BLEACHERS BREW EST. MAY 2006

Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stuff on the Philippine contingent to the Rio Olympics Part 1

DLSU Green Archers take down the Flying V Thunders in their first tune-up match

Eric Salamat throws up a three-pointer versus DLSU's Ben Mbala.
This appears in the Wednesday, July 27, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

DLSU Green Archers take down the Flying V Thunders in their first tune-up match
by rick olivares

The Thunders with its former pro players and recent graduates took an early 6-2 lead but La Salle quickly erased the lead with its full court press and superb three-point shooting. After five consecutive turnovers that saw La Salle convert from three-point range four times, the score was 14-6. The Green Archers looked to pull away but the Thunders’ Eric Salamat led a rally that saw them cut the deficit to six, 38-32, but five botched free throws and turnovers allowed the college squad to take the half, 62-51.

La Salle led by as much as 20 points, 96-76 following an Abu Tratter dunk, but the Thunders made one last run to notch the final count at 116-105.

“One month pa lang and we practice three times a week,” noted Thunders coach Aric Del Rosario. “And we missed Leo Avenido.”

The Thunders were supposed to compete in the Country-Wide Basketball League that was supposed to tip-off this coming August but with supposed television coveror ABS-CBN backing out, the team and the league is in disarray. Flying V team owner Raffy Villavicencio who also co-manages the Green Archers, made his way down to the former to congratulate them and instructed them to continue their efforts.

According to Del Rosario and team manager Joey Guillermo, management is looking for a suitable league to play whether it be the Philippine Commercial Basketball League, the Asean Basketball League, or the Developmental League. “Ngayon at least sabi ng boss tuloy tuloy na. Sana malaman na natin kung saan tayo.”

“Obviously, we didn’t have the fitness and chemistry that La Salle has,” noted Guillermo. “But it’s a good first tune-up match. We fought back but ran out of gas.”

Salamat paced the Thunders with 23 points while Ilad finished with a double double of 14 points and 14 rebounds.

The scoreline of the Flying V Thunders:

Eric Salamat 23
Oda Tampus 15
Brian Ilad 14
Sam Marata 13
Froilan Baguion 10
Luis Sinco 8
Gwyne Capacio 7
Mark Andaya 5
Jun Jun Cabatu 4
JR Ongteco 3
Mikey Cabahug 2
Richard Albo 1




Monday, July 25, 2016

Jessie Lacuna's challenge


This appears on rappler.com

Jessie Lacuna loves a challenge. Now he faces the biggest one of his career — another shot at Olympic glory.
by rick olivares

As far as he can remember, Jessie Lacuna was always challenged.

At the age of five, his mother, Corazon recalls that he crawled on his own volition towards the swimming pool that he also says called out to him. “I took to it like a fish to water,” laughed Jessie at the memory. “In the water, I feel relaxed; like I’m in another world. While being in the water helps clear my mind it is the opposite when I’m in training or race mode… I’m like a shark. I get intense and locked in.” 

The Lacuna family used to own a resort in Pulilan, Bulacan called Villa Lorenzo (it has since been sold). His older brothers Jay and Billy were the kings of the pool and later the toast of this rural town in Northern Bulacan.

The two elder Lacuna brothers had gone on to Manila to take their college at the University of Santo Tomas where they became champion swimmers. When they would go home for vacation, in the spirit of sibling rivalry, they teased young Jessie. Taunted him even. “You’ll never break our swimming records. You’ll never win a medal,” they playfully teased. 

They always got Jessie’s goat easily. “Both of them would boast about their exploits, their swimming marks,” recalled Jessie with a gleam in his eye. "One time, I got tired of it and said, I’m going to not only beat them but break all their records.”

Fifteen years later, Jessie was in Australia for a three-month training period as sponsored by the Philippine Olympic Committee in preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Jay was now working Down Under as a nurse and the two had a nice reunion. “I’m proud of you, little brother,” said the eldest of the brood of five. 

“Thanks, bro.” said Jessie returning the embrace. “So that you know, I broke your records.”

The younger sibling had to get that last word in edge-wise. And what made Jessie’s feat even more impressive was that he was only in high school when he broke the marks his older brothers set when they were in college. 

“And I never doubted you would,” returned Jay magnanimously.

Billy as well doesn’t swim anymore as he works as a medical representative in Pasay City. But the two, as well as the whole Lacuna family are doubly excited that through Jessie, he will live out their Olympic dream.

The Olympics. 

Twice in Jessie’s life it seemed like such a far-fetched dream.

He carted home medals by the bushel load from the Southeast Asian Age Group Swimming Championships, the Southeast Asian Games, New South Wales State Age Championships, and the Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships. And then he went to the London Games availing of a wild card slot in the men’s 200-meter freestyle competition.

As soon as he made his way to the diving docks at the Aquatics Centre during the 2012 London Olympic Games, Jessie began to cry. “Those were tears of joy, fun, anxiety. I was speechless. I was in shock. I cried.” he related. Results-wise, he finished 36th among all competitors and was unable to make it to the semi-finals. 

“I was overwhelmed that first time,” he rued.

After the Olympics, as much as Jessie tried, he didn’t swim well in his next meets. 

"He became very unhappy," said Archie Lim, Lacuna’s swimming coach and program director in Ateneo where Jessie is enrolled for college. “There was a string of performances where he thought that he wasn't improving and that made him want to quit.”

“I was at a point where I thought my career was over internationally and that I’d just swim for Ateneo in the UAAP,” chimed in Lacuna. 

Coach Archie however remained determined to help his ward regain his focus.

“I was unsuccessful in my initial attempts to recruit him for Ateneo,” said Lim. “Watching him from afar, I saw how he struggled." After London, Lim gave Jessie time to sort his life out then made a pitch.

His older brothers helped him figure out where to go and what to do. “There were only four schools for me to choose from — Ateneo, La Salle, UP, and UST,” Jessie shared. "My brothers said, 'Try another school', so that eliminated UST. La Salle didn’t seem interested until late, so it came down to Ateneo and UP. I attended this orientation in UP but didn’t see a career path laid down by the coaches. Ateneo laid it out for me. Education-wise, I was going to get it from both Ateneo and UP, so the deciding factor came down to the swimming career path.”

“Coach had a plan but more than the plan, he believed in me and never gave up on me,” said Lacuna. "Coach Archie kept pushing me and he outlined  these short-term goals and gain with an eye for the long-term."

Jessie's mindset changed following the FINA ((the Fédération Internationale de Natation) World Championships in Barcelona where he performed very well. The results were the first positive ones he had received in a long time and it lit a fire under him. 

Lacuna followed that up with a silver and two bronze medals during the 2015 Southeast Asian Games in Singapore that earned him the nod from FINA. He formalized his entry to Rio when he made the swimming body’s list of qualified athletes after the 2016 Swimming Australia Grand Prix that was held in Brisbane from July 1-2.

"Training alone in Australia for three months, I learned how to cook, keep my place clean and that I can speak English,” laughed Lacuna. The time away forced him to grow up quickly and appreciate the world through different eyes. “I became more appreciative of what I have been blessed with,” he admitted.

“I never thought I’d make it back to the Olympics and maybe this time, I can redeem myself,” postulated Jessie on the eve of his departure for Brazil. “More than bringing glory to the country, I hope that with my performance, our sports officials will give the homegrown athletes another look. I hope that I can inspire others to take up not only swimming but any sport.

As a youngster, he quietly wondered why most of the national swimmers were Fil-Ams. It wasn’t that he was against them. “It also became a mission to prove that the homegrown Filipino could be just as good if not better. And if I could perform well, maybe it will inspire others to also take up swimming and that government officials and corporate sponsors could help build pools for kids.”

While there aren’t any new pools in Pulilan, Bulacan, people come far and wide to visit his parents’ store that has since replaced their resort that they’ve sold. “They come over and ask if this is where I live and grew up. They offer congratulations and wish my family well. It’s touching and I am grateful."

“I am proud of my hometown,” says the two-time Olympian. “I make no bones of where I am from. Every chance I get, I go home. The pool, the water may have this calming effect on me; makes me feel relaxed or I’m in another world, but Pulilan is home.”

The day before the Philippine delegation to the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics was to depart, Jessie, who had not tasted his mother’s home cooking in over three months went home. It was a tearful and joyous reunion.
“When I started out, swimming was an interest. It became an obsession and then a career. Now, it is a means to an end, to get an education, to represent my country, and to hopefully provide inspiration for others to follow."

Notes: 
Jessie has two younger siblings — 18-year old Dexter who competes for UP and Angelica who isn’t inclined towards swimming or sports.

Breaking down one of San Beda's plays versus Arellano

Arellano is set in its defensive man-zone position with a mind to defend against lane incursions. What I would do is force Tongco to pick up his dribble and pass off before he can get into the play. Am not sure that Brylle Meca is a good defender on Davon Potts. Maybe Michael Canete can do a better job as I think he has better defensive instincts.

Arellano isn't too aggressive in stopping the play. The allow it to unfold. 

There's a moment here where if Lervin Flores read it well, he could pick off the pass by Rob Bolick to JV Mocon. Flores is of course aware that Donald Tankou might slide in this pick and roll. 



Mocon's drive has Arellano confused. Four defenders inside the paint with only Meca outside to watch Potts. Mocon has the option to drop the ball to Tankoua or throw it out to a wide open Ranbill Tongco. He went strong and was fouled for two free throws.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

NCAA Season 92: More questions than answers for the Arellano Chiefs

This appears in the Monday, July 25, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.


More questions than answers for the AU Chiefs
by rick olivares

The Arellano University Chiefs’ 101-86 loss to the San Beda Red Lions last Friday, July 22, says more about them than the latter.

You can say that this young Red Lion team has heart. Yet even if they aren’t the defending champions, San Beda has been the model basketball program in the NCAA for well over a decade now. As for Arellano, in their old stomping grounds, they were champs. Ditto in the Fr. Martin II competition. In the tougher NCAA, they have teased with their talent and they’ve had some terrific players like John Pinto, James Forrester, Prince Caperal, and Keith Agovida. Now they have Jiovani Jalalon who had made the youth national teams in the past few years. The team as a whole, at least in this league, have been underachievers. 

For Arellano to nail its first ever NCAA crown, they must address their propensity to surrender huge leads and run out of steam in big games. And they must play as a team with not only two players contributing but other key players getting in on the act.

Arellano has been tabbed as a favorites to win this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball crown. They’ve got a veteran crew. They’ve got a deep bench. Yet therein lies the problem as the Chiefs have taken two losses in this first round. Although it’s still a long season with only five matches played thus far, the latest loss is galling and disappointing. Furthermore, it reminds me of their Filoil Flying V Premier Cup finals crash against La Salle about two months ago.

During the finals that had all the looks of an easy La Salle victory, you had to rub your eyes in disbelief as Arellano befuddled them with a choking press, nifty passing, and incredible shooting in the first half. The Chiefs behind Jiovani Jalalon and Kent Michael Salado led by as much as 11 points, 32-21, early in the second quarter. They were running, gunning, and putting on a show with playground moves. 

A spate of errors saw the Green Archers cut the lead down, 42-40, at the halftime break. By the third period, DLSU seized control and never let go. The fourth period was a formality as the Archers won, 86-74.

This NCAA Season 92 against San Beda, Arellano coughed up a 22-point lead when their second unit was unable to hold or pad the lead. As is always when a team is up by a lot, the Chiefs began to settle for outside shots and mysteriously turn the ball over and give up stupid fouls. 

There was a point where Brylle Meca inexplicably fouled Ranbill Tongco when he wasn’t anywhere near the basket or shooting range. That sent the Red Lion point guard, who played long minutes with Dan Sara out with a fractured hand, to the line as AU was in penalty situation. For a team that was leading for the entire first half, how on earth were they the first team to get into penalty ahead of the other squad? In the first period, that allowed San Beda back in the game. The Red Lions shot more free throws, 36-26, than the Chiefs. 

And later still in the fourth period, forward-center Lervin Flores lost his mind when he looked to pound AC Soberano on the head with the ball after grabbing a defensive board. There was no need for that. Soberano hit the technical free throw then in the ensuing possession, swingman Davon Potts drilled a triple and San Beda went on an 8-0 run, 83-75. The Chiefs got within three, 85-82, but that was the closest they would get the rest of the way.

To complete the reversal, Arnaud Noah dunked the ball with 17 seconds left to lift San Beda to a 15-point victory. In the end, it was Arellano that got blown out in an embarrassing and demoralizing fashion. 

The Chiefs are a veteran team that is both talented and deep. Yet where was that in those losses to La Salle and San Beda? Losing to a young Red Lions squad that utilized only four players from last season; two who only got meaningful playing time with one of them, Dan Sara, playing only five minutes, is beyond me.

I also cannot help but be reminded of the way the Philippines also played during the recent FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament where some players went for the razzle dazzle play instead of something simpler but no less effective. It was the same for the Chiefs. The playground ball got trumped by simple execution. 

More to the Chiefs’ loss, in both the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup Finals and NCAA Season 92 first round encounter, it was Jalalon and Salado who led Arellano while sniper Zach Nicholls and underused center Dioncee Holts weren’t much of a factor. Why do I say underused? He doesn’t play much; doesn’t shoot much, and only makes an impact once in a blue moon. And this isn’t the first time I am saying this. I think I have been like a broken record harping on this the past three years.

Sure Letran showed you can win all-Filipino but that is the exception rather than the norm. And yes, I like the fact that Arellano isn’t dependent on its foreign players. Jalalon and Salado can tow Arellano to some wins but against the top sides, you’ll need all hands on deck. AU coach Jerry Codinera regularly uses almost his entire bench but what they need to do is get consistent and regular contributions from other players.

Does this mean the Chiefs do not have what it takes to win? Of course not. It’s still early. But I will always maintain that the need more than their dynamic duo to win. Yes, Allen Enriquez and Lervin Flores chipped in. That’s good. Again, I will maintain that Nicholls needs to bust that zone wide open while Holts needs to have a greater impact on the match to give AU a fighting chance to win it all.

For now, it really is back to the drawing board for both the coaches and the players of Arellano University.

Philippine athletes depart for Rio amidst excitement & nerves


This appears in rappler.com


Philippine athletes depart for Rio amidst excitement & nerves
by rick olivares

MANILA, Philippines - “Okay, it’s close to being real,” said table tennis player Ian Lariba as she prepared late last night to board an Emirates Alrlines flight bound for Dubai before catching a connecting flight to Brazil.

The ticket with her name on it and the Philippine jacket notwithstanding, it likely won’t sink in for Lariba and her fellow first timers taekwondo bet Kirstie Elaine Alora, weightlifter Nestor Colonia, golfer Miguel Tabuena, and boxers Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon, until they step foot inside the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb in Rio.

“As excited as I am, I am trying my best not to be overwhelmed by this,” said Lariba who will also be the flag bearer for the delegation during the Opening Ceremony on the night of August 5 (August 6 Manila time) at the Maracaña Stadium. “I am sure that my training will kick in and I’ll be fine."

Despite this being her third Olympiad, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz remained a little anxious. "Ano bang lugar ng Brazil ‘to? Problema ba talaga yung Zika virus? At syempre yung resulta ng laban ko. Para hindi ko maisip lahat mga ito, binabalikan ko yug training ko. 

(“I know it’s in Rio but where is that in Brazil since I have never been there before? How bad of a problem is this Zika virus? And of course, there’s the matter of performing in my event. So I do not get overwhelmed, I revert back to the training and focusing methods taught to me.”)

Jessie Lacuna will be making his second trip to the Olympics. “While we are all focused on our individual games, I am sure we are all looking forward to bond with each other,” he said with regards to the 29-man Philippine delegation that includes 12 athletes, 10 coaches, 6 officials, and 1 caddy. “As much as possible, we’ll all be cheering each other on in the different venues."

Trackster Eric Michael Cray, swimmer Jasmine Alkhaldi plus boxers Suarez and Ladon are currently in the United States and will fly from there to Brazil, while marathoner Mary Joy Tabal is finishing up her preparations in Japan.

Philippine security officer Colonel Jeff Tamayo has monitored the arrest of the ISIS affiliated terrorists two days ago in a police operation in Brazil with great concern. “Given all the terrorist incidents that have occurred lately, I keep thinking of Munich and the United States,” said Tamayo, referring to the 1972 Munich Massacre that saw the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists, and the Olympic park bombing in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics. 

“It is the host country that handles all matters. I know that as soon as we arrive, we will have a proper briefing on all the latest security and safety details.”

Chef de Mission Jose Romasanta also bared the unsuccessful request for additional coaches. Rio organizers only allowed the boxing team a single trainer - Nolito Velasco -for the two boxers due to the delegation size, though AIBA (the international boxing organization) typically allows 3 for each boxer. “We have two boxers and one coach. We put in a request for an additional coach but it was denied by the IOC.”

Cray and Torres will share a coach, as will Diaz and Colonia, plus Lacuna and Alkhaldi, while there will be one coach each for the marathon, golf, table tennis and taekwondo events.

Romasanta said he and Col Tamayo will be filling in as assistants. “If we have to be the waterboys and towel person then so be it. After all, we are all in this together.” 

POC President Jose Cojuangco Jr was on hand to see of the RP delegation. “I’ll be flying out to Brazil on August 3. However, it’s good to be here and support our delegation.”

The Philippine team will arrive at 2:30pm on Sunday, July 24th, Brazil time. The South American country is 11-hours behind the Philippines. –

Saturday, July 23, 2016

RP security chief Tamayo sounds of Rio Olympics security concerns


RP security chief Tamayo sounds of Rio Olympics security concerns
by rick olivares

Former Philippine Air Force Colonel Jeff Tamayo, head for security for the Philippine mission to the Olympic Games Rio De Janeiro has asked that all members be mindful of their place in the Olympics.

The RP delegation  - 12 athletes, 10 coaches, 6 officials, and 1 caddy - will be housed in different areas of the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca where security is tight.

“I think that everyone should have an appreciation of what these games are,” intoned Col. Tamayo. “The Olympics is the only activity in the world that gets everyone together and it is a symbol of peace. Hence, it makes for a target for bad elements. Given terrorism in the world today and in recent events, it isn’t enough that there are security forces on hand.”

In the early hours of Friday, July 22 in Brazil, security forces arrested 10 people with Islamic State ties who were planning on carrying out terror attacks during the Olympic Games.

Last June 6, three members of the Spanish sailing team were robbed at gunpoint in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood that is supposedly one of the safer areas of Rio.

A portion of the Olympic Village that will house members of the media, was built on an ancient burial site for slaves. Descendants of those slaves, called “quilombo” have vociferously made known their unhappiness of the desecration of what s considered a cultural site. The Olympic Village’s construction has likewise eaten up portions allotted to the local community and has diverted resources from residents to those who will be staying in the Olympic Village.

“Brazil has allotted some 5,000 security personnel from the police and the military to be on hand for the games. But we should understand what are the limitations of security.”

The Olympic Village and venues have three rings or levels of security. From within, security is very tight and strict. However, as one moves to the outer rim, security is less.

While there are buses to ferry athletes, coaches, and officials to and from the competition venues, some might be tempted to go out of the Olympic Village to see the sights. “If you ride a taxi, find out what kind of taxi it is,” cautioned Tamayo. “You must inform us at all times where you are so we can monitor everyone’s whereabouts.”

“Like anywhere else in the world, you avoid the seedy areas. Like Manila, criminal elements make use of children as well as snatchers on motorcycles. There are a lot of helpful people all around but you have to conduct yourself in an unobtrusive manner where you do not call attention to yourself."

RP delegation to Rio Olympics given counter-measures for Zika and jetlag



RP delegation given counter-measures for Zika and jetlag
by rick olivares

Dr. Ferdinand Brawner, physical therapist of the Philippine delegation to the Olympic Games Rio De Janeiro has prescribed some measures for athletes, coaches, and officials.

During the mission briefing last Monday, July 18, Dr. Brawner discussed not only the Zika Virus concern that has seen many an athlete for different countries withdraw their participation in the Summer Games. Golfer Angelo Que has pulled out because of this health concern.

“In Brazil right now, a lot of what is being talked about is preventive medicine,” said Brawner who is also a medical doctor who specializes in preventive medicine. “The primary concern is the Zika Virus that is transmitted by mosquitos. The symptoms between dengue and zika are the same except that the intensity is greater for dengue.”

The Philippine team doctor listed some measures to counter the Zika virus.

Repellant
“Everyone will be provided repellant before we depart Manila. When we arrive in Brazil, Olympic officials will also provide us with more repellant.”

Wear loose clothing
“I have recommended that everyone wear loose clothing as opposed to tight clothing because mosquitos can bite through tight gear. The looser clothes disorient them. Everyone should also spray their clothes with repellant. Not just the skin but their clothes. If they don’t spray on their clothes, if they are wearing jackets, the repellant won’t work."

Thiamine B1
“We have recommended to all members of our mission that they take the Thiamine B1 vitamin. When you take this, it emits a smell that mosquitos do not like.”

On the non-Zika side, Dr. Brawner pointed out three major concerns:

Jetlag
“Everyone should constantly hydrate. The water will regulate everything. The heart will regulate the body. The trick to counter the time zone difference is to adjust your body clock while in the aircraft to Brazils’ time. That means you sleep when it’s night time in Brazil. It takes a little bit of discipline and monitoring but these are finely-tuned and disciplined athletes so I am not worried."

Proper eating habits
“Brazil is a tropical country that is very much like ours. Bacteria quickly grows on food because of the humidity. I’d rather that before they eat something that they aren’t sure of, they should inform me right away so we monitor that. It is best to stick to the regular diet until the competition is over.

Doping concerns
“We have instructed everyone who is taking certain prescriptions for therapeutic treatment to declare them. We will match this against the list of prohibited drugs. If they are taking something then we can apply for therapeutic exception. They have to prove that it is for medical concerns. As long as they have the paper that allows their use for therapeutic concerns they do not have to be worried."

“And lastly, everyone in the delegation must inform me immediately if they have headaches, fever or are feeling nauseous so we can immediately treat them and monitor them,” explained the team physio-therapist. “Part of competing well is preparing well. And I hope that we can help our athletes to the best of their abilities."

Friday, July 22, 2016

RP contingent to Rio departs July 23



RP contingent to Rio departs July 23
by rick olivares

The bulk of the Philippine contingent to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics will be departing on Saturday, July 23. “We want to leave a week early so everyone can acclimatize to Rio’s time zone with plenty of time to spare,” bared the Philippine Olympic Committee’s Chef de Mission, Jose Romasanta Jr. during the athletes’ briefing last Monday, July 18. 

The Philippines is 11 hours ahead of Brazil.

The Filipinos will be flying out of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 aboard Emirates bound for Dubai right before midnight of July 23. “It’s a long flight,” pointed out the team’s Physio-therapist Dr. Ferdinand Brawner, “eight hours outbound to Dubai, a four hour lay-over, then another 13-14 flight to Rio. The plan is as much as possible to sleep based on the time in Rio and to do some simple stretching exercises aboard the flight.”

The RP contingent - 12 athletes, 10 coaches, 6 officials, and 1 caddy — is expected to arrive in Rio on Sunday, July 24, at 2:30pm where they will be bused towards the Olympic Village in Barra da Tijuca in Rio De Janeiro where they will register and claim their official documents and tags for the Summer Games.

Aside from Romasanta and Dr. Brawner, other team officials attending include POC President Jose Conjuangco Jr. and former Philippine Air Force Colonel Jeff Tamayo who is in charge of security.

“We’ve instructed all members of the mission to wear the Philippine jacket at all times for easy identification,” said Tamayo. “From NAIA all the way to our eventual return after the Olympics.”

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Rio De Janeiro is on the evening of Friday, August 5, with competitions slated to begin the next morning.

Kirstie Elaine Alora: Bringing honor to the country, family, and her colleagues


This appears on philstar.com

Kirstie Elaine Alora: Bringing honor to the country, family, and her colleagues
by rick olivares

Kirstie Elaine Alora couldn’t contain her excitement. After all, she had booked a slot to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics after defeating 6’1” Iranian Akram Khodabandeh last April 16 during the Asian Taekwondo Olympic Qualifiers held in Manila.

“Dream come true,” she gushed then.

A little over three months later, her excitement has not dissipated one iota. Except… she feels a little sadness.

She had three other compatriots who competed that weekend for a slot in Rio. Her colleagues Kristoffer Uy, Butch Morrison, and Pauline Lopez were unable to advance. It was more painful for Morrison who was leading on points with a minute left to go in his own competition when a kick to the head saw his opponent overtake him in the dying seconds of the match. 

“I want to do well not only for myself, my family, and the country but also for Butch, Pauwee, and Kris,” declared Elaine. “We talked about going together and I’m alone now. But they have all expressed support and their best wishes.”

Although her taekwondo colleagues won’t be going to Rio, Elaine will have one big booster in stands at the Barra Da Tijuca Carrioca Arena 3 — her older sister, Eunice. 

Elaine’s “ate” is a former taekwondo jin who won a bronze medal in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. “It was her dream too to compete in the Olympics.”

Through Elaine, Eunice, he middle of three sisters, will also get to live her out her dream. She has a younger sister taking up medicine.

How is that weight on the shoulders of this 26-year old from Biñan, Laguna?

“Not much,” she dismisses. “It’s a challenge. And it is who we are."

Elaine is a graduate of the College of Saint Benilde where she took us Business Administration majoring in Export Management. “I have been blessed. I was able to get a scholarship to college and compete in the NCAA. All athletes dream of going to the Olympics. For me, I am one step closer to my dream in competing especially in Rio."

"Of course in Rio it will be a different situation. Now you have the best athletes. So I have to bring it; double or triple what I can do. But right now, I am very happy. Hopefully, after Rio, I will be fulfilled and give honor to my country and my colleagues."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Flying V Thunders: Fuelling a dream


This appears on philstar.com

The Flying V Thunders: Fuelling a dream
by rick olivares

It has been two weeks since news broke out that television giant ABS-CBN was pulling out of its broadcast deal with the newly-formed Country-Wide Basketball League (CWBL), a new regional basketball tournament in the pattern of the now defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association. 

The reason was financial viability; a clause inserted in the contract, that was suddenly pointed out a few weeks before tip-off. The shocking thing was both parties were deep into working for tip-off that was a few weeks away. If money was a problem, one club sponsor was willing to put up the cash as league title sponsor. Interestingly, the television coveror still balked, leaving more questions than answers.

The former Flying V Davao Thunders, now dropping the “Davao” from its name, is still practicing. Team management is trying to figure out where to play next — the Pilipinas Commercial Basketball League (PCBL) or the Asean Basketball League (ABL). And there is word that the organizers of the CWBL are cooking up something as well.

They’re in the midst of a week-long practices that will culminate with a tine-up match versus the De La Salle Green Archers next week. 

It’s 10am at the Filoil Flying V Centre. That sports arena hidden behind an international school and next to a minimum security prison and the San Juan City regional trial court is quiet on a Wednesday. There’s no collegiate basketball or semi-pro volleyball being played. The Thunders now have the arena to themselves.

Under the watchful eye of veteran and multi-titled coach Aric Del Rosario, the team practices.

It’s a mixture of former PBA players and some recent graduates from college ball. Basketball is their life. It what fuels them and their professional dreams and it is what puts food on the table. Some are former stars while others aren’t even know; not even receiving some newspaper ink during their time in college.

Perhaps the most known ones are former Letran center Mark Andaya who suited up for six PBA teams; the last though as a practice player for KIA during its maiden pro league season; and Eric Salamat, a vital cog in Ateneo’s champion teams from 2008-10, and who also played for three PBA squads although sparingly. 

The least known ones are Mikey Cabahug who played for the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ Team B during his entire college career and De Ocampo College’s Richard Albo. During the latter’s tryout for the Flying V team, he kept drilling one shot after another form almost every angle of the court save the half-cort line prompting the coaches to ask, “Who is this kid?”

Richard Albo, from De Ocampo Memorial College. “Where is De Ocampo Memorial College?”

Oh, it’s near Pureza in old Sta. Mesa.

The “ohhs” still betray a little ignorance. Where do they play anyways?

Now, he’s on this team with high hopes of proving he’s got game.

On the side, Del Rosario, the old warhorse, talks about elevating Gwyne Capacio’s game. He likes the former Blue Eagle swingman. He thinks that he can tinker with his shot to improve it and help turn him into a better attacking forward. He pulls the son of former FEU and PBA great Glenn Capacio aside and offers pointers on his drive, his positioning around the basket.

Luis Sinco is another who Del Rosario talks to. “Don’t wait,” he tells the former College of Saint Benilde player. “If the defense isn’t set, attack.”

Cabahug has continued to impress. Along with former La Salle and UP sniper Sam Marata, they are the designated long-range bombers. “Patay,” invokes Del Rosario every time either player finds them self open for a shot that hits the bottom of the net. It is Cabahug who is on fire this day. “Sayang ‘tong batang ‘to,” says Del Rosario who wonders why this sharp-shooter of the Cebu’s Cabahug clan didn’t make Ateneo’s UAAP line-up.

Like Albo, now, Cabahug is on this team with high hopes of proving he’s got game.

There’s Oda Tampus, the Cebuano and former Letran Knights star who went to La Salle but found himself benched. During a pre-season tournament that found the Green Archers playing in Cebu, Tampus, with his family watching from the stands in the Cebu Coliseum, were upset that even with five minutes to play and La Salle certain of victory, their son had yet to get up from the bench. When the crowd began chanting his name, only then did the coaching staff acquiesce to fielding him. And he hit some big shots to stem their foe’s rally.

Well now, he’s here and has hopes of proving he’s got game.

That is typical Aric Del Rosario basketball. If you watched his teams from the University of Santo Tomas to the Pampanga Dragons to the University of Perpetual Help Altas, you would know they liked an uptempo game where they were repeatedly at a foe’s face and one that played frenetic defense; hounding opposing ball carriers.

Del Rosario likes the intensity of the day’s practice with some — Andaya is a notorious talker, Jun Jun Cabatu, and Brian Ilad amping up the level. “That’s the way it should be - intense,” barks Andaya to no one in particular. “But with fun.”

In a race to 20, Salamat calls his shot. “Three-pointer to end the game.”

And he does.

Next practice, the team talks. Some wonder and hope that they’ll finally receive word of where the team will play soon.

It is hope that fuels the team's collective basketball dream.

Unavailable for practice for JR Ongteco and Leo Avenido.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Could third time (in this Rio Olympics) be the charm for Hidilyn Diaz

This appears on philstar.com


Could third time (in this Rio Olympics) be the charm for Hidilyn Diaz 
by rick olivares

Looking very unobtrusive at 5’2” with unkempt curly hair and spectacles, it is easy to miss out on Hidilyn Diaz. She’s at the Philippine Olympic Committee offices at the Philsports Complex in Pasig City for the athletes’ briefing prior to their departure this Saturday, July 23, for Rio De Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

POC president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco spies the diminutive 25-year old weightlifter from Zamboanga City and breaks out into a smile. “Ah, the three-time Olympian.”

Diaz beams back. Despite lacking sleep from late night training, she dutifully went to the briefing. “This is my third time and this is the most that I am excited,” she claims. 

Hidilyn was only 17 years of age when she first made the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. “The first time I was there, I was overwhelmed,” she said in the vernacular. “I was too excited and I guess, too young."

The second time around, during the 2012 London Olympics, Diaz left feeling she let down a lot of people. Diaz finished 12th out of 19 competitors in the 97 kilogram category. Yet in the 118 kilogram category, she was unsuccessful after three snatch attempts. She was one of two competitors to come away with a result of “Did Not Finish” in the event.

“During the London Olympics, I was the flag bearer,” related Diaz. “That was such an honor for me. But I was unhappy with the way my competition ended.”

The past four years saw a more determined Diaz attempt to return with the goal of redemption. “Everyone hears athletes say that this is for the country and all that but until you’re there, in an international competition, then you will feel it. Your heart swells with pride.”

“For me, this is my third Olympics and I am even more excited. There are more challenges for me,” she said.”

Life has always been a challenge. 

Not gifted with size, Diaz took up weightlifting after she was inspired by a relative who taught the sport. “I want to learn this,” she recalled telling her cousin back in Zamboanga City. “At my height, to accomplish that meant much to me. It helped me overcome my shyness and other insecurities. Being an Olympian gave me even more confidence to face things in life.”

Winning a gold medal in 53 kg. women’s category in the Southeast Asian Weightlifting Championships held in Bangkok from June 25-29, 2015; and a pair of bronzes in the 53-kg snatch and clean and jerk in the 2015 International Weightlifting Federation Championships in Houston Texas last November gave her renewed confidence to get things done. 

“I think I will be up to the challenge this time (in Rio),” says Diaz. 

Meet Ian Lariba, RP flagbearer and Rio Olympics table tennis paddler



This appears on philstar.com


Meet Ian Lariba, RP flagbearer and Rio Olympics table tennis paddler 
by rick olivares

Ian Lariba is a first-time Olympian who will be representing the Philippines for the first time in Olympic table tennis competition. More than that, the 23-year old lass from Cagayan De Oro will be the nation’s flag bearer during the Parade of Nation during the 2016 Rio Olympics’ Opening Ceremony at the Maracaña Stadium in Rio De Janeiro on the evening of August 5.

Who is Ian Lariba? And how did she arrive at this great honor?

"I was going into Grade 3 back in (Corpus Christi School) Cagayan De Oro and my parents wanted me to do something productive during the summer,” related Lariba. "They wanted me to get into sports. One time, we all went together to the nearby sports complex. For a while, I tried out badminton but for some reason, I had a hard time at it. It didn’t help that there were a lot of people playing badminton so getting time on the court was difficult. There was an area for table tennis and wala masyado naglalaro. The table was so small yet the action was intense. I found myself getting very interested in it so I gave it a try. It wasn’t easy but I found myself enjoying it very much. I was hooked and I’ve never stopped playing since." 

For Ian’s college years, she moved to Manila where she enrolled at De La Salle University taking up Financial Management. “Yes, a course for nerds,” she laughed. “I don’t know why I like tough things like table tennis and my course. I guess, I like a good challenge and the sense of fulfillment is different.”

If it was fitness that Ian’s parents were looking for, they got it in table tennis. “It's a fast-paced sport that not only requires quick reflexes but also quick thinking and great fitness,” described Lariba of her sport. “You need to constantly practice because muscle memory is also important." 

“I think the sport taught me a lot about discipline,” added Lariba. “Technique is important and one that you practice constantly. It isn’t an easy sport to master and it can get frustrating. That is where the discipline comes aside from your coaches and mentors providing you with more training and insights into your game.”

That kind of dogged determination to succeed was never more evident during her qualification for the Olympics. With one slot left to the women’s singles competition for Rio, Ian outplayed her opponent from Qatar then set up a return bout with Iran’s Majobeh Omrani who defeated the Filipina in a previous tournament. “A loss can weigh heavy on your mind. I have to really condition my mind that this is a new match and that we’re back to scratch. Lariba won the first three games before Omrani rallied to win the next two. In the sixth game of their match, Lariba, eked out an 11-8 win to advance to meet Indonesia’s Lilis Inoriani.

The Indonesian was listed at No. 296 in the world while the Filipina was 28 notched behind at No. 324. Lariba promptly swept her foe in the best-of-nine match to book that last slot. 

“That was such an incredible feeling,” said Lariba of that win. “I was so nervous. But with every won game against Lilis, I felt more and more confident.”

And now, Ian Lariba is headed for the Olympics.

“It’s the Olympics and it is the most prestigious event an athlete can aspire for,” gushed Lariba last Tuesday during the athlete briefing for Rio at the Philippine Olympic Committee offices at the Philsports Complex in Pasig City. “It’s a mix of excitement and kaba that I am feeling. Whatever happens I will give everything that I’ve got and pakita ko lang best game ko. I intend to play with no regrets.”

Although her playing years in the UAAP with La Salle are done, Lariba has one term left to finish before she graduates. “I’ll go to the Olympics and compete, then finish out my term, and let’s see what’s next.”

“Right now, I will enjoy this incredible experience that is the Olympics."