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Bodybuilding finally unified

This week marked a crucial turning point in the history of bodybuilding in the Philippines, as the disputing organizations put their differences aside and formed the Unified Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation of the Philippines or Unified, Inc. The founding board members and officers were inducted at an austere ceremony at the Meralco Center on Monday by MVP Sports Foundation vice-president and Talk N Text head coach Chot Reyes, filling in for foundation president Al Panlilio.

“It is time for us to cast aside our differences and our personal agenda and unite for bodybuilding,” said Unified’s executive vice-president Jonathan Lledo, who is president of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines.

“Bodybuilders are the complete person. The image of bodybuilding then was that they are always wearing tanktops and looking like kargadors. Those are days gone by. Bodybuilders are politicians, bodybuilders are respected businessmen, bodybuilders are leaders of our country.”

It has taken more than a year for the organizations to smooth things over between disagreeing factions. As late as the end of 2010, there was still friction among them. In fact, at a bodybuilding event in Lanao del Norte, judges had to come from each recognized organization to avoid conflict.

Reyes himself acknowledged the value of bodybuilding and weight training not just in basketball, but in everyday life. He recalled the example of his own center Ali Peek, who survived a shooting on Nov. 7 and returned to playing a few weeks later, thanks largely to his muscular physique. The bullet entered the back of Peek’s neck, then inexplicably curved around his carotid artery before lodging in front of the blood vessel. One theory surrounding this miracle is that his dense muscle mass redirected the small-calibre bullet.

Bodybuilding has a long-standing history of bringing glory to the Philippines, from the days of Stan Carbungco, who later became the first local manufacturer of weight training equipment, and Roland Dantes, who was third runner-up in the 1969 Mr. Universe competition won by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Dantes went on to star in local and international movies, most notably as the villain in Fernando Poe Jr.’s boxing classic, “Durugin si Totoy Bato”.

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In recent years, Filipinos have been world champions in the sport, with Roman “Dondon” Cortuna winning the Mr. Universe in 2008 and 2009, and Luzviminda McClinton winning the FAME world championships in 2010 on the same day Manny Pacquiao beat Antonio Margarito. However, the recognition bodybuilders receive has been minimal, if not non-existent.

“Bodybuilders who have won in international competitions have never been acknowledged here in the Philippines. If you’re part of that sport, it’s heartbreaking,” acknowledged Rep. Mark Aeron Sambar of the Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA) partylist.  “We just want to be recognized, at least somebody says, ‘Good job.’ Most of the time, that doesn’t happen in the Philippines. That’s one of the jobs of our office.”

This early, Unified has already received the nod of the IFBB to be the national federation in the Philippines. But they still do not have Philippine Olympic Committee recognition, and therefore cannot be given financial support by the Philippine Sports Commission. Cortuna is slated to fly to the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio on Feb. 27. The consensus is that he has a really good shot at winning. However, as of Monday, funds were stll being raised for his trip, and he will travel to the competition alone. Cortuna was announced on the IFBB website as one of the competitors to watch out for in Ohio.

But beyond the competition, Unified’s goal is to promote a healthier Philippines. This was one of the reasons for Schwarzenegger’s fame in the early 1970’s, even before he started appearing in films like “Conan the Barbarian” and “Terminator”. He often spoke of how much richer life was for those who practiced the sport.

“There are a lot of people out there who are sick, who are trying to get out of a certain condition, who are clueless,” said Unified board secretary Rock Dauden, echoing the sentiment.

Sambar promised to help Unified in its efforts to gain POC recognition, but also cautioned against the trappings of success once the organization achieves its goals.

“You owe it to the people who want to become bodybuilders to be strong. We’ve seen it in other NSAs,” he said. “Once they become big, they forget the people they need, especially the athletes. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit, as long as we get the job done. Unified is a great name for your organization. My only hope is that you live up to that name. We are embroiled in too much bickering, too much politicking in sports.”

Now the spadework begins in earnest.

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The Fast Ateneo Swim Team (FAST) will hold its annual Ateneo Aquathlon on March 4 at the Ateneo de Manila University campus. The event includes 3K and 5K runs and 400-meter and 600-meter swims and is open to the public. Interested parties may e-mail dearaneta@gmail.com.

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