick of diabetes in 11 years of stay here.”

Finally, I asked the football aficionado if he meets with other Cebuanos. His reply: All the time! “Most of my colleagues in the hospital where I work are Filipinos, so I still have not perfected my British accent because we often speak Ilonggo, Cebuano or Tagalog.”

Good to hear that London Jack is still Bisaya.

Categorized as Olympics

Dolly Tan writes about Canada

Erlinda Dolly Tan lived in Cebu from 2003 to 2008, worked at the GSIS, but is now residing in British Columbia. British Columbia? If the name sounds familiar that’s because the Winter Olympics, which ran from Feb. 12 to 28, was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Dolly emailed me three weeks back with her observations which she entitled, “Watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics… And How It Reminds Me Of My Country.”

While admitting that the “Snow” Games are not popular in RP, she says we can learn from Canada. “When Vancouver was awarded to host the Olympics in 2003,” wrote Dolly, “it immediately created a 5-year program called ‘Own The Podium’ (OTP). The purpose was to develop and train athletes with the ultimate goal to top the medal tally.

“The program included trainings for coaches, leaders and athletes. It took care of the athletes’ nutrition, psychological condition and well being. They were sent to international games to prepare them for top level competition conditions.”

The OTP budget, said Dolly, was a huge $110 million and this did not escape criticisms. (Half came from taxpayers, half from sponsors.) Still, despite the negative response, Canada pushed ahead. The program worked.

“Canada made history by winning 14 gold medals, the most ever for a host nation. In the over-all tally, USA was first, Germany second and Canada third. But this doesn’t diminish the OTP program’s success with every Canadian believing that they still own the best part of the podium, the gold.

“As Canada closed the Olympics curtain, I can’t help but think about my beloved country 10,000 kilometers away. Too unrealistic to create a similar program? Yes but I was hoping our government would give more priority and would increase the budget for sports.

“We produced Paeng Nepomuceno, Bata Reyes and Eric Buhain; there is no reason why we cannot produce more world class athletes. And how about Manny Pacquiao as proof? But our athletes cannot do it by themselves, the government has a major role to play.”

Why sports? “Sports is an alternative way of life,” said Dolly. “It develops strict discipline for our children, it stimulates dreams, it stirs up patriotism. For every gold medal won, hundreds of dreams are born. For every gold medal won, hundreds of children are inspired. They get up, dribble, shoot. Sports is one way of keeping them away from drugs.

“I witnessed in Canada how sports became nation-building. Vancouver was a world stage for 17 days and more than 3.5 billion people viewed some part of the games both on TV and the internet.. this includes 185 million Americans, more than half of the US population. What they saw was Vancouver with polite people who never ran out of greetings… Thank You, You’re Welcome, and Have A Nice Day. They saw the essence of a 21st century Canada, a post 9/11 world of a peaceful multi-cultural people that includes 400,000 Filipinos. Tourism is expected to boom in Vancouver in the coming years.

“I witnessed how hockey, a game that originated in Canada, produced a People Power on the final day of Olympics when Canada and US battled for the gold in a nail-biting 3-period thriller. Right after the emotional win of Canada, a celebration of national pride erupted.

“There was people power in big cities. The downtowns of Vancouver and Toronto were flooded with people, all proud to be Canadians. Flags were raised coast to coast. This nation who doesn’t use the car horn… honked for victory! People sang the national anthem inside the train, bus, malls…

“Unbelievable. But as they say here, children skate before they can walk, they learn hockey prior to arithmetic. But it’s not about hockey, per se. It’s how they take care of their athletes—and end up winning 14 golds.

“Our Filipino athletes are there, waiting to be discovered and trained. They could be playing basketball or doing boxing. But without government support, they will remain pots of gold sitting in our backyards.”

Categorized as Olympics