The Year in Philippine Sports: Typhoon surge of comebacks
The STAR Sports Staff (The Philippine Star) - December 25, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It was a year of dazzling and rippling comebacks that touched off a resurgence of national pride only to see it lose its luster with the nation’s so-so finish in a low-tiered regional games.

There were Filipinos who claimed world titles in various fronts and a gold in chess in Universiade and an all-time high in world ranking achieved by the emerging football heroes that warmed the heart.

But they paled in comparison when ranged against the scintillating comeback from the basketball limbo to the world stage through the saga of the Filipino cagers in those “11 days in August,” coming in second in the cutthroat rumble for the top two slots in the FIBA Asia Championship before a roaring crowd at the MOA Arena.

And the comeback in Macau by Manny Pacquiao, whose return to the ring after a devastating loss seized the interest of the nation.

It was more than just a redemption for the Filipino icon, a restoration of the fans’ faith on the people’s champ, and a balm that eased the pain of a nation hit by a super typhoon.

The Filipinos have languished for 38 years before finally reclaiming their storied place in world championship as Gilas Pilipinas placed second behind Iran in the FIBA Asia before millions of Filipinos in a feat made memorable by their gut-wretching stand against the fancied Koreans on the eve of the finals.

These are the highlights in Philippine sports in the year about to end, the best of them far outweighing the worst of them. The poor finish in the year-ending Southeast Asian Games in Myanmar was only a dent and negligible in the last 12 months that could best be remembered for the resiliency and courage best typified by the survivors of the super typhoon and embodied in the feats of the Filipino athletes’ comebacks.

Here are The STAR’s Top 10 sports stories for 2013.

1 – Gilas’ 11 ‘glory days’ in August

What was once feared to be a wringer of a run for the Worlds turned out to be 11 memorable days for Team Gilas as Philippine basketball finally claimed its old place in the world stage with a second place finish in the FIBA Asia qualifier.

The Gilas 5 silenced the doubters and critics as it made a courageous stand for 10 days capped by its emotional victory over arch rival South Korea, 86-79, before 20,000 fans at the MOA Arena that formally clinched a berth for next year’s World Championship in Spain. It was a stirring display of heart and desire in 40 minutes of unrelenting court action, giving the nation a night to remember. There is a hangover of pride and joy from the victory that fans willed the Filipinos on before they succumbed in the final game against the mighty Iranians.

The return to the world meet meant a lot to the nation which made a storied comeback to the world stage after 35 years in hoops limbo since the 1978 World Championship in Manila.

Behemoth Marcus Douthit, the tower of power of Gilas Pilipinas, crumbled to the floor writhing in pain just 15 minutes into the match. He never returned to the game, but Gilas’ homegrown stars seized the moment, leaning on their sheer fighting heart to beat the Koreans in their semifinal match.

Ranged against the heavily favored Iran team in the finale, the Filipinos fell short and failed to win it all, unable to break down the towering Iranians.

Still, Gilas Pilipinas and the Filipino crowd stood proud and content holding a ticket to the 2014 FIBA World Cup plus the silver medal that glittered like gold in FIBA Asia event.

2 – Pacman redeems self in Macau

It was one showdown in Macau in November that meant a lot to Manny Pacquiao. He was coming in from a devastating loss that raised some questions on whether he was on the wane as a marquee fighter.

And the dilemma was further compounded by his own resolve to win the fight and offer it to the victims of the super typhoon in the Visayas.

There loomed a double victory or a double whammy.

But like the vintage Pacquiao, he swiftly restored the faith of his fans as he unloaded his famous boxing skill against Mexican-American Brandon Rios and finished the bout with a sheer display of ring craftmanship.

Pacquiao turned Rios into a virtual 147-pound punching bag even as his younger opponent vowed or had bragged to send the Filipino icon into retirement.

A fight broke out between the trainers of the two boxers over the use of the gym just days before the fight. That proved to be more thrilling than the fight itself.

Rios got paid $4 million to make Pacquiao look good.

The lopsided win over Rios squelched talks about Pacquiao’s retirement after a horrifying knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand on a cold November night in Vegas and a previous setback to American Tim Bradley.

It also revived talks of a super-fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.  But the year’s about to end and it looks like Mayweather is not taking the bait.

Pacquiao may end up fighting anyone among Tim Bradley, Ruslan Provodnikov or Juan Manuel Marquez. 

But just a couple of days after the fight, Pacquiao found himself in the eye of a storm – charges of tax-evasion from the BIR and the IRS.

3 – Filipinos suffer worst SEAG finish

With only 29 gold medals to show, the Philippines went to its worst finish in 36 years since the Philippines joined the Southeast Asian Games in 1977.

The 210 athletes sent by the 24 national sports associations and accredited by the Philippine Olympic Committee were the best considered to come out of intensive training for the biennial meet. Yet they could win only six percent of the total golds at stake in 36 sports. The rest were shared by Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The inclusion of new indigenous sports like vovinam, kempo, chinlone and petanque, and new events in chess and traditional boat race favored host Myanmar, which relegated the Philippines to seventh place. But that was not the big factor in the SEAG debacle.

In Olympic sports competition, the Philippines was, at best, sixth overall. The Sinag Pilipinas made the most impressive performance by sweeping all its games to win the country’s 16th men’s basketball crown. Team Philippines had modest gains in athletics (6), taekwondo (4),  wushu (3) and boxing (3). It had two each in golf, billiards and snooker, cycling and Judo and had one each in muay thai, karatedo, rowing and archery.

In the final analysis, the Philippines has become weaker and weaker and the opposition stronger and stronger.

4 – TNT WRITES PBA ‘HIS-3’

 Early in the year, Talk n Text wrote PBA history but spelled it differently: “His-3.”

The Tropang Texters themselves coined that word after sweeping the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in the 2013 PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven finale and became the first team in league history to win the all-Filipino tourney in three straight years.

They copped their third crown in their first tournament under returning PBA coach Norman Black. Before his PBA comeback, Black steered the Ateneo Blue Eagles to a historic UAAP five-peat.

Talk n Text won its previous all-Filipino crowns versus San Miguel Beer then Powerade under coach Chot Reyes.

Alaska Milk beat Barangay Ginebra in the Commissioner’s Cup finale while San Mig Coffee won the Governors Cup crown over Petron Blaze. 

5 – So brilliant, so talented

Grandmaster Wesley So continued to move up the elite circle with his impressive play, breaching the 2700 level with five victories this year.

So topped the Reykjavik Open in Iceland last February, dominated the Calgary Chess Classic in Canada in May, stamped his class in the Las Vegas Chess Festival in the US in June, ruled the Universiade in Kazan, Russia in August before besting the all-GM field in the 17th Unive Chess Tournament in Hoogeveen, Netherlands last October.

Those feats put the 20-year-old So at No. 30 in the world ranking with 2719 rating, the highest ever by a Filipino player.

Because of his stellar play this year, So gained invitation to the exclusive first division of the Category 20 Tata Chess Steel 2014 tournament next month in the Netherlands with the field toting an average rating of 2743.

So has told The STAR that his main goal in the coming year is to improve to 2750 and crash into the top 20. With the way he’s playing, things are looking up for the Filipino whiz.

6 – Fans soak in NBA experience

It was an NBA experience like no other. For the first time, Filipinos were treated to the real NBA match via the NBA Global Games pitting the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers at the MOA Arena in Pasay City last Oct. 10.

It was the first ever NBA game held on local soil, making it extra special for a basketball crazy nation.

Filipino fans got to see stars like Houston’s Dwight Howard, James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik and Indiana’s Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola, George Hill and Lance Stephenson.

There was also NBA commissioner David Stern, who marveled at the Filipinos’ passion for the sport, while NBA legends like Robert Horry, Clyde Drexler, Jalen Rose and Ron Harper also came to spearhead a series of activities in the run-up to the Rockets-Pacers game.

7 – Phl cue masters pocket the big ones

The Philippines has always been a superpower in the game of billiards and in 2013, the Pinoy cue masters validated their claim.

Dennis Orcollo, former world titlist and top-rated player, and Lee Van Corteza, fresh from his conquest of the rich China Open 9-ball tourney, joined forces to bring back the World Cup of Pool title to Phl last September in London. 

The duo eked out a pulsating 10-8 victory over Dutch pair Niels Feijen and Nick Van den Berg to seize the diadem previously won by legendary Efren “Bata” Reyes and Francisco “Django” Bustamante.

Not to be outdone was premier lady ace Rubilen Amit, who essayed her own dramatic ascension to the throne in the Women’s World 10-ball Championship last November in Manila. Amit posted a come-from-behind 10-7 triumph over British Kelly Fisher to become the first two-time winner of the tourney.

She later led Team Asia to a 10-4 rout of Team West in the inaugural Queens Cup and took the 10-ball gold in the Southeast Asian Games.

8 – The return of the mean, Green Archers

La Salle made a surprise coaching change three weeks before the UAAP Season 76 men’s basketball tournament, installing Ginebra assistant Juno Sauler at the helm in place of Gee Abanilla who moved over to Petron in the PBA.

Sauler, a former Archers and coach of a champion DLSU team in the women’s division, and his assistants Allan Caidic and Jun Limpot, did their best to infuse their system within a short getting-to-know-you period. “Improve on a daily basis” was their mantra throughout.

As the “open race” that was the 2013 UAAP caging went on, the Taft-based cagers did become better by the day. After a 3-4 start, Jeron Teng and Co. steamrolled the opposition in the second round, then beat Far Eastern in a playoff for No. 2 and repeated over the Tams in the Final Four to reach the finals.

Ranged against last year’s losing finalist University of Santo Tomas, the first fourth seed to make it past the Final Four, the Archers charged back from a 0-1 deficit with two electrifying victories to secure the coveted crown, setting what could be the start of a dynasty following the fall of five-peat champ Ateneo.

The Archers later crowned themselves Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) to cap a banner season for the Taft-based school.

9 – NCAA: Lions roar to 4-peat

Twice denied of a four-peat, San Beda finally achieved the feat this year, beating arch rival Letran in the NCAA finals to bag its fourth straight championship and seventh in the last eight seasons.

It also snared the Lions their 18th league championship, two ahead of the Knights, who had wished to tie the Mendiola-based squad as the league’s most winningest team.

San Beda annexed a pair of three-peat in 1934-36 and 2006-08 but each time was foiled in its bid for a fourth straight crown.

The Lions, led Nigerian behemoth Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, team skipper Rome dela Rosa and Finals MVP Arthur dela Cruz, will be in a position to tie the San Sebastian-Recoletos’ five-peat (1993-97) next year. But the Lions will have to do it without Dela Rosa, who has used up his eligibility.

The Red Cubs made it a double celebration for San Beda after sweeping the La Salle Greenies in two and securing a five-peat feat in the juniors’ division to hike their total championship to 20, another league high. 

10 – Azkals reach all-time high

Even without winning a major international tournament, the Philippine Azkals still emerged as Southeast Asia’s alpha dogs – at least in terms of standing in the International Football Federation’s world rankings.

The Azkals consistently rose in ranking in 2013, jumping bit by bit from 147th to 127th by year-end and resetting their all-time high in the monthly listing several times. 

The emerging Pinoy booters zoomed to the top among Aseans, outranking Myanmar (130th), Vietnam (144th) SEAG kings Thailand (146th) and AFF Suzuki Cup holders Singapore (150th). Not bad for a nation which once languished in the high 190s.

Their consistent surge was aided by their triumph in the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup group qualifiers last March at Rizal Memorial and their title-retention in the three-nation Phl Football Cup in Bacolod last October, as well as solid showing in international friendlies.

The year wasn’t without controversies for the Azkals. They were subjected to “racial slurs” and “verbal abuse” last June when they played a friendly in Hong Kong, facing the wrath of local audience who were frustrated by the visitors’ 1-0 win and still could not get over the unfortunate 2010 Luneta crisis.

CUP FILIPINO GILAS PILIPINAS LAST PACQUIAO SAN BEDA WORLD YEAR
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