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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Floyd Mayweather KOs the Big Show

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Thanks, Ford!

(This is the intro I wrote for Ford's goodbye letter to the Ateneo community.)

It's hard to believe that it's all over. Claiford Arao ruminated such thoughts over some celebratory bottled water in the aftermath of the Ateneo Blue Eagles' Collegiate Champions League victory. As always, he had this big grin on his face. He was once more that young boy who left Pangasinan in his early high school years for Manila, first to play ball for San Beda, then for Ateneo. Big dreams by a big man.

In his first year as an Atenean, his team went to the UAAP Finals in 2003 where they were upset by a hungry FEU team. It was both a high and low. In the space of a year, he won a championship with San Beda before nearly winning it again with Ateneo.

The space between is one of highs and lows with his ACL injury curtailing his blossoming into a go-to player. But history has a habit of going full circle.

In his final year, he went from seeing his team bomb out of the Final Four where his season-long brilliance should have merited him at the very least a Mythical Five selection to closing out his years in blue with a championship.

He's got a wide smile that breaks out even now as a new chapter in his life is beginning.

Read Ford Arao's thank you letter to the Ateneo community at or paste the link in your browser.

Tracing Ateneo history

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Take a look at my cool new tennis shoe


Shoe: mi Barricade (nope not the Decepticon)
Size: 11
Width: medium

Side color: black1
Top color: metallic silver
Stripes color: metallic silver
Gillies color: old gold
Midsole type: medium
Geofit type: yes!
Sockliner type: comfort
Embroidery color: running white with text "RICK"
on left and right sides

The whole process took less than 30 minutes and it took three weeks for this cool shoe to be specifically made in Germany!

Man, I feel like a pro athlete!

My first one was a running shoe and now I've got a tennis kicks. Now all I need are ice skates. Bwahahaha.

Thanks to the cool folks at adidas: Odette, Mich, Mitch, Aris, Goody, Toti, and Joey!

Now just everyone wait for the new Ateneo apparel coming out when the new season gets underway!

Three fights and three stripes for the blue and white!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Somebody tell the Big Aristotle to shut the hell up

Shaquille O'Neal showed some uncharacteristic bad form when he took some shots at his former team, the Miami Heat. Yeah, kick a dog when it's down, why don't cha?

After his Phoenix Suns took a shellacking from the East's two best teams -- Boston and Detroit -- O'Neal took shots not only at the Heat but even "dissed" the Celtics' Kevin Garnett.

Comparing the Suns and the Heat:
“I love playing for this coach and I love playing with these guys. We have professionals who know what to do. No one is asking me to play with (the Heat's) Chris Quinn or Ricky Davis. I’m actually on a team again.”

On the MVP of the league:
"The Kobester. He's an assassin. With LeBron James coming up behind."

When asked about Garnett, the Big Excuse said, I'm going to have to go with my guy -- (Amare) Stoudemire -- all day, everyday."

If his Heat wasn't winning, he was blaming the coach and his teammates for the lack of touches. Never mind if his field goal percentage was bad or that he was suffering from the lack of conditioning. The incredible thing about it is before all the losing this year, he said that Pat Riley is the best coach he's ever had. Even better than Phil Jax.

He's flip flopped and dissed every single team he's played for -- Orlando, Los Angeles, and now Miami. I won't be surprised if he lashes out at the Suns and Mike D'Antoni when he starts getting benched.

The only All-Star team he should make is the All-Whiners team.

And so that teams like the New York Knicks -- fire Isiah Thomas now, Jim Dolan -- do not resort to tanking at the end of the season, the draft lottery's top pick should no longer be the exclusive domain of the lower tier teams. Every team should have a right to get the number one selection. If the so-called smaller market teams cannot compete then tough. Go to the NHL where the only highlights that make youtube are fights.

And five years after he retired, Michael Jordan still is as popular as ever. The NBA announced that the top-selling jersey... still belongs to the Black Cat. Or Money as Spike Lee called him. Who's number two? Kobe. Followed by Allen Iverson, LeBron James and the Big Whiner.

For this year's Ateneo graduates as you go down from the hill

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Did some more checking... hindi pa sure that the officiating crew will be from the Nabibiling Referees Organization more infamously known as...

Stay tuned.

But it looks like Chito Narvasa will be the new UAAP Commissioner.

World Cup. World of Problems.

(This special report will appear in the Monday March 31, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror.)

How economically viable is the World Cup for a struggling nation?
by rick olivares

(thanks to my sources in South Africa & Switzerland)

The challenges that Carlos Alberto Parreira faces as he tries to mold a South African team to make a decent showing in the 2010 FIFA World Cup are daunting. And that is an understatement of an understatement.

The former Brasil coach has bemoaned South Africa’s lack of a coherent grassroots program, the lack of unity between the professional league and the national association, and the attitude of players towards playing for flag and country. “I am afraid that unless something drastic happens then all the money coming into the game here will be used ineffectively,” bemoaned Parreira whose contract runs until the culmination of the 2010 World Cup finals.

Were South Africa’s problems confined to its performance on the pitch!

Into the Lion’s den
The BUSINESS MIRROR was able to obtain a report to FIFA about the current state of readiness and progress of the preparations for the South Africa games and in the words of our source who refused to be named, “It doesn’t look good.”

No sooner had Germany turned over the reins of the World Cup to the new host nation when various sectors scored FIFA for awarding the rights to a country that isn’t only ill-prepared to host but can ill afford to spend for the games.

The United Nations classifies South Africa as a middle-income country yet in many respects, it is actually akin to a developing one. Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, and Cape Town are as advanced as any of the major Western cities. But outside of that the impoverished conditions – a legacy of apartheid -- will be a glaring sight bound to cause even more problems.

The gap between the income of the minority white household and the average black family is literally heaven and earth – six times more.

The wave of optimism that came with Nelson Mandela’s presidency has long since dissipated. The current political situation inspires no confidence and a feeling of hopelessness, cynicism, and fear. As Thabo Mbeki prepares to step down as president in 2009, the specter of disgraced Deputy President Jacob Zuma assuming the office fills many South Africans with trepidation.

Granted, Mbeki is no Mandela. His style of politics is non-confrontational, but at the same time, he is viewed as indecisive, and some say, rigidly short-sighted. He is regarded as a technocrat whose policies have been controversial and thus, have adversely affected one of the world’s top 20 economies. Mbeki has been roundly scored for his insistence on HIV as not being the cause of AIDS, his appeasement of Zimbabwe’s long-tenured and vilified leader Robert Mugabe, his slow reaction to the worsening crime situation and his coddling of police chief Jackie Selebi, and his anti-Western stance as he openly condemns colonialism as the roots of Africa’s evils.

In a situation eerily reminiscent of the Philippines, immigration specialists report that South Africa’s skilled white middle class and as well as the other ethnic groups previously labeled as “economically disadvantaged” are choosing to emigrate to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

There was genuine country pride when the nation was awarded the rights to host football’s biggest event. Sadly, it has since evaporated into fear that it might be the worst-managed and hosted international sporting event of modern times and the country will be irreparably shamed.

Opening Pandora’s Box
Consider the cost of the major refurbishing of existing stadia and the new builds that comes at a staggering total of 805.9. In American dollars? Try $1.6 billion.

Existing venues like Bloemfontein, Pretoria, Ellis Park, Soccer City, and Rustenburg will receive significant upgrades while new ones will go up at Cape Town, Durban, Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth, and Polokwane. Critics have pointed specifically pointed their pens to these as white elephants much like those left in the wake of the Japan and Korea games. South African officials on the other hand hope to use the new structures as venues when they bid to host the 2016 or 2020 Olympics.

With South Africa close to panic mode what will the myriad concerns and problems of hosting the World Cup, what madness, many ask, has afflicted the national leadership to consider hosting the Olympics which is plenty which is dozens of times more an arduous and challenging undertaking?

There is no sophisticated rail and road network in place and the state of public transportation is deplorable. As such it begs the question, how will tourists and football fans get around? Visitors may be conned into thinking the shared taxis are legitimate and safe forms of transportation when they could be prey to but unscrupulous drivers who may be all too willing to take advantage of unwitting fans.

The Gautrain underground rail system only links Pretoria and Johannesburg in Gauteng province, and provides easy access to the country’s main airport, Oliver Tambo International Airport. However, the Gautrain, which was expected to be completed in time for the World Cup, will only be ready in 2011. In the meantime, construction has caused road closures and road diversions, as well as congested traffic conditions particularly in high-density areas like Rosebank and Sandton.

Apart from Oliver Tambo International Airport, Cape Town and Durban have adequate airport facilities for both international and domestic flights. The other airports however are small and provincial. It is doubtful that they have the capacity to accommodate the many local chartered flights expected to fly in and out of the venues as fans travel from one city to another to attend the matches.

There is the option of car rentals for visitors, but this also poses various problems. While the national highway network does boast good roads, local drivers are notorious for speeding, despite strong reminders of zero tolerance for traffic violations. Road-related deaths are unfortunately very common throughout the country, as are hijackings, both at night and in broad daylight.

The government has earmarked another $1.6 billion for the upgrade of the airports and other forms of related development causing local officials to wonder aloud where the money will come from. Cape Town’s Mayor Helen Zille has said that she’d rather see the money go into the development of badly needed community services than a new football stadium.

And there’s the matter of the power outages that have nearly crippled South Africa’s economy. Eskom, the state-owned electricity supplier has been unable to meet the demand for power and recently came under fire for a series of unannounced power outages.

The ongoing power crisis has had consequences on the economy as well as public safety and security.

When Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka rose to give a speech at Parktown High School for Girls in Johannesburg last 24 January, the unexpected happened – the power went out, and the school was plunged in darkness. Mlambo-Ngcuka had to deliver her speech by candlelight. She took the opportunity to apologize to her audience for the government’s failure to react adequately to the grave power crisis facing the country at present.

While the stadium may be fully lit, the situation in the streets is different. Many of them are poorly lit. In Johannesburg alone, the suburbs of Parkview, Rosebank, Craighall and Parkwood continue to be plagued by darkness because street lights have been left unattended for years. Even equipment to test for cable faults on the underground cables linking the street lights are broken, and have not been repaired or replaced since. Based on the government’s timetable to service the entire South Africa’s power needs it will be 2017. Seven years too late. Some have even wondered if its best that matches be played in the afternoon under the searing heat.

Power might be one of South Africa’s most pressing concerns but right behind it is their dwindling potable water supply. There have been reports of water supply being cut off to certain towns in the Free State (Bloemfontein) for as much as five days and the quality of drinking water receiving a code red classification, which was cause for alarm.

And there’s the matter of broadcasting the games to a world-wide audience. The South African Chief Executive of energy efficiency consulting company Sentech Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane says a multibillion dollar investment in the country’s 30-year old broadcasting transmission is needed to properly serve a worldwide television audience.

Of paramount concern is the matter of crime. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Some 50 homicides are reported everyday – seven times higher than that of the United States. Tourists are sometimes robbed upon their exit from the airport or in broad daylight while riding taxi cabs.

The murder of former Salzburg goalkeeper Peter Burgstaller on a Durban golf course as well as the theft of the briefcase of Germany Manager Oliver Bierhoff from his hotel room still stand out as examples of crimes in supposedly safe confines. While FIFA has tried to distance themselves from both incidents, it should be noted that both Burgstaller and Bierhoff were in South Africa on the World Cup Draw business.

To ensure the security of the games, South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said that the government will release $80 million to equip and pay some 31,000 police personnel who are being assigned specifically to the games. The ironic thing there is by the government’s own admission there isn’t enough security for the locals then what more for the tourists?

King Solomon’s mines
The Olympics and the World Cup are undoubtedly catalysts for development as they bring in a windfall of publicity and cash for the local economy. And if hugely successful it bolsters national confidence. But at what price?

There are three million tickets available for 64 games for the 2010 World Cup. That’s one million for local fans, another million for international fans, and the remaining third for FIFA officials, players, families, and corporate sponsors. If the cheapest game ticket costs $150 and there are two million available for sale, then at the very least that should gross $300,000,000.

For the Germany games, 15 official partners and local sponsors paid 642 million. That’s $1 trillion-something.

For South Africa (and Brasil in 2014) the number has been cut to six yet a 25% profit increase is expected. Visa paid $200 million, adidas $350 million, Sony $305 million, Emirates $195 million, Coca Cola $500 million all the way to 2020, and although Hyundai declined to say how much it paid, estimates placed it at $250 million. That’s roughly $ 1.3 billion just for South Africa. In addition there will also be eight World Cup sponsors and four to six national sponsors. Entry level sponsorship is likely to be around $40 million Add the ticket sales that fetches now $1.6 billion. Wait we haven’t even counted television and cable rights.

No wonder building a new headquarters for the South African Football Association was paid for by FIFA. Whatever that amount costs is chump change, bru!

“The market trusts Africa,” glowed FIFA President Sepp Blatter who promised the next football finals on African soil for the first time should he be re-elected. "The contracts we have already signed for 2010 are higher than the contracts for 2006 in Germany by about 25%."

But does South Africa stand to make a tidy profit from all these sponsorships, local tourism, and ticket sales? In a perfect world, the answer will be a resounding yes. As it is, South Africa’s situation is grossly imperfect.

There’s an ongoing debate here – should these huge events be awarded to developing countries or should they be the exclusive domain of the rich nations?

When FIFA awarded to South Africa the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup (and Brasil, another country mired in debt and poverty secured the rights to the 2014 football finals) quite a few quarters scored the lack of preparedness and capabilities of developing nations to host the quadrennial event. It sounds good initially because it gives South Africa a chance to capitalize on the games’ high profile and the available financial opportunities as tournament organizer Danny Jordaan likes to point out. But this is South Africa where public transportation, hotels, and security are a nightmare. Local businesses are worried about the stiff licensing fees that FIFA will levy on them making it somewhat impossible to recoup investments.

Right now the South African government is footing the bill for the creation of stadia that will seat the FIFA mandated 50,000 people per game. You can be sure people will watch, but what’s left afterwards? New arenas for white elephants. The domestic football league is a joke as for supposedly the richest nation in Africa, they lag far behind their neighbors in skill and game despite being ranked #71 in the world by FIFA. As a result, many of the country’s top players choose to ply their trade abroad where it is more lucrative.

So saying that Parreira and Jordaan have their work cut out for them is an understatement of an understatement.

A high-level diplomat speaking under anonymity made the following observation: “The World Cup will push through, that seems to be the conventional wisdom going around. However, South Africa will manage to host the games through the skin of their teeth; in other words, they will wing it and just cut it. They will pull together at the last minute and make it happen. However, instead of giving 100 per cent effort, they will only be giving 70 per cent, because of poor planning, lack of initiative, and general complacency.”

But Blatter ever the fount of optimism declared that “This will be the greatest games ever.”

Let’s hope it is for South Africa’s sake because it already comes at a heavy price.

On that England-France friendly

French manager Raymond Domenech will have to be content with his side's performance. Sure Les Bleus won 1-0, but they were on the defense for a bit as they were missing some superb goal scorers in Thierry Henry and Karim Benzema and Patrick Viera. The Three Lions on the other hand had their full complement of stars as captained by the versatile Rio Ferdinand.

The French win spoiled David Beckham's 100th cap and saw them win their first in the last four matches. England is 1-1 so far under Capello, but they still have yet to win anything meaningful.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PBA Shockers

Please pray for Rommel Adducul. He's been diagnosed with throat cancer. But the former San Sebastian Stag is responding well to the treatment.

Rico Villanueva to Purefoods for Marc Pingris. I know that Ryan Gregorio wanted to get Larry Fonacier but it seemed that San Miguel wasn't willing to give the former Rookie of the Year to Purefoods. In fact, Purefoods team officials feel like third-class citizens within the SMC team structure.

It seems that San Miguel gave up on its Magnolia team of the future real fast. Gone are Willy Wilson, LA Tenorio (who is unhappy with the trade to Alaska), Larry Fonacier (who feels like he has a new lease on life with Alaska), and now Rico.

Why? Siot Tanquincen feels the pressure.

Tim Cone is ecstatic about having Larry who he really wanted to get. The combo will be like this: Willie Miller and Jeff Cariaso in the backcourt and LA and Larry come in. The tandems have been working well for them in fact they beat Red Bull today using that combo.

Boss Danding Cojuangco has left the door open for Larry to return to an SMC team in the near future. But if their coach feels like trading for this person, then SMC will support their coach.

So why didn't Larry go to Talk N Text if Chot Reyes wanted him? Because SMC is upset at Chot.


Barcelona 4 vs. Villadolid 1

What a great game with plenty of missed chances.

A not so Fab ending

It made for good headlines. Chris Webber was going back to Oakland and under Don Nelson no less. More proof that you can indeed go home again. Except that it's not the same anymore. After battling chronic pain in the last half decade, Chris Webber, he of those marvelous large hands who could do wondrous things on the basketball court, is set to hang up those sneakers of his tomorrow. He simply never recovered from the microfracture surgery.

Didn't you see him a brash young frosh with four other fabulous ones who helped revolutionize US college basketball by taking Michael Jordan's bald look to go with their hip hop talking, baggy shorts, high-fiving, and chest bumping high octane game? And I hate Duke even more for beating them.

He could have been a king. Well, he was with Sacramento but the Los Angeles Lakers ended the chances of the sweetest passing team since the 1996 Chicago Bulls.

Chris Mullin who also left Golden State for supposedly greener pastures did come back to play his final year with Golden State. But even then you knew he was finished as is Webber.

The Golden State Warriors are the one real team outside the Eastern Conference that I rooted for. My first ever NBA basketball jersey was a Warriors #17 -- Mullin. It was given to me by Melanie Jordin, the manager of jazz musician Jim Chappell. It's in tatters now, but it's still in my closet. The only other Mullin jersey that I have is his St. John's Redmen #20 that I got at Modell's. It may not be much but I have Chris Webber's rookie Skybox card. Chris and the Warriors -- Mullin, Webber, Latrell Sprewell, Avery Johnson, Billy Owens, and Chris Gatling -- were fun to watch.

Thanks for the hoops, Chris. Whoomp there it is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Black Ops Blue Eagles

The Ateneo Blue Eagles' 2007 season recap in the latest issue of Blueblood which just went out this week. The women of Ateneo story that I posted earlier is also here.

Aly Yap took the shots which are pretty great. We've got a cool line-up for the fourth issue. Anyone who wants to contribute to the writing drop me an email.

Bleachers Fixtures: A chat with Jude Turcuato

(Jude was boss for two years at Solar Sports. You could spend a whole day talking sports with this guy who can steer you clear of the mainstream line of thinking to consider the alternative. Good opinions from someone who knows his stuff. And he's got a mean game of hoops too.

Jude moved to Chicago around the same time that Michael Jordan was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and he did get to see the Great One play.)

Rick: You went to Northwestern University. Any particular storied teams you were able to watch during your time in the US?
Jude: NU was in the big ten so I was lucky enough to watch a lot of the players in the league. Of course we lost most of those games but my time encompassed the Fab Five so I got to see Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard. I thought the best player I watched during my time was Jimmy Jackson who played for Ohio State at that time. But players like Calbert Cheaney (Indiana), Kendall Gill (Illinois), Michael Finley (Wisconsin), Voshon Leonard (Minnesota) and others played at least a game on campus against our team.

Our best player my freshman year was Rex Walters who led the Big Ten in scoring but he eventually transferred to Kansas and had a solid NBA career.

One guy I did get to watch some was Todd Martin who became a consistent top 10 tennis player. The tennis courts were near my dorm so got to watch him a lot.

DePaul was also a favorite team growing up evenbefore going to NU. Terry Cummings, Rod Strickland were players I got to watch a few times at the Rosemont Horizon in the suburbs. And there was QRich who played when I was already living in the Philippines.

Rick: Any big time US college athlete that you saw but never made a splash in the pros?
Jude: The guy who I got to watch as a HS player and was the #1 recruit into college was Marcus Liberty. He played for the Chicago public league and we all tried to catch a glimpse cuz we all thought he would be the next star into the NBA. He never really made an impact even at Illinois and even became a PBA import once. Otherwise, I thought Jimmy Jackson was gonna be
a bigger star than he was as he was totally awesome in college.

Rick: You were on Ateneo Blue Eagles' Team B. Who were some of your teammates and what was the highlight of your Team B career? What tourneys did you play in?
Jude: I didn't really last as I quit after about a month into it because of the Silverstar opportunity. My coach was Mark Molina and the veterans of the team were Red Camua, John Verayo, and Junie Rentosa. Mon Tioseco, the Sison twins, Tonichi Pinzon, Ryan Acosta, and Vince Santos were all part of that team. I think Baroy Morga and Mark Cristi were also on the training team. I was part of a Fr. Martin lineup once but never really made any kind of impact or any playing time. One highlight might be that I was the training partner of Ma Ming, the player from China. I actually became good friends with him since we worked out together for a few months.

Rick: You consider Solar Sports a dream job. What makes it so and do you get to ball with any NBA-types?
Jude: I think it's a dream job because it satisfies three simple criteria: 1) I love and enjoy the elements involved with the job... running a sports TV network. 2) I'm pretty good at doing it... I think I have a pretty good grasp of the local sports industry and how to sell and market it, and 3) it's financially sustainable to do... it's a sustainable business and it pays the bills. As far as balling with NBA types, I was able to play with former players like Spud Webb, BJ Armstrong, and Tim Hardaway during our media scrimmages for the All Star weekends. Boris Diaw and Roni Turiaf also joined in those sessions. It's definitely an awesome experience to be on the same court with talent like that. Otherwise I just get to meet some of the NBA All-Stars .

Rick: Being in such a high-profile job, you get to meet a lot of dignitaries. Has anyone impressed you in anyway in terms of achievements and maybe their involvement in a sport or a cause?
Jude: I don't really meet as many dignitaries and people think but I do get to meet and work with the top sports personalities locally and sometimes internationally like Bob Arum and Gary Shaw. It is a great learning for me to see how most of the influential sports people work . The PBA board, the PBL board, all the boxing promoters, NSAs, the media and others like MVP who are passionate about sports and does a lot in its advances its cause.

Rick: Why the split between Solar and BTV when there could have been a super-channel? Wasn't Solar weakened by such a move?
Jude: I'm not sure if "split" would be the description because when I came in to Solar, there were already two sports channels. I think it was because there were too many properties to fit into one channel. We just thought that segregating basketball out of all other sports was justifiable because of the interest and love of Filipinos for the sport. It seems it has worked ratings, revenues and awareness for the two sports channels have gone up. Our other channel "Sports Plus" wasn't getting the awareness and revenues we wanted. So Solar and BTV turned out to be much much better than Solar and SportsPlus.

Rick: People have an idea of how big a Manny Pacquiao fight is. Tell us what is it like in scope. I understand that when a fight is on, the world literally stops for Solar and maybe the Philippines.
Jude: It is HUGE! The main component of course in the television broadcast. We have to juggle the airings between GMA7, Crime and Suspense, and Solar Sports. The last few fights have been the highest rated programs of all time in the Philippines. There are also closed circuit airings in theaters and many other areas like bars, restaurants and large public venues. All those locations need servicing to make sure the satellite feed is in order. Then there's pay per view in all the cable affiliates. Then the local coverage in Vegas has to be taken cared of. Even to the extent as to who sings the national anthem is coursed through us which makes this whole undertaking very expensive. Then the DVD/VCD goes out. Then the post fight celebration. That is outside of all the marketing involved, new media such as web and wireless, etc.

Rick: Has Solar been affected by the move from Sky Cable to Global Destiny? What about the new properties like Euro 2008 and the Olympics? How can a viewer best watch these great events?
Jude: There was an initial effect on ratings and reach. During the switch in January 1, the ratings and reach dropped about 30%. But because of the new sign-ups to destiny, Feb numbers posted a growth of almost 15%. March looks good once again so we are expecting that by April our ratings and reach will be back to our numbers from 2007 since the NBA playoffs start and many more will continue to sign up to Destiny. Subscribing to any cable provider outside of Sky would give you access to Olympics and Eurocup.

Rick: What's the best basketball game you've ever called?
Jude: The 2002 final four game between ADMU and UE. Gec Chia hit the game winning shot. (That was his famous... "Gec Chia... for the wiiiiiiinnn!")

Thanks, Jude!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pix from the 1st PBA Ateneo-DLSU Showdown

Photos used with permission from Nono Felipe.

Bleachers' Brew #100 For the love of the Game

(My one hundredth column of Bleachers' Brew appears today in the sports section of the Monday, March 24, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror.)

During my college days, I got a summer job as a sportswriter for a tabloid edition of a major daily. Although I never wrote about sports for my school newspaper as I preferred the more mundane things associated with my school life, I leaped at the opportunity.

I was one of three newbies tasked to cover the amateur basketball league. It was fun to watch the games for free, to be granted access to the team dugouts for interviews, and to be invited to luncheons and dinners. I even got the odd professional game as well. Writing about players and teams made me feel like I was a part of the game because I had to communicate what I saw and gleaned from the game.

It was far different from today where almost every writer has their own laptop and they email their game accounts. I had to file mine shorthand or on a rickety typewriter then dictate them over the phone. I felt like Clark Kent except that it was sports. Seeing my byline on a nationally distributed paper was priceless --- someone somewhere actually read something I wrote.

After that conference championship, the winning team hosted a lunch for the press corps but instead of attending it, my editor had me cover another event. I looked forward to the lunch but since I was given something else to cover, it was no big deal. That is until someone butted in. One of the paper’s senior writers overheard my reassignment and she sidled up to me and wondered how on earth would I learn to follow a lead unto its very end if I was shunted off elsewhere. She said I had as much right to be at the lunch since the league was “my baby.” As I mentioned, it was no biggie since it meant an opportunity to get another story besides who was I to contradict the boss? Unperturbed she said that after I attended to my new assignment I should still follow to the lunch as her “apprentice.” I still remember her words very well, “Akong bahala sa ‘yo. Kausapin ko si bossing.”

Ah, naivety thy name is youth. I did my job then followed. I sat beside the senior writer when my editor arrived. The surprise and restrained anger in his face said it all. I made a boo boo. He placed a firm hand on my shoulder and told me to see him the following day. He ignored me for the rest of the function. I lost my appetite.

The following day, I was called into the publisher’s office and my editor asked me for an explanation for my “not following orders.” I recounted to him exactly what happened so he called over the senior writer. To my everlasting dismay and shock, she denied everything. She even had the gall to say that she chided me during the press con for going there when I was explicitly told not to. It was her word against mine and I lost. My editor told me that my summer job was over. Before I left, I asked the senior writer why she didn’t tell the truth. She said that she never recalled talking to me about going.

The ride from the port area all the way home seemed like an eternity as I failed to hold back the tears. Truthfully, I’ve never forgotten that incident. It taught me to be mindful of orders. In a moment of regret, I wished I continued with my art school and rued trying to think I could write.

Who would have thought that I could? A few years earlier during my senior year in high school, my English teacher returned an essay of mine disgraced with a huge “F” in red ink along with a note to go see the principal. When I asked my teacher what I did wrong, she said that I plagiarized my work. A smile broke out on my lips as I explained to her that what I submitted “was a lot of B.S.” I wrote it some 30 minutes before class and completely made up everything. And if she cared to check the information, none of them were factual. After a little investigation here and there, she changed my grade with much profuse apologies. It was the first time I could recall that I could actually write. Previously, I paid more attention to illustration during weekends and summer breaks or to music as I learned how to play a guitar and a piano (I formed my first high school band in third year high).

But even at an early age, I loved sports. I lived for it. I guess even as far back as in high school, I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor or lawyer much to my parents’ chagrin. My interests were always in the arts and sports.

I have always been a voracious reader and was once a champion reader but I’d say that a lot of credit has to go to a certain sports magazine’s swimsuit models for forever cementing my interest in sports.

While working as a copywriter for an advertising agency, one of my first accounts was the pro basketball association and I felt that I had come almost full circle. I got to do some ads and its first-ever television trivia contest with some nifty stats and numbers that up to that point weren’t done yet. I wrote a jingle that its board liked and got a huge compliment from its then commissioner that I knew my stuff and should try writing. Perhaps it was also working with its production outfit not only since many of their employees were later officemates of mine in the country’s top sports cable channel but also because it further spurred an interest in broadcasting and production work.

It was during these years in advertising that I felt that the industry and discipline refined my writing. The biggest clients I ever handled were the country’s top telecoms company and its national airline carrier. As was our custom at that time, we devoted a whole month on the preparation for the following year’s campaign. Four teams were assigned for the presentation and internally everyone at the agency thought that the one my team conceptualized was the best of the lot. But during our presentation, the telecoms then vice president shot it down but approved everything else.

The big bosses tried to fight for it but the client didn’t think it held up. I was crestfallen throughout the rest of the day and for the next few. But the following year, I rebounded with my best year in advertising. Three of the projects I worked on were nominated for an award and my concept for the telecoms company’s next campaign was produced.

It was also during this time that I was writing for the country’s top-selling newspaper writing about young entrepreneurs, jazz artists and alternative music acts, and comic books. But that style would dramatically change over the next decade after having lived abroad and used up four of my nine lives.

In the weeks leading up to my one hundredth column for BUSINESS MIRROR, I wondered what to write about. It’s probably no big deal for most columnists who’ve penned thousands but cut a newbie some slack. I’ve always put in a lot of effort, passion, and an alternative voice into what I write. I thought of writing about a hundred sports-related things to do before I die and totally non-hundred related regular topics. I thought and thought some more. Wrote even a few before I hit the delete button on them. In the end I went back to the beginning. When I endured a false start to something I’ve grown to love and cherish. And in doing so, I’ve been able to exorcise the demons of that rough beginning of long ago.

My dad calls it, “the school of hard knocks” and in some ways he’s right. But it’s all about a literal love for the game.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Old venues. Old school.

Wherever there are ballparks or arenas there are memories.

I paraphrased that from Tom Stanton’s book The Final Season where the author attended every single home game of the Detroit Tigers in their swansong campaign at the old and venerable Tiger Stadium in 1999 in an attempt to explore what the venue and the sport meant to him and four earlier generations of his family. In 2000, the Tigers made the new and ritzy Comerica Park their home effectively saying goodbye to one of the two oldest ballparks in America (the other being Fenway Park as they simultaneously opened on April 20, 1912). And by September this year, that grand old barn at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Boulevard in south Detroit that was also home to the NFL Lions will be demolished. So much for the old ball park being declared a historical site.

Americans have a saying, “If you love baseball, chances are you learned and picked up the game from your father.” I actually picked up basketball from my dad, but baseball… I learned the game from my grandfather and an almanac. So the latter is officially adopted into my family.

And that brings to mind that memorable Mastercard commercial:

Two tickets $46

Two hotdogs, two popcorns, two sodas $27

One autographed baseball $50

Real conversation with eleven-year old son: priceless!

My father and I used to go to a lot of events together. There were of course the UAAP basketball games and concerts including the odd Club Dredd (when it was situated in EDSA) gig now and then. We even went to Gapo back in the day to watch bar bands way back when the Americans were still in Subic and Dick Gordon was city mayor.

And now that I’m older, I try to watch my kids play when I can. Even watching my eldest son in the Ateneo Football Center is a blast.

During the Holy Week vacation, we all watched a World Cup 2006 Primer DVD that engrossed us for more than two hours. My eldest is an AC Milan fan while my youngest loves Arsenal. Me on the other hand… I root for that team sponsored by probably the best beer in the world. So you can imagine what it’s like when we all play the FIFA game on PS3. We’ve all got our own allegiances.

But ballparks and arenas. Yes, they do hold memories. Powerful ones.

So you can imagine what it is like for the Canseco Fieldhouse faithful.

For the 2007-08 season, the Indiana Pacers have not sold out one home date at all. We all know how basketball is a religion in Indiana. And as it is aptly written in the Canseco Fieldhouse website, “If you have a religion, you must build the appropriate cathedral. In Indiana, basketball is religion. Conseco Fieldhouse is the cathedral.”

The upper tier seats have been mostly empty. And that translates into a little over 1/3 of the 18,000-plus seats that have been gathering dust.

Ever since the team imploded in the wake of the 2004 Malice at the Palace, the team has spiraled from the upper echelon of NBA teams to one of the worst. Not New York Knicks bad. But definitely close. And the empty seats is a sign that the fans are unhappy.

Bad draft picks. Poor trades. Malcontents in tank tops. Whatever happened to their upstanding ballplayers who nearly led them to the top of the NBA?

The word is that the Indiana Pacers may soon lose long time GM Donnie Walsh and team President Larry Bird who lost whatever magic they displayed early on. But whether the two stay or are replaced, this team clearly cannot field this roster for the next season. Professional sports has clearly corrupted the old school values that many hold dear and that doesn’t make it an less easy to land players of solid character.

But in a land that describes the sport as its official religion, a heaping helping of purity won’t hurt.


Read Marty Blake's short piece on Joakim Noah's rookie season with the downtrodden Chicago Bulls here...

Taking the rivalry to the pros

All’s well Red Bull teammates Rich Alvarez and Carlo Sharma show each other some love before the hostilities get under way in the first Philippine Basketball Association Ateneo-De La Salle Showdown on Easter Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum. Alvarez is an Ateneo alumnus, while Sharma was a De La Salle varsity player. --picture by Nonoy Lacza of Business Mirror caption by their editorial staff.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the 1st PBA Ateneo-La Salle Showdown. Sat behind the basket close to the Blue Eagles' bench with former Ateneo PRADA player Chito Medina, former Blue Eagles Jimmy and Harry Alabanza, Jojo De La Rama, and Robin Tong. Had fun chatting with former pro Zaldy Realubit who I first covered back in late 80's/early 90's when he was playing for Swift in the PABL.

Great game by Rico Villanueva, Wesley Gonzalez, LA Tenorio, Olsen Racela, Larry Fonacier, and Magnum Membrere. Dammit, Wes! We should have won the game had you made that free throw!

But good game by both teams. Carlo Sharma, Mike Cortez, Mark Telan, and Willy Wilson played great ball except for that dirty play by Ryan Arana who is actually a talented player. But he has no class whatsoever.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Thin Red Line

It might have been a quiet Manila since it was Good Friday, but in the world of international sports it wasn't. The Boston Celtics survived the Texas Triangle whupped them Western powers down a notch. The Boston Red Sox started a 66-hour strike against an insensitive MLB. Tiger Woods is being Tiger Woods. But what really grabbed me Milorad Cavic.

Milo who?

Cavic is the current European 50 meter breast stroke champion. After claiming another gold in the Euro Swimming Championships, the Serbian wore a red shirt to the medal ceremony. Nothing wrong with that as we don't want him to catch a cold. Except he wore a shirt with the words "Kosovo is Serbia."

Cavic was suspended for the remainder of the tournament with the Serb swimming federation fined. Technically Cavic may have a point when he says that the breakaway republic isn't recognized yet by the UN or the IOC.

"Cavic did not wear a T-shirt with portraits of war crime suspects, he was not calling for violence or breach of international conventions," said Serbian Sports Minister Snezana Samardzic-Markovic. "I have to remind everyone that Kosovo is not recognized by most of world's countries, or the United Nations, nor by the International Olympic Committee."

That may be true and I'm not going to debate whether it was illegal for Kosovo to declare independence or not. A sporting event is not the venue for such rhetoric. Sports have time and again been used for political gain whether by Hitler, Tommie Smith, the Palestinian Liberation Organization and many others.

Just like the upcoming PBA Blue and Green game on Easter Sunday (the symbolism is not lost on me). Prior to this, much was made about this being a fund-raiser of sorts for Jun Lozada or something to that matter. Fortunately no one on both sides liked the idea. One of Lozada's relatives even called Ateneo asking for tickets and saying that the game was a great idea. During a Mass for Truth at the Church of the Gesu, Lozada was quoted as saying that this was the first time that La Sallians and Ateneans saved a Thomasian. Get your head of the gutter, man. School affiliations has nothing to do with it. In fact, didn't he leave one of those La Sallians out in the cold? Keep politics out of sports and those color lines limited to sports because that is totally out of line and not kosher.

I'll bet he's even using that line (and adapting them to every new school) as he barnstorms the country seeking audiences and sympathies.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Love is the Answer

(photos from NBA/Getty Images)

I can't say that I'm an Allen Iverson fan what with his less than savory character. Yet incredibly, I purchased a DVD (original, dummy) of the Answer at Best Buy. I even have those SLAM issues with Iverson on the cover including the one where he wore an afro that arguably ignited the retro movement. Maybe it's because I have a soft spot for the Philadelphia 76ers which is my original fave NBA team before my allegiances went to the midwest team from the Second City.

He was and will always be an incredible player. How he manages to get his shot off against bigger guys has got to be one of the most amazing feats in the NBA.

I guess almost from the beginning, I didn't think Allen would be with Philadelphia forever. Remember this is the team that dealt away some really great players in Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Charles Barkley. And they nearly sent Julius Erving elsewhere to make his house calls. His punk attitude that led to run ins with his coaches and the city certainly guaranteed that the Answer was going to be shipped out.

Let no one tell you anything different but Iverson was surrounded by some really good players. But because of their collective egos (including that doofus Larry Brown) they couldn't agree that a Larry O'Brien trophy was worth more than scoring titles or statistics that no one will remember save for the people who need to get a life instead of memorizing numbers.

It was nice to see the reception Allen Iverson got at the Wachovia Center. That was respect for what he did during his decade-plus tenure in the City of Brotherly Love. Didn't it give you goose bumps to see the crowd's roar get louder with his every gesture? And to see Mo Cheeks embrace his former player... what's it going to take for this long-suffering franchise to win another title? But on this night, perhaps for Philadelphians, it was a play-off atmosphere as the Sixers eked out a 115-113 win as Allen missed a shot with the game clock winding down.

I guess that in a nutshell was Allen Iverson's stay in Philly... a missed opportunity. But thanks anyway, Allen.

Post script: The Sixers seem to have recovered their late season form from last year. After competing with the Chicago Bulls for the right to own the East's cellar, Mo Cheek's team is now in seventh place at an even 34-34. And they figure to get tougher. You gotta love the way this team runs.

A plug for some friends... Team Solar Airsoft

I ran this awhile back in the sports pages of Business Mirror. To my old officemates... happy hunting!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Breaking News

LA Tenorio and Larry Fonacier are going to Alaska for Mike Cortez and Ken Bono.

Money and Manny

The other day while in a taxi, the cabbie remarked about Manny Pacquiao's incredible win versus Juan Manuel Marquez: that Manny should give some of that money to the people.

Sorry but I have a pet peeve on matters like this. Why the hell should Manny give back? Where the heck was everyone when he was going through some hard times? Is it us taking it to the head and the jaw? If people want some of that money then they should go get in the ring and get bopped around silly.

Taken aback, the cabbie asked for my opinion on Manny. I said whatever Manny spends his money on is his own concern, not ours. If he gives back -- and I know he does - then let him do it how he wants it. If he doesn't, then should we care? It's his money. Of course some would say that to whom much is given they should give back. Well, yes. But tell that to the Sobrang Mangapi Malls which is so anti-Filipino worker (that is why as much as possible I don't go to their malls). We shouldn't begrudge him on his spending habits. Sorry but I find gossip the work of infertile minds (to borrow a quote from Bugs Bunny). Whether he's greedy or not that's his own lookout. If people or companies are willing to pay him that much then that's their problem.

People say it's human nature to build up a person then tear him down. If that is so, then I ask, why should that be "our" nature?

Years ago, I got a writing job for a Hong Kong-based newspaper. I was thrilled by the opportunity more so since the pay was great. My first assignment was to write about Pacman. All the guide questions I got went like this:
- Is he difficult to get an appointment with now?
- Is it true he has mistresses?
- How many billboards does he have along EDSA and what is his asking price?
- Has he changed his character?
- Is he in anyway eccentric? What are his oddities and faults?

When asked if I had any questions, I had one: what the hell does this have to do with boxing? I wrote it and didn't follow the guide questions. When it came back for a re-write, I was asked where are the meaty stuff. I replied that I am not in the habit of dissing people save for one guy. I thought it was a sports story not a gossip story. Right there and then, I killed my story and the opportunity of writing for an international paper. But not once do I regret my actions.

It's like those media agencies that place ads during his fights but all privately wish that he'd lose because Manny's swell-headed. Yes, there are some of them.

That reminds me of a similar incident of several years ago, when we ran a radio promotion for DZRH called Radyo Roleta and man, I saw literally millions of entries. Now what are the chances of the winner of a nationwide contest being in the venue? When my then-boss Joel Navoa picked out an entry and read out the name of the winner, we were all shocked when we saw a woman falling to the floor in ecstasy and throwing herself around as if possessed by Linda Blair. It turned out that the winner was a janitress for some building in Makati. And now she had a million bucks.

You wouldn't believe the number of people who lined up our offices in Makati to ask for "balato." Long-lost relatives began to show up asking for money as did her former boss to "escort her." Even some of my officemates asked for money too (the fucking crabs).

I've always wanted to track her down and find out if she was able to better her life. I do know she lent some of her money but I'm willing to bet that none of them have paid her back.

It is estimated that Manny Pacquiao should have made around a billion bucks by now (including his latest pay day for the Marquez fight). Some say he has around half of that amount left with the balance wasted away. Of course, that's not hard intel. Pure guestimates by some in the know. But I really don't care. Its his money not mine. I am no longer working with him as I'm not with Solar Sports anymore.

If there's a parting shot from me, I'd say that Manny better watch it. You're swimming in a sea of sharks.

And that includes the people around you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Clockwork Oranje


I remember when the 1981 World Series was sponsored by Traders Royal Bank and it was shown live in the Philippines. But whatever excitement I had with regards to seeing the New York Yankees play soon gave to horror as they gave up a 2-0 lead and lost the last four to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The entire series was replayed endlessly on television much to my chagrin.

I would watch the Olympics when it was on. Not really caring for what sport there was. It could have been gymnastics or ice skating and I would watch it still. It was hard being a football fan at this time because for one there weren't any matches shown locally outside the World Cup. Even for that I would more often than not miss it because it was either early in the morning (I had to be in school) or late at night (I had to be in bed).

By the mid-80's the North American Soccer League had folded and there was no cause in rooting for the New York Cosmos. Pele had retired and since there were no magazines or internet back then, I didn't know whom to follow. Obviously, I wasn't a die-hard Liverpool fan back then.

One of my dad's Canadian friends one time brought with him a newspaper that featured a team that seemed to be winning everything in sight. It was AC Milan with their great attacking side of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard (who actually played midfield), and Ruud Gullit. And to see pictures (because there was no footage shown domestically then) of Gullit and Rijkaard with their dreadlocks flowing in the air was quite a sight.


Would you believe they had a young defender by the name of Paolo Maldini then? That seems an awful long time ago.

It was also the three Dutchmen who helped the Netherlands win its only major title so far, Euro 88.

In my own sports world then, all I knew was the NBA, the Denver Broncos, and the New York Islanders. I had sort of lost touch with the Yankees occasionally catching news about Donnie Baseball and Dave Winfield waging yearly wars for the batting crown.

I think I was more fascinated by Holland rather than AC Milan. Of three men of African-descent leading the Clockwork Oranje side to one victory after another. I guess, that's why later on I also rooted for Ajax Amsterdam when they had Patrick Kluivert as their striker. Ironically, Kluivert would also follow in his countrymen's footsteps and join AC Milan (where he sucked). He never recovered from his form when he was with Ajax and Barcelona where he was at his most productive.

It's funny that I remembered them now some 30 years after Euro 88. Yes, it's going to be Euro 08 in a few months right about the time of the Beijing Olympics.

But in those years when the Philippines was a wasteland of no football news, Van Basten, Gullit, and Rijkaard kept the fires burning.

And these three great players are still involved with football: Gullit is the coach of the LA Galaxy, Rijkaard with FC Barcelona, and Van Basten the coach of the Dutch national side.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Bringing it home

The World Boxing Council Super Featherweight title is coming back home to the Philippines. In a split decision, Manny Pacquiao won the belt from Juan Manuel Marquez that was last worn by Rolando Navarette, who like Pacman, hails from General Santos City.

Rene Barrientos and Gabriel "Flash" Elorde also once ruled the division with the latter defending it for seven years!

Who's next? David Diaz in June in Las Vegas.

A captivating "darling" sport

Sports can be captivating that when it sinks its teeth into us it never wants to let go. Take gymnastics for example, it is not called the “darling sport” for nothing. Odette Perlada and Gina Victoriano aren’t gymnasts. Far from it. They’re working moms who got into the management and business side of gymnastics because of their daughters. “Some of our friends invited us to send our girls to gymnastics class,” recalls Perlada who dabbles in real estate by day. “And it was a pleasant surprise to see how the sport increased all the girls’ strength, speed, agility, flexibility, and focus.”

They enrolled their daughters one summer and they were shocked at the appallingly poor facilities. Pooling their resources with three other parents, they purchased proper gymnastics equipment (“And we paid the right taxes too,” chimes in Victoriano who is a certified public accountant) and put up Gymnastics & Movement Center in 2003. They first operated their classes in Ateneo before moving to their current home at Celebrity Sports Club where they hold classes all year round including modules for the summer (classes begin March 31).

“Gymnastics isn’t a mainstream sport, but it’s a sport in which we Filipinos can excel because of our size and how lithe we are,” explains Victoriano.

“What’s gratifying also about it is when we see the reactions of the girl’s parents when they see their children perform,” relates Perlada who played tennis and volleyball back in her schooling days. “The moms have tears in their eyes when they say, ‘I didn’t know she could do that (like balance on a beam and perform a variety of routines).’ They get to know so much more about their child when they watch them perform.”

Kids who throw tantrums soon develop a form of maturity and get a massive dose of confidence where they are able to do things they previously couldn’t do. Perlada gushes, “Many of our parents report that their kids’ school teachers are amazed on their children’s newfound self-esteem and can-do attitudes that they’ve recommended to their friends to send their kids to gymnastics school.”

“Our student to teacher ratios are small (eight is to one) that allow for better and more hands-on teaching,” says Victoriano who also points out that they pay their national team-caliber coaches the best wages in the country.

“Even if my daughter is now in college, I’m still as passionate about the sport,” concludes Perlada. “It’s fulfilling not just for the kids but for us parents as well.”

The Gymnastics and Movement Center will begin classes on March 31, 2008 at the Celebrity Sports Club in Capitol Hills, Diliman, Quezon City. You may call 642-0122 or 725-4640 or 0926 339 8802 and 0917 886 6322 for inquiries and more details.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The gloves come off

Four years in the making. Blood and guts. Let's get ready to rumble.

Legends of the Fall: hardcourt woes

When I watch Rafael Nadal throw himself all around the court, I feel like I'm watching Boris Becker. But of late, the Sapniard has been injury prone and I wonder if will curtail his career. Nadal may be a clay court specialist which isn't as bad as playing on the hardcourt surface say of Flushing Meadows which can be hard on one's knees, but he takes to every game like his whirling dervish self.

The last Australian Open made use of a plexicushion surface that supposedly is helpful to a player's legs and knees but the balls lacked the zip of grass or hardcourt. So I can actually understand why some players choose to skip some tournaments. But when they're paid a lot of money, fans and the ATP expect them to play.

I actually thought that Patrick Rafter -- who was a bull on hardcourts -- eventually succumbed to his injuries and tendinitis. Let's keep that fella from Basel, Switzerland out of this, but when you talk about longevity and sustained greatness in the modern era then I'd say that you gotta have Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in there. Unlike Marcelo Rios, Rafter (and he was only world number one for a week), Gustavo Kuerten, and Mark Philippoussis who all disappeared after a short spell at the top.

I'd say that there are a couple of more reasons why we constantly see the player pool ravaged by injuries. One is the lack of rest and downtime between tournaments. Players constantly jet all over the world from one tourney to another. Unfortunately, not playing means losing valuable points in the rankings and more money.

The other thing is playing style. Players like Sampras and Federer play the baseline more than an attacking style. They play the angles so well that they make it hard for an opponent to return a shot. if they do, they they're ripe for a drop shot or a smash.

But the ATP should look into protecting their players. After all, they are their meal tickets and for me, I enjoy watching Nadal -- God, bless this Tasmanian devil of a tennis player -- reprise a guy named Becker.

--- Rafa dives and returns a shot against Roger Federer in this clay and grass court competition.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #99 Iron Hearts. Iron Men (and Woman).

(I am posting this in advance. This will come out in my column in the sports section of the Business Mirror on Monday, March 17, 2008. The interviews were done at Manila Polo Club last Saturday, March 8. Photos by Miggy Mendoza Story by Rick.)

It was dated 1982, but for all intents and purposes it could have happened just yesterday. It was one of those “holy shit” moments for Jay Jay De Ocampo who was already with a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain. He was never the athletic sort but he always tried. Not everyone has an athletic bone anyway. It was more of being overweight. “Let’s call it for what I was… fat,” he says with a modicum of pride as he fishes out an old identification card where he looked like he even ate the refrigerator. Today, he resembles nothing like that person in the photo.

The picture might be of recent vintage, but 1982 is like decades ago. But through the video magic of youtube, De Ocampo who works for an investment holding company, watched American triathlete Julie Moss crawl towards the finish line during an Iron Man competition. Severely dehydrated, Moss’s body shut down and it was only through her sheer force of will that she finished. "I tell people that their first Ironman should be their best one, because finishing should be their only expectation," Moss said afterwards as she joined the race for her physiology thesis. Moss’ epic demonstration of determination is largely credited for the growth of triathlon as a sport.

And for De Ocampo it meant no more reading books on how to swim in zip locks while getting a tan on the steps of the shallow portion of a swimming pool. It represented an opportunity for him to find out who he really was. And the great thing about taking up triathlon is that he also reversed his diabetic condition without the intake of medicines. “Just finishing a triathlon is a feat in itself because the body isn’t meant to endure long hours of pain,” he concurs with Moss’s benediction for one of the most grueling sports ever. “But as (Polo Tri co-founding father) Rune Stroem says, “When you cross that finish line – no matter what place you’re in – hold your head up high. But... the best compliment I guess came from my son who said, 'Dad, you're no longer fat.'"

For George Carag, triathlon is more than finding out how tough you are, it’s also about conquering one’s fears. Carag, who is a cabin attendant on Philippine Airlines’ international flights, wasn’t into sports like De Ocampo because he was a sickly child. “My concept of health,” he reveals, “was body building.”

Through his savings, he put up a bicycle shop and he gravitated towards cycling as a hobby. And through cycling, he met up with several members of Polo Tri (the group that was formed out of Manila Polo Club) and began to take on triathlon. “There’s a misconception about triathlon or trying it out… where it makes one fit. It’s the other way around, you have to get in shape and be fit to compete because it is never easy.”

Aside from the grueling race, Carag suffers from aqua phobia. “That’s strange, isn’t it since you have to swim quite a distance,” he says as his eyes make contact with me to impart just how serious a problem this is. “Even when bathing, I make sure that I immediately wipe the water from my eyes or else a little panic sets in.”

During one triathlon, Carag found himself freezing up in the ocean. None of the lifeguards could immediately get to him because of the choppy waters leaving Carag no choice but to swim out of his predicament. “It’s something that I have to deal with during every competition,” he admits. “I’d say for me, 50% of my effort is overcoming the anxieties of the race. I make a mental checklist of things I need to go over prior to the starting gun and that helps me to focus more intently.”

“When I look back at my first ever competition – a half Iron Man (a 1.9 km swim, a 90 km bike ride, and a 30 km run) in Matabungkay, Batangas in 1998, I’d say that was my best because I was able to finish it.”

Franchesca Carpo, a winsome sprite of an architect, looks at competing as a challenge and an opportunity “to savor and enjoy life more.” In 2004, while hiking with her sister Amanda at Pico De Loro, the highest mountain in Cavite area, the freelance architect slipped and fell a harrowing 80 feet down. Carpo fell in a treacherous crevice and cracked her skull. Her head was a mass of hematoma from the multiple injuries. With the hiking party unable to rescue her, a call was placed to the Philippine Marine base located in nearby Ternate for help. It took more than half a day but the marines and some other hikers eventually were able to rescue a cold and damp Carpo who drifted in and out of consciousness throughout the ordeal.

Chesca, as the 31-year old is called for short, now looks at her “second life” with a different set of eyes. “I’m more appreciative of things,” she disarms with an easy smile. “Before I was active in fitness activities more for leisure and exercise. Now I use triathlon as a means for benchmarking; for setting goals for myself.”

As one of the newest members of Polo Tri, Chesca is oft praised by Stroem, the expatriate Norwegian who has made the Philippines his home for the last 20 years, for her courage. “You’d think that an accident like that would keep her from more challenges, but I think it has made her even stronger and more confident.”

“Triathlon is more demanding than mere leisurely exercise,” says Chesca. “But it does help with discipline and time management. I actually am able to apply that to my work, isn’t that great?”

“Oh, yeah,” she concludes. “I’m fitter now.”

Jay Jay De Ocampo, George Carag, and Francesca Carpo will be joining their Polo Tri teammates when they compete in the ITU Subic Bay International Triathlon from May 10-11, 2008. Thanks for the great interviews and especially to Rune Stroem for that fab triathlon in the Philippines history lesson. Bet the Nomads miss you playing football with them!