San Mateo, Rizal
December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas to one and all. This is probably the best way to start this blog on the eve of Christmas Day, if its not already. Technically, this is not a blog but a re-posting of a piece recently written by Manila Bulletin sports editor Ding Marcelo, one of the best in the sportswriting business. You see, sir Ding wrote exactly what I really fell. He titled it a “A disturbing end.” My title? Someone suggested it when I popped the question on Twitter what word best describes the Philippines’ just concluded campaign in the 27th Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar. I also said its somewhere in between a debacle or catastrophe. Sir Ding wrote it exactly what I fell.
And here it goes:

A disturbing trend
by Ding Marcelo
December 24, 2013 (updated)
Surely, we must examine ourselves if we find joy in finishing seventh place overall in the Southeast Asian Games.

The SEA Games are the inter-barangay league of multi-event international competitions. It has no world-class athlete, no Asian Games level results, really nothing but a showcase of the Asean region’s best runners, jumpers, paddlers and ball handlers who will probably not make it past the preliminaries of the Asian Games, much less the Olympic Games.

With our population and with our budget, we are supposed to at least finish in the top three. But that’s more like a pipe dream. Even before our team left, sports officials, like Philippine Sports Commission chairman Ricardo Garcia, already predicted that we’d be lucky to place sixth overall or finish with 30 gold medals.

He was right on both counts. The Philippines finished seventh and grabbed just 29 gold medals—a record low for the country which joined the league in 1977.

Yet our sportswriters and sports officials are hailing this performance as though we finished seventh overall in the Olympics. Days before, reporters sent to Myanmar got busy chronicling our battle for sixth place as though that was a career best and must be achieved at all cost.

Here are samplers of reports from Myanmar: “That’s not to say Team Philippines has anything to be ashamed of.” “The Filipinos’ impending 101-medal harvest far surpassed expectations of a lean 208-athete contingent handicapped by token participations in some events and non-participation in such medal-rich sports as petanque, vovinam, traditional boat race and chinlone and other events.”

Chief of mission Jeff Tamayo announced: “I’m proud of our athletes. They showed heart despite the odds being stacked against us from the start and made us all proud.”

The Bulletin reported: “The Philippines will finish the Southeast Asian Games with 29 gold medals, an impressive performance from a team that was doomed to fail. Yet, the athletes fought through adversities to bring home 100 (total) medals.”

Either these reporters are blind or so numbed by our despondent sports scene that they have begun hallucinating, extolling our performance as “nothing to be ashamed of” and “impressive.”

What’s impressive and what’s not embarrassing about 29 gold medals, when the top three placers had a combined total of 266 golds?

What’s impressive about our output compared to the haul of Singapore, a country with a population of just 5 million (against our 97 million), yet grabbed 34 gold medals (against our 29)? How do we compare with Malaysia, with a population of 30 million and a gold haul of 42?

The reason we did not send as many athletes as we should is that there are not enough athletes with skills to compete with honor. The 200 plus athletes in Myanmar were our best.

We should also stop complaining about Myanmar loading the games in its favor. That country performed well. It may have won 16 gold medals in the indigenous sports events (an event that every host country loads up in its favor), but it won, fair and square, winning 70 golds in other disciplines.

On the other hand, the Philippines won just six gold medals in the combined sport of swimming and athletics, which had nearly 90 gold medals to offer. Athletics, by the way, won all six.

Only in the Philippines can sports officials find the positive in what in many other countries will be called a debacle. Had our country been Japan, some of our officials would perhaps commit harakiri in light of this sporting disaster.

Only in the Philippines can top sports officials see no difference between a gold, a silver, and a bronze, saying they’re all medals, with only the color being different.

The Philippines actually had it coming.

The past SEA Games have already shown the Philippines’ gold medal standing on a slow decline. In 2011, we won 36 golds to finish 6th, in 2009, we won 38 golds to finish 5th, in 2007, we won 41 golds in finishing 6th.

But despite this disturbing trend, sports officials—both those in the supervisory level (Philippine Olympic Committee and PSC) and those on the ground (those belonging to national sports associations)—were more busy cutting each other’s throats than planning for the athletic wars ahead.

Our sports pages are filled with protests, complaints, financial shenanigans, cries of favoritism, and partisan warfare, but very few about grassroots development, promotion of athletes, or skills upgrade for coaches.

So another SEA Games is over. And, as usual, the blame will go to the lack of financial support, the shortcomings of the NSAs, government’s insensitivity to sports development, and the never-ending power struggle within many sports associations.

And, as usual, officials will vow to do better next time, promise to prepare early, and avoid partisan and internecine squabbles.

Exactly what they said in 2011, in 2009, and in the years before that.


Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Sir Ding’s column came from the Manila Bulletin’s sports pages and photo courtesy of The Philippine Star)


Sportswriting 101

Lipa City, Batangas
December 14, 2013
Sportswriting 101

I’m no writing genius. Definitely not a Pullitzer Prize awardee. Nor a Catholic Mass Media winner like my old friends Francis Ochoa (Dennis Espino days) and Jasmine Payo (John Verayo era) of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, who won an award recently for a front page story on differently able tri-athletes. I strive to be one though, maybe in the future. Meantime, I’m just here writing and writing. And I have been doing this for 17 years now and counting. And yes, I’m still on the learning curve and trying my best to improve my craft. Just what they say, life is a continuous learning process. And one of the best ways to learn is to learn from the masters. So I’m sharing with you another great teaching from The Maestro himself, The Philippine Star sports editor Lito Tacujan. And its about sportswriting. So enjoy.

The way we were
Watching them at work during the Macau saga of Manny Paquiao, one can’t help but marvel at how our Beat had evolved from something ‘manual’ via long distance calls
to state-of – the -art online techonolgy via the internet.
It has spawned social media and completely changed future generations lifestyle and so watching them at work gives one an eerie feeling that he has gone through two lifetimes In our career..
The first was when we were ‘ young and easy under the apple boughs ” and the other when we are constantly be ing overwhelmed by this fast-paced phenom that is completely alien to us but has since embraced its nuances.
Altough the whole gamut of ultra modern Infostructure is literally at their fingertip, does it necessarily mean they can come up with good copies with all the time and technology in their hand?
Or were we better off with the ‘printed word’.
We think the hard way is the better way, better appreciated and felt.
While the sportscribes now would have background, profiles and records thru a simple rap at the keyboard, we would then come to a coverage with notes well researched, tacked in the back pockets. And we would labor thru gathering of stats.
” you take offensive, i take the defensive rebounds, ” ernie gonzales, then with the Express, now with Inquirer, would tell us before a Crisps-Toyota game.
In an out-of-towner, we would wade thru a sea of fans, grab a pedicab and rush to our hotel room, rush a story, rush its tansmittal via long distance, rush a quick meal before finally settling down for rounds of beer, drained but happy over the rush of adrenaline.
And when nearing stupor, the question would finally pop out: ‘What’s your lead?’
We lived and died by our leads, we felt then it was the measure of a sportscribe how he would weave a lead under tremendous pressure.
Surely, thats Journalism 101. That’s the inverted thing they hammered into your brain. But a sports story lead is something else. Its foundation of your entire coverage- it either sizzles or fizzles out.
One remembers a veteran scribe who was so enamored with his lead, he tore up the paper it was written on and put it in his pocket, thenbetter to conceal it from prying eyes.
Have we lost the art of lead writing? Maybe yes, maybe no but thats another posting.
Sports stories are things you dont read and be informed, they’re there to be savored, felt, appreciated, relived the drama, they’re all blood, sweat, etc.. It’s what Red Smith would say opening a vein and bleed through it.
For in the final reckoning, you’re actually ranged against yourself. You dont really write for the readers or heartless editors but for yourself. Bare your soul and be counted.
There would be no high tech gadget, online system.. You’re on you own, facing a blank screen and for this you would be on the same platform the way we were.
Lito Tacujan
Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Onyok Velasco answers questions over the phone as scribes and officials share the moment after his silver medal wiining feat in the 1996 AtlantaOlympics-from Lito Tacujan’s photo archives)

She’s Like The Wind

The Arena, San Juan
December 12, 2013
She’s Like The Wind

I know you will agree with me when I say that the biggest Filipino sports star that walked this Earth in our generation is no other than Manny Pacquiao. But Lito Tacujan, my sports editor at The Philippine STAR, reminded us that there was a star that shone as bright as Pacquiao’s decades back. Her name is Lydia de Vega. Asia’s fastest woman back then. And boss Lito blesses us with a gift of a majestic story he titled:
“She’s like the wind”

Amid the din and drone in the smoke-filled room, with fumes of beer and spill of red wine messing up the long table, the talk centered on Manny Pacquiao. How this Filipino icon happened in our time, and how future generations would relish reading his storied career through the dispatches of these young scribes.
He was a joy to watch, making a nation proud like no other in mass sporting event.
Sandali, a graying sports ed wanted to butt in, “ How about Lydia De Vega”
She came to mind because she was presently in the news when her 32-year old mark in the 400-m run was shattered by a sturdy FEU runner. Lasting 32 years underscored the significance of the feat and kept the name of Lydia de vega in the consciousness of the fans for over three decades.
She’s the queen of the tracks, the fastest, the best.
Beautiful, tall, long limbed she ran like the wind, like a gazelle
Cavorting in an open grassland savannah, sweeping gracefully, magically, to victory.
You can have the masterpiece knockout of a Pacquiao, we’ll take her majestic golden run.
The uninitiated could go surf the internet, the IAAF webpage, for a rundown of her accomplishments in the 80s but you get only the cold stats, not the beauty of the run from a burst of speed at the report of the starting gun, in full throttle in mid-race to a killing, diving surge at the finish.
She’s like the wind.

And she did it better under pressure. Ranged against the local heroine P.T. Usha in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games, the 18-year old Diay, as she’s fondly called, slew the Indian Dream before close to 70,000 fans with a time of 11.76 seconds. But she sustained an injury and skipped the 200-m duel with Usha. They would meet again and again in a rivalry that fired the Asian athletics at that time.
She would later repeat the feat four years later in Seoul Asiad with a time of 11.95.
“ I love to compete, to be with the best,” said Diay, who started as a junior long jumper in her hometown in Meycauyan and later lit up the Asian athletics firmament with her father-coach Francisco ‘’Tatang’ de Vega, whose acerbic wit more often sparked controversies.
Still, she lived and thrived through all these to be the megastar in the Asiad, Asian championship, ASEAN Cup and the SEA Games which she dominated since 1987, spinning a highlight in the 1991 Manila Games by beating Malaysian rival G. Shanti amid the rhythmic cheers of ‘Lydia, Lydia, Lydia!”
She would later retire, go into local politics and presently coaches a school team in Singapore, sharing her talent with young runners. How sad. She could have stayed home and be the heart and soul and inspiration of Philippine athletics.
Øne remembers one day during the 1987 Jakarta SEAG when Lydia De Vega, famous and a big star in that Indonesian capital, decided to leave the confines of the athletes village to buy some fruits.
She crossed a busy intersection and all hell broke loose as traffic screeched to a halt, passengers spilled out of a bus to see the Asian Sprint Queen walk away.
They have Manny Pacquiao now. We had Lydia De Vega then.
Lito A. Tacujan

Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar


Blue Eagle Gym
December 11, 2013

It’s been a while since I last wrote for Sportsmaryosep. My last blog entry, in fact, was on October 29. And it wasn’t even a real blog, technically speaking, since I just re-posted a story written by my Philippine STAR sports editor Lito Tacujan. My absence was due to my wife bearing our first child. God blessed us with a boy. We named him Iago Sebastian. Iago as a shortened Santiago and Sebastian as a longer version for Bastian. Confused? Me too.
You see, I never expected Fatherhood will be this tough and at the same time extremely satisfying. It’s like you’re totally emotionally and physically drained from work then you see your kid and smell his nice baby smell and you’re energized. And you’re drained again from babysitting, feeding him milk, changing his smelly diaper, singing him lullabies but he smiles at you and you get energized again. Nevermind the sleepless nights.
And slowly, I’ve embraced fatherhood. And I thank God for the strength and the wisdom.
Now here we are, a month and about two weeks later, I’ve finally mustered the strength and sneaked in some time in writing another blog.
And we’re writing about Cebu basketball.

Like imperial Manila, Cebu is another basketball hotbed. And Southwestern U is putting it on the national map again after sending shockwaves down the tournament area of the current PCCL semifinals by slaying powerhouse La Salle in a gripping overtime win. The Cobras, who made it this far after topping the Southern Regions elimination, are on the verge of making the best-of-three finals of this annual event, which has been on its 12th season now. That is if it beats Far Eastern U in the final playdate of the single-round format semis on Thursday (Dec. 12) at The Arena in San Juan City. The other semis duel pits UAAP champion La Salle against NCAA titlist San Beda. SWU, mentored by the fiery Yayoy Alcoseba, is chasing history because if it ends up winning it all, it will become the first team outside Metro Manila to top the event.
And with due respect to La Salle, San Beda and FEU, all capable of reigning supreme, I would welcome a team from Cebu coming out as champion. It’s about time someone from the South snatch this one considering that Visayas had been ravaged by a super typhoon and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake. I hope the basketball gods give the Cebuanos and Visayans a break with a gift of a championship.
Now where is that Cebu lechon belly?
Follow Sportsmaryosep on Twitter: @JoeySVillar

(Photos courtesy of PCCL’s Facebook page)