In grief of her father's death on the eve of her toughest race, a very emotional Mary Joy Tabal burst into tears after making history with five straight women's title in the National Milo Marathon. Gloreitta T. Lariosa

The year that was in sports
The Freeman Sports Staff (The Freeman) - January 2, 2018 - 12:00am

In joy and in sorrow,  Tabal touches hearts

CEBU, Philippines — With each passing year, there's always a story of a Cebuano athlete that stands out among the rest.

For 2017, we bestow the distinct honor upon Mary Joy Tabal.

Interestingly, her greatness is measured not as much by what she had accomplished as by the manner she overcomes all the sling and arrows that smack her way on the way to success.

The former Rio Olympian hogged the limelight when she minted the Phillipines' first gold medal in the 29th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games Games by dominating the women's marathon in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last August.

It was no less an emotional victory for the 28-year-old Tabal, who barely made it to Phl's SEAG lineup because of her rift with the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA).

Tabal was only reinstated to the elite national squad after she agreed on a compromise with the PATAFA.

As they say, all's well that ends well.

And Tabal did not disappoint. She paced herself well to come up with a stellar showing in the eight-woman race with an official time of 2:48:26.

Four months later, she is confronted with another challenge. She is seeking for a record five straight crown in the prestigious National Milo Marathon before her hometown fans.

Armed with weeks of rigorous training in the mountains of Italy, she was all primed and ready to have another date with history.

But fate has its own way of teasing her.

On the eve of her title defense, Tabal learned of her father's death.

What was more heart-breaking is that she never got the chance to see her dad Rolando upon her return from a six-week training in Italy.

"I didn’t get to see him before he passed away. He told me not to visit him anymore because she did not want me to lose focus and that we agreed to meet each other after the race," Tabal recalled.

Feeling that her whole world has gone down, Tabal never wanted to race anymore. But knowing that her dad would cheer on her in spirit, she carried on with a heavy heart.

Struggling every step of the way, Tabal personified great courage as she finished the grueling 42.195-kilometer race in grand fashion, becoming first woman to claim the National Milo Marathon Queen crown five times in a row.

She crossed the finish line with tears racing down her cheeks in a bittersweet moment for the Cebuana long distance running star.

Tabal has long been admired for her very inspiring tale. From her humble beginnings as an aspiring athlete from a faraway mountain barangay, she collapsed in her first 10K race but persevered, reaped countless medals and eventually etch her name stone as the first Filipina marathoner in the Olympics. Until now, she reigns as the country's undisputed marathon queen.

But Tabal all the more earned the respect and adulation of many for her fortitude in the midst of adversity.

As she aptly summed it up: "In every big event, there is always a challenge for me. Yet, I know God will not give me something I cannot endure."

That is the beauty of Tabal. In joy and in sorrow, she touches hearts. She radiates hope and inspiration to others.

Aside from Tabal, there are other athletes who deserved to honored for their stirring exploits during the past year. Notable among them are boxers Donnie 'Ahas' Nietes and Milan 'El Metodico' Melindo.

Nietes seized his third world title in a third weight class when he outboxed Komgrich Nantapech for the IBF flyweight  strap last April.  Curiously, Nietes vied for the IBF belt after snaring two WBO crowns in the minimumweight (105 pounds) and light flyweight (108 pounds) divisions. This is where he set the record for being the longest reigning Filipino world boxing champion.

In terms of achievements, Melindo isn't not to far from Nietes.

Melindo annexed the regular IBF light flyweight championship when he scored a smashing first round knockout of erstwhile Japanese champion Akira Yaegashi in May. Milan was the interim champion at that time while Yaegashi was the regular world champion, but it took less then three minutes for Milan to snatch the title in front of Yaegashi’s fans in Japan. Milan went on to defend his throne via a split decision over Hekkie Budler of South Africa.

Melindo then fought against WBA light flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi in a unification bout on New Year's eve in Tokyo, Japan. No matter what the outcome will be (which is already out while you are reading our year-ending piece), Melindo is truly a cut above the rest. Figuring in three world title fights in a seven-month span is no mean feat.

Special mention goes to Jhack Tepora and Jonas Sultan. They may not be world champions but they turned out to be last year’s pleasant surprises in boxing as they scored big wins to beef  up their stock and chances for a world championship.

Tepora, fighting for the first time overseas as a pro, knocked out Lusanda Komanisi in the second round to win the WBO Intercontinental featherweight championship last September in South Africa, another clutch win by a Pinoy on foreign soil.

Sultan, fighting in the shadows of his more popular  tablemates Nietes and Melindo, stunned boxing fans when he defeated former two-time world champion Johnriel Casimero in an IBF super flyweight elimination bout last September. The win bolted him to the top of the rankings waiting for the chance to challenge IBF super flyweight world champion Jerwin Ancajas.

Also noteworthy to mention is Philippine Sports Commissioner Ramon "El Presidente" Fernandez for his no-holds-barred attack against corruption in sports directed mainly at Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Jose 'Peping' Cojuangco. The exposes of Fernandez have unearthed various anomalies that some quarters believe would herald change in Phl sports. In his crusade to exterminate the unscrupulous sports leaders, Fernandez egged on all athletes who fell in the trap of their shenanigans to come out in the open so that the crooks will be punished.

Other credit goes to Fernandez for the active involvement of PSC Visayas in various grassroots development programs topped by the highly successful Children's Games, the agency's springboard towards discovering raw talents and then helping them mold their skills to become champions that could bring honor and glory to the country someday.

In local basketball, the feat of the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers should not go unnoticed. They scored their first double championship since 2007 and sixth all in all in the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation, Inc. (CESAFI).

The Lancers outlasted the University of Cebu (UC) Webmasters, 69-56, in the deciding match of their best-of-three finals series to successfully defend their throne in the collegiate division.

In the juniors level, the Baby Lancers dethroned four-time champions Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu (SHS-AdC) Magis Eagles to end their six-year title drought undefeated in 11 games.

As usual, the staging of the Cobra Energy Drink Ironman 70.3 Philippines was a big hit with Lapu-Lapu City as the main host.

While the Cebu City Niños reigned supreme in the Batang Pinoy-Visayas in Dumaguete City with 49 golds, 59 silvers and 69 bronzes, the Central Visayas delegation powered by Cebuano athletes was a huge embarrassment, barely making it to the 10 in the Palarong Pambansa in Antique with a measly haul of 20 gold, 18 silver and 34 bronze medals.

On the other hand, the inaugural Philippines Football League (PFL) saw Cebu’s bet, the Global Cebu FC, finishing with a first runner-up trophy. More importantly, the league shows the Cebuanos’ love and growing interest for football as each of Global Cebu's home game has attracted hundreds of crowd at the Cebu City Sports Center.

There are many more stories that happened in Cebu sports scene during the past 12 months. But we may run out of space is we will tell them all. It is at this point that we urge everyone to look at the past with insight and brace for what may lie ahead with great optimism.

To our dear athletes who envigorate our sense of purpose and inspire us to write deeply from the heart, and to our avid readers whose unflinching support through the years drives us to work harder and fill up our sports pages with an even better and more meaningful stories in 2018, here's wishing you all a happy and prosperous New Year!   (FREEMANNEWS)

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