Most Memorable Philippine Sports Stories of 2014 (Part 1)
Mark Escarlote on Dec 29, 2014 04:07 PM
German-American Thomas Dooley, who played for the US in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup, became the new Azkals mentor and led the squad to two runner-up finishes and a third straight Suzuki Cup semifinal appearance.
Philippine sports is not all about statistics, triumphs or defeats, nor about medals and championships won or lost, or of glory or downfall.
What make sports in the country colorful are the things that happen behind the scenes. Anecdotes that add spice to an already appetizing smorgasbord of sports events that Filipino athletes embarked on and that fans follow.
In the first of two parts, ABS-CBN Sports lists down local sports’ most memorable, shocking, controversial, and bizarre stories from the year about to end.
10. A mother’s love
February this year, figure skater Michael Christian Martinez made history as the first Filipino to participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
But before Martinez baptized the country on what a triple Axel means after his 19th place overall finish in the Olympics (19th in short program and 20 in free skating) his mother, Teresa, hogged the limelight and sympathy of the public. She revealed in an article posted by CatholicRegister.com that her son didn’t receive any support from the government.
The expose that ran last January automatically drew outrage from netizens when it went viral thru various social networking sites when the article was posted on Facebook last February 10, three days before the figure skater stepped on the rink for his routine.
Mrs. Martinez was quoted, “I don’t even think anyone at the president’s office knows there’s a Filipino skating in the Olympics.”
She revealed further that “My house is mortgaged. It’s a crazy investment.”
It did generate public ire, and for some reason interest in the sport and of Michael’s campaign, but the accusations also raised brows from the officials of the Philippine Sports Commission, the Philippine Olympic Committee even up to the Office of the President.
POC, PSC and the President’s Office refuted the claims of Mrs. Martinez stating that ample financial support were given to the figure skater from their side and of the private sector.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said they have not received any letter from Mrs. Martinez addressed to President Benigno Aquino III. It is also unclear what property of the Martinez family was mortgaged and if it was used for Michael’s participation in the Winter Games.
9. New alpha dog, new pack
The start of 2014 was the beginning of a series of changes within the row of the Philippine Azkals.
German coach Hans Michael Weiss, Azkals coach for three years, was the first one to get sacked when the management didn't extend his contract that expired last March.
But even before Weiss, who became unpopular to some of the members of the team and even from fans, completed his contract, the Azkals management had already shortlisted six candidates to replace him.
In January 30, the Philippine Football Federation named the 52-year old German-American Thomas Dooley, who played for the US in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup, as the new Azkals mentor.
Dooley started to inject his system of team play, utilizing the players available during training to build chemistry, rather than relying too much on foreign-based players that arrive only a few days before a competition.
Something that didn't sit well with some Fil-foreign Azkals.
Fil-German Stephan Schrock shocked the Filipino football community last August 4 when he announced via Twitter that he’s calling it quits. A day after, Fil-Danish Dennis Cagara and Fil-British goal keeper Neil Etheridge followed suit citing that Dooley is the main reason why they have to leave.
Dooley retaliated with equal ferocity by exposing that these players were just upset because of their diminished playing time during the Azkals’ runner up finish in the AFC Challenge Cup in Maldives last May. He specifically slams Schrock by calling him “unprofessional and selfish.”
The mentor even gave a parting jab to the three by saying, “It’s not about age, it’s not about popularity and it’s not about the looks. It’s all about the performance in the field.”
In its first tournament after the issue, the Azkals were on a roll in its grand slam attempt in the annual Peace Cup hosted by the Philippines by routing Chinese-Taipei 5-1 to get through the finals against Myanmar.
But the then FIFA ranked no. 128 Pinoy booters were hacked by an upset axe by the Burmese, 32 ranks lower, pulling a come-from-behind 3-2 extra time win last September 5.
The Azkals returned last month in Hanoi for the group stage the AFF Suzuki Cup where they easily whisked away Laos (4-1) and Indonesia (4-0). But the miracle that propelled the Azkals to their status four years ago didn’t come as the Vietnamese exorcised the ghost of their consecutive Suzuki Cup defeat to the Filipinos with a 3-1 victory.
The Azkals faced Thailand in the semifinals and halted its 14-match losing streak with the opponent by forcing a scoreless draw in the first leg in Manila. But it proved to be a small hump for the Thais as the War Elephants stomped the Azkals on its way to its fourth championship against Malaysia.
It left the Azkals empty-handed for the third straight semis stint and still wanting for a goal in the knockout round.
Wesley So, the Philippines’ chess wizard, turned his back from the three stars and a sun flag and decided to hug the stars and stripes of Uncle Sam adding to the country’s never ending brain drain of talents.
The world no. 12 ranked woodpusher with a rating of 2762 caught the National Chess Federation of the Philippines off guard when he informed them last June in a letter of his intention to play under the US Chess Federation.
His reasons were even more shocking -- if not downright insulting -- for the NCFP when the 21-year old chess master said that he wanted to vie for a world title and he won’t get it if he stays in the Philippines.
So’s family has permanently moved to Canada and he’s based in the US. So had planned to switch his nationality as early as late last year.
“In the Philippines, there is no serious training system. There are also very few strong tournaments in Asia,” So, who gained grandmaster status at the age of 14, said in an interview during the heat of the controversy.
During his service with the Philippines, So was receiving P40,000 monthly allowance under the PSC’s priority athletes program taken from taxpayers money.
Without So sitting on the top board, the Philippines finished a dismal 46th place in the 41st Tromso, Norway Chess Olympiad four months ago.
Even with distractions, So reaped numerous international chess tournament victories including the Millionaires Chess Open in Las Vegas where he bagged $100,000 and propelled his ranking to no. 10 last month.
After a long delay, NCFP allowed So to enter the USCF rating list last month but has to sit out the next two years under the rules of the World Chess Federation before he can enter the world championship.
Just a week ago, So has decided to drop out of Webster University and moved out of coach Susan Polgar’s camp to pursue his bid to become a world chess champion.
7. Gone in a flash
A year in a half after his unanimous decision loss to Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux that ended Nonito Donaire’s 30-match winning streak in a 12-year period, the Filipino Flash slowly got his groove back winning his next two bouts.
Donaire stopped nemesis Vic Darchinyan in the ninth round before the end of 2013 and followed that up with an abbreviated fifth round technical decision win over South African Simpiwe Vetyeka in their WBA featherweight match after the Filipino suffered a nasty cut above his left eye due to an accidental headbutt.
But Donaire’s fifth weight division world title lasted for only five months and nothing prepared the boxer from the onslaught of Jamaican Nicholas Walters’ sledgehammer of a hand last October.
The Filipino stung Walters in the second round with his patented left hook in the second round.
But instead of getting stunned it only woke the explosiveness of the Caribbean fighter and fired back in the third round sending Donaire down to the canvass for the first time in his career with a wicked uppercut into the Filipino’s chin.
Walters opened a cut over Donaire’s right eye in the fourth before ending the fight with an overhand right to the Filipino’s left temple with only a second remaining in the sixth round.
Donaire sprawled on the canvass, tried to upright himself on all fours but got counted out and tasted his third loss in 36 fights against the undefeated Walters, who got his 25th win and 21st stoppage victory.
6. PBA magic
A look back at the Philippine Basketball Association this year will feature San Mig Coffee ascend to the elite list of grand slam ball clubs with head coach Tim Cone being named the winningest coach in league history.
But there is something more than those shining cups displayed in San Miguel Corporation's headquarters or with Cone’s name engraved as the only coach to score a grand slam in two different franchises.
Feisty Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao made a scene in the All-Filipino Finals Game 6 last February 26 when he led his squad into a ‘partial walkout’ with 11:39 remaining in the second period as a sign of protest for allegedly consecutive bad calls by the referees.
Guiao and RoS returned after five minutes and was assessed with a delay of the game with San Mig eventually winning the title and surpassing the Crispa Redmanizers with six All-Filipino crown. The day after, PBA commissioner Chito Salud fined the Elasto Painters with P2 million for the walkout.
The Pampanga lawmaker again found his name in the headlines when the league fined him P100,000 after calling Meralco Bolts player Cliff Hodge a ‘mongoloid’, a derogatory word used for people suffering from Down Syndrome, in a heated altercation during the Commissioner Cup’s quarterfinals Game 2.
Last April the PBA Board of Governors approved the application of Kia, Blackwater and NLEX as new expansion teams in the league’s 40th season.
While Kia and Blackwater assembled their rosters with players from the expansion draft and virtually started from scratch, business tycoon Manny V. Pangilinan bought the Air21 franchise to field in NLEX - his third club in the league -- last June.
During the draft lottery last July 1 before the tipoff of the Governors’ Cup Game One Finals, Salud or should we say the white box containing two balls marked with GlobalPort and one that had the name of Meralco became the butt of jokes in the social media after Guiao hits out at the manner of draw saying “Parang naging salamangkero si commissioner nun, parang nag-magic ka na lang nun.”
It drew criticism for lack of transparency especially when Salud, who made a public apology three days after the lottery for the crudeness of the procedure, placed the balls inside the box and never removed his hands inside it after placing the last ball. He drew the one marked with GlobalPort for the top overall pick and Meralco, whose pick was traded to Rain or Shine for Ronjay Buenafe, as second in the PBA Draft.
GlobalPort used their pick for 27-year old Fil-American Stanley Pringle, the oldest top pick in league history. Eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao was picked 11th overall as Kia’s playing-coach.
The PBA’s 40th season opened last October at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan with a record crowd of 52,612.
Even PBA D-League got its share of quick fame when AMA Titans drafted Kapamilya star and endorser Daniel Padilla in the 15th round last September. The Titans withdrew their pick with Padilla a day after.