Tuesday, August 30, 2011

US Open 2011

The last major event of the year in tennis, the US Open opened the day after Hurricane Irene came to the city. It was as if, everything was normal; when millions was still reported to be without power and floods threatened New York and neighboring states and cities. Imagine the scare, the suspense, the drama this Irene brought to the organizers of the the US Open, much more to the players and of course, to the fans. For sure, practices were cancelled, arrivals delayed, and what more. How it would impact on the players' conditioning, both physical and mental, is yet to be seen. To illustrate, Venus Williams' first round opponent on opening night, Russian Vesna Dolonts arrived from Moscow barely 4 1/2 hours from playing time. Whatever she felt, jet lag and all, she did not show during the game. She simply succumbed to a mild hurricane named Venus Williams.

The men's first round results were played according to the script. Seeded players, led by all time great and  5 time US Open champion, Roger Federer led the march. But the story of the opening day was reserved for the women's draw. Petra Kvitova, a former Wimbledon champion got her early exit. It was however the match of 2006 champion and hot favorite, No.3 seed Maria Sharapova that sent shock waves to those who watched the game. Pressured by an upstart, 19 year old British Heather Watson, seeded 102 and a former Wimbledon junior champion, the match was extended to 3 sets in 2 hours 34 minutes. Surely can not be considered as a first round work out.  Watson, winning the first set, 6-3,  threatened an Irene devastation in the Open when she rallied to forge an exciting 2nd set match which Sharapova agonizingly won 6-4.  It was a close shave for my idol, a game she still won despite having 50 plus unforced errors. She however won and for now it's good for her, for us her fans, fans attendance and gate receipts, and to ladies tennis..

Meanwhile, we will have 2 weeks of fun, and excitement. Watched those big, booming serves which could equal if not surpass Irene's category 4 fury rating.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leonel Angel Coira: Newest Soccer Child Prodigy

While our football officials are going out of their way to scout and recruit talents from Europe and the US to reinforce our Azkals football team, now comes the news of a 7 year old kid signed up by Real Madrid, one of the world's most popular and greatest club teams. Isn't that fantastic and great? Or on the other hand, weird, scary, or exploitation? Well, that's the latest news breaker in the world of football which I first learned and heard on ANC's Hardball.

His name is Leonel Angel Coira of Argentina. Three years ago, his family moved to Madrid where his father coaches a local youth team. This is where he was discovered.  Ironically, his favorite team is Barcelona, the arch rival of Real Madrid and his idol is Barcelona star striker and fellow Argentinian World Footballer of the Year, Lionel Messi. But Real Madrid got the first crack for this talent and signed him for a 1 year development contract to join their youngest team, the "Benjamin' squad composed mainly of kids under 9 years old. Is signing also came on the heels because another Spanish Team, Atletico Madrid was likewise hot on his trail.

Apparently in Spain or in Europe, signing up children in soccer is nothing new. They have extensive youth academies where they train and develop future stars. Spain's national goalie and also Real Madrid's goalie, Iker Casillas joined he Madrid Youth System at age 9. But there is also a commercial strategy to this. It is a club's tactic to enlist young talents to avoid huge transfer fees when they become full blown stars.

 Many doubt whether these kids will eventually  bloom into the levels of a Pele, or a Maradona or a Messi who himself is still young in early 20's but already on the peak of his success. As for this new sensational kid on the block, nicknamed Leo, we'll have to wait till he becomes 16 when he now be legally allowed to play for the first division tournaments and perhaps the national team and the ultimate, the World Cup.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quo Vadis Philippine Dragon Boat Team?

When it rains, it pours. And looked how it poured for the Philippine Dragon Boat Team. First, it got the nation's fancy and admiration even before they arrived home. Now the whole country knew them, and of course, their story, the drama involved. When they returned home, they were received at Malacanang by no less than the President of the Philippines who also bestowed them a citation. Then came TV interviews and appearances. I like the honor given them last Sunday on ABS-CBN ASAP noontime show.

The other day, the AFP, to which many of them belong, likewise gave them honors, followed by their appearance in Congress where several resolutions were passed in their honor. It's as if, everybody was making up for the shoddy and unfair treatment they got from our national sports bodies tasked to promote and finance sports in our country. They will have their "day in court" if and when Congress (or is it the Senate?) go on with their planned investigation of their plight.

The chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) Ritchie Garcia and a ranking Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) official Jeff Tamayo (the same official who uttered that now famous dig or insult to the players by describing them as "old" and "ampao") were quoted in media as saying that the "be all, end all" of government funding is the Olympic gold. And since the dragon boat is not an International Olympic Committee (IOC) event, nor its federation recognized by IOC, our dragon boat team does not deserve their funding and subsequently their attention. If that is so, then PSC and POC shall henceforth stop all funding and programs of IOC events like basketball, football, tennis, track and field, swimming, volleyball, and many more simply because these events can not in many lifetimes produce Olympic golds. And this includes Tamayo's event, soft tennis, where he is the president of their association. Excuse me, but does anybody know what is soft tennis and who are our players, and what are their international standings?  The only legitimate event they should support is boxing where we stand a good chance of Olympic gold.

Now, the question is: after all this euphoria, what's next for our dragon boat team? Quo Vadis? It seems sad to ask it considering that this sport has its ancient origin 2000 years ago in the Kingdom of Chu. According to Inquirer's columnist Patricia Evangelista (Aug.14 issue), its origin can be traced back to the time when a well loved Chinese poet, "Qu Yuan jumped into the Mei Lo River as a final act of protest against a corrupt government. The fishermen tried to save him, sailing up and down the river, thrashing the water with oars and paddles to frighten away the fishes.  This tradition spanned generations, with paddlers standing at the head of long boats while a drummer pounded a rhythm to frighten evil spirits. They were called dragon paddlers. And the story goes that when they rowed, they rowed with honor. 2000 years after, the dragons still fly."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Marie Escudero: The Master "Massieur" is in Town

The title is actually massage therapist, and she is lady,  Her name is Marie Escudero and she said she was once a member of the Philippine national football team, pre Azkals period of course. Sweet, beautiful, brown skinned (or was it just tanned?), I saw her on ANC channel, being interviewed in Hardball by Bill Velasco, Boyet Sison and Boom Gonzales.

Maria Escudero hits big in this field, which she says is very personalized, counting big stars as her clients like  Sir David Beckham of the English National Football Team and husband of the famous Spice Girl, Victoria, Simon Cowell, Pau Gasol, and even our very own Manny Pacquaio. Her break was his client Fil-Am actor Rob Schneider.

I like getting massages. My body longs for it. Good thing, home service call a massage business has sprouted in our community that I can easily avail of it. From P200-250 per hour, they're quite cheaper than those massage parlors in malls where the cheapest one-hour service is P500-600. Add some tips and it would also cost you a fortune if you do it frequently. But a good massage makes your body rejuvenated and relaxed, and removes some body aches. It further improves your blood circulation.

The best massage I have ever experienced was a foot massage I had last year in Shanghai. Yes, in China. It was our last day of a 3-day business trip and our host drove us all the way to this massage joint  near hte community where the expats live. Soothing, relaxing, comforting, I felt my foot has gone lighter and removed the tiredness it felt  after 3 days of walking, strolling, in Shanghai. And to think that the therapist was a young lady, perhaps still in her late teens or early 20's, yet how her hands move and her techniques were those of an experienced masseur. That massage experience was one of the highlights of that trip. Had we have more time, I could have went on with a full body massage.

Now, at home, my 11 year old athletic kid likes to be massaged too. I'm quite hesitant to give him a session with my regular masseurs. I'm not sure whether at this age, it is already proper for him to have it. So, he just requests her "ates" to do it especially after a hard day's play. and seeing him enjoy the satisfaction the massage brings, I could see myself in him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Philippine Dragon Boat Odyssey: Victory and Tragedy

By winning 5 golds and 2 silvers in a world-championship event held at Tampa, Florida, our dragon boat team won the hearts of  Filipinos, especially the Fil-Ams based there who went out in full support of the team. They're the world champions in their events and even their American and other opponents from several countries were all praises for them. T'was one of those rare moments in international sporting events where our national anthem was played during the medal awarding. Their accomplishment was a Philippine victory; and we hailed them heroes.

Victory? Heroes? Not quite,according to our sports officials from the POC (Phil. Olympic Committee) and the PSC (Philippine Sports Commission). And this the tragedy of it all. Here you have two agencies in charge of sports development in the Philippines belittling the team and their achievements to justify their not giving financial support and non recognition. To rub salt to injury, news reports today say, they go to the extent of hurling malicious charges and insults to the members of the team; saying, "they are already too old for the sport, that they falsify their time trials, that they are taking steroids". What a disgraceful statement. They could not give financial support for reasons of their own but yet can afford to throw in these malicious statements. And they are supposed to be the honorable men tasked to develop, promote, enhance, etc our country's sports. And we're not even mentioning here their capabilities.

Consider this. On the age issue. I think it's a case of "look who's talking?" These officials have been here for as long as i can remember; and look how old they really are. They are as if officers for life in the the POC and PSC. Case in point. We have the wrestler Baylon who the last time I read was already nearing 50's, yet still actively competing and winning honors for the country in the SEA(Southeast Asian Games).He has been competing since the 70's. Will you take issue with that? an "old" man but still winning golds. If at all, the issue is with PSC and POC because they were not able to do grass root development programs to discover new talents. They could not even harmonize the different NSA's(National Sports Associations), where they themselves are quarreling and feuding, non stop, for power for sure, to the detriment of Philippine sports. Swimming, Karatedo, Athletics(PATAFA),Equestrian,Cycling, Badminton,Basketball,Canoe-Kayak and Dragon Boat, etc.

Come on, give Philippine Sports a break.

Oh by the way, kudos to Lucio Tan and his Philippine Air Lines(PAL) and Cobra Energy Drink for the much needed support.(plane fair, energy drinks, etc)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

After Azkals, Can Wesley So and Co. Be Left Behind?

Relegated  in background news amid the euphoria of the Azkals match with Kuwait and the arrival of NBA stars led by Kobe Bryant who played two games against the PBA stars and our Smart Gilas national team was a strong chess tournament participated only by all the grandmasters of our country. I hope the day will come when chess will also find place in our country's top sports priority.

In chess, size does not matter. Therefore, this is a sport where Filipinos can excel and compete with the world's best.

Historically, we did made significant strides in the international scene. Eugene Torre was Asia's and our country's first grandmaster. His fait accompli was done in Nice, France Chess Olympics sometime in early 70's while playing top board for the Philippine team. Considering that the top boards are normally manned by the best grandmasters of every country, such feat was indeed a great accomplishment. For a while, Torre has remained one of the top young grandmasters in the world. Our 2nd grandmaster, the late Rosendo Balinas, earned his grandmaster norm after topping and winning a strong chess tournament in Russia (USSR then), the home of the world's grandmasters. Before him, no other foreigner has won a chess tournament in Russian soil. After them, however, came a drought of grandmaster in the making. Meanwhile, China, Vietnam, and India have started to produce many and top grandmasters, including women. In recent years, thanks to the support by the Philippine Chess Federation led by its president, Prospero "Butch" Pichay, the controversial former congressman from Surigao, through various  international exposures and local  chess tournaments, our number of grandmasters has grown.

Leading the pack is teenage sensation super grandmaster Wesley So from Cavite. For quite sometime now, he is our country's No. 1 player and one of the top young grandmasters in the world. Barely 17 or 18 perhaps, he has performed well in strong chess tournaments abroad, winning some, and/or  placing among the top finishers. He has beaten a number of super super grandmasters like Gata Kamsky of the US and others. His ELO rating of 2670+, a super grandmaster level, is the highest rating a Filipino had. His performances here and abroad weighs more than other performances we toast. Wesley So, surely, should be our country's pride.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chess Anyone?

I learned chess when it was introduced by a classmate in our first year high school.  Back then, it was a popular event in our school's annual Sportsfest. Immediately then, I got hooked to it. I introduced it at home and in a short time, my elder brother became my chess rival at home. I would skip meals playing it; I would go to barber shops and sidewalks to watch chess games. I would spend whole days to watch tournaments. I would even skip my homework and studies to play chess.And I would read chess books, trying to understand Sicilian, King and Queen Gambit Decline, all those opening lines and end games tactics. I would also search for news articles, biographies of great chess players, etc.

That's how I came to know Murphy, Capablanca and their contemporaries, to Botvinnick, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Gligoric, Portisch, etc. And yes, most especially the mercurial American genius, Bobby Fischer (I would later find out that my father-in-law kept a lot of books on chess, especially on Bobby Fischer), my idol. But of course, my era  includes Karpov, Kasparov to AnandKamsky, the Polgar sisters,etc., including those upcoming Chinese and Vietnamese top young grandmasters. Until now, I still read with interest and enthusiasm news about chess. It pains me though that many big tournaments, local and especially international, do not merit due space in both print and broadcast media.

It was not unnatural therefore that I taught chess to my kids early on. My eldest kid learned chess before he went to Grade 1. When he was in Grade 3, he became their level (5 sections per level) champion. Unbeaten, he proudly said. My other younger kid almost learned it by himself. My wife and I were then amazed that he learned it by just watching me and his Kuya play. At kindergarten, I underestimated his capacity to understand how the Knight moves, how powerful the Queen is, how to checkmate an opponent in a King-Rook endgame.etc. Now, he beats his older brother with regularity. But now that they both know how to play, I don't encourage, much more push them to go seriously into chess. I don't want them to spend much time studying and playing and the game. It's enough that they know how to play and if on their own they can still improve without those long hours of analyzing games, it would already be a bonus to me. I know how it is to be serious here. It can be addicting, and you can forget about everything else.

Here's my son showing off his gold medal in chess. 

I seldom play chess now. I just content myself comfortably watching and analyzing games, and reading developments of the game. I'm happy that now, we have already a double-digit number of grandmasters. Time was when our national team would play in the Chess Olympics with only Eugene Torre in Board 1 as Grandmaster and the rest international and national masters. There, they would pit themselves against an all Grandmaster (including reserves) line-up from chess giant countries in Europe and Americas. With proper support, effective program and inspiring leadership,  we could discover more Torres, Balinas, Cardoso, Antonio, Gomez, Paragua, etc. and, much more,  hopefully more Wesley Sos.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The NBA Lockout

The looming NBA lockout is an unwelcome news for us, basketball fans all over the world. What would be November (this year) to June (next year) without the great entertainment that is NBA. In fact, the reason why I upgraded our cable channel is to be able to tune in to Basketball TV for its whole season coverage of NBA. My kids wouldn't like this. Oh!, our own PBA couldn't just be a good substitute.

What's this lockout all about. Well, in the NBA, they have a players' union and like any other unions, they do have CBA ( collective bargaining agreement) with the owners group. This CBA has just expired and they are negotiating a new CBA. It's all about money; the owners wanting hard salary caps, reducing the present 57/43 split of basketball income and shorter contracts. Considering NBA's global reach on ads, promos, merchandise, and tv contracts, the amounts are not just in millions but in billions of dollars. BY the way, Derek Fisher, the veteran Laker guard, is the president of the players union.

Sometime in the mid 90's, the NBA season was shortened (the normal total number of games in one season is 82) because I think of the same problem. That time, the San Antonio Spurs, led by their twin towers, the veteran David " The Admiral" Robinson and upcoming star Tim Duncan, became the champions. It would start the Spurs titles in the league for the next ten years.

Reports are saying Kobe Bryant is mulling a possible stint in China. So imagine Kobe Bryant playing in China, donning perhaps the Shanghai Sharks uniform, now owned by newly retired Yao Ming. Derek Williams of the New Jersey Nets is almost sure of playing with the Turkish team, Besiktas, the same team where Allen Iverson played last year. Where will the other stars go? Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, etc. Just when we are expecting another exciting season. September is the start of the training camp. We just hope the issue will be settled soon and all's well that's ends well. For love of basketball.

Why? Have you heard the  news that the inaugural event of the soon to rise ultradome at Mall of Asia will be a regular NBA game? If that happens, that will surely be a real, real, big, big, scoop, perhaps even bigger than the Thrilla in Manila of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Araneta Coliseum in 1975.