BOLT HITS A TREBLE IN RIO | OLYMPIC COVERAGE FALLS FLAT ON LOCAL TV | AUSTRIAN OUSCHAN STRIKES 9-BALL GOLD | BIG TIME AUTO RACING COMES TO CLARK
By Ted Lerner
Yes the costs to host the Olympics can and do bankrupt nations. But after all the negativity and hand wringing that the Rio Olympics would be one massive flop, it appears that the Brazilians pulled off a marvelous games. It’s true that some of the venues often appeared only half full. But that’s understandable as the cost of tickets represented a month’s salary for many Brazilians. From what I saw of the Games, though, and I tried to watch as much as local TV would allow me, the organizational effort came shining through and fans that did attend were having a blast. Brazilians are very cool people and they were superb hosts to the world.
In the end it’s always about the athletes and the amazing feats they regularly accomplish. Watching these superbly trained men and women from literally every corner of the globe compete for Olympic glory in sports that normally get them little or zero recognition is just downright fun and inspiring. Isn’t it great to watch so many different nations do battle in sport rather than in war?
Some of the action just takes your breath away. Jamaica’s out of this world star Usain Bolt did it again, galloping to easy golds in the 100 meterS, 200 meterS and 4 x 100 meter men’s relay. It was the charismatic Bolt’s third straight Olympics where he won all three glamor events, a feat not likely to be topped or repeated for generations to come. And did you see him smile even before he crossed the finish line in the 200 meters? This man is simply sensational.
The USA’s Michael Phelps won another slew of gold, upping his career total to an astounding 23 golden discs. It can be said that swimmers win so many medals because they have so many events to compete in, but still, Phelps has cemented his place among the all-time greats.
How about the USA’s Simone Biles, defying gravity and taking gymnastics to unprecedented levels while winning the all-around gold.
A spectacular moment came right at the end of the games when Brazil won the one gold they probably wanted most, in football, taking revenge Germany at the Macarena stadium in a penalty shootout.
Of course it’s not just about the big names that seem to hog the headlines. There are literally hundreds of incredible stories that come out of the Olympics from athletes that are little known who achieve greatness and still walk away mostly unknown.
What’s amazing when you watch them compete and start to learn about their backgrounds is that almost to a person, they’ve all had had issues on their incredible journeys, disappointments, injuries, setbacks. But they persevere. And even when they win a bronze, they are always grateful and thankful just having had the experience.
The Olympics has also clearly done a lot for women athletes and women in general. There were some brilliant women athletes in Rio, many you will never hear about. But each one does so much to advance the cause of girls and women in every part of the globe.
Overall these athletes, who most of us don’t get to see more than once every four years, set the most amazing examples for people and how things should be in this world. Call me sappy but it really is true.
Of course watching the Olympics properly here in the Philippines proved to be quite the challenge, a would-be Olympic sport all in itself.
The rights to air the Olympics in the Philippines were bought by TV-5, which is owned by the same outfit that runs the telecommunications company, Smart. Any of you who use Smart as your mobile carrier can probably guess how this all went down.
It took me about two days into the games to figure out that TV-5 was actually showing the official Olympic broadcast on their sports channel, 107 on Converge Cable. Of course TV-5 never revealed this information, and I had to find this out simply by chance. When I discovered this, I got excited and I figured I would now be able to watch all kinds of Olympic sports at my leisure 24 hours a day. Not exactly.
The Olympics airs a feed from its Olympic Broadcasting System(OBS) and it’s quite comprehensive and enjoyable to watch, when you get a chance to watch it. They show you an entire event with amazing camera angles, great on-screen graphics and generally good commentary. For the first few days I was able to catch many events, like basketball games, the marathon, boxing, weightlifting, and many other sports being shown in their entirety.
But the programmers at TV-5 clearly had no clue what they were doing. Sometimes they showed the most bizarre events, like when they aired the entire basketball game between Croatia and Nigeria. This happened at the exact same time the gymnastics and swimming was going on. I know Filipinos love basketball, but cut me a break folks.
There was simply no rhyme or reason for anything that was being aired, and not aired. For the first week you could catch the events live from Brazil when you got up in the morning, or late at night here and live in the daytime in Rio. But on other days, TV-5 and channel 107 would be showing infomercials for weight loss gadgets instead of the men’s 200 meter. The greatest events of the Olympic games were literally live at that moment and the official local broadcaster was airing an infomercial to help people reduce flab!
For a few days during the games my family and I went to Batangas on a holiday and stayed at a family member’s house. They had Cignal Tv there which is also owned by TV-5 and Panganilan. We tried to watch the men’s long jump competition and the marquee event, the men’s 100 meters, all which appeared sensational. I say “appeared” because the signal of the broadcast kept cutting out every few seconds and you could barely watch it.
With the traditional television proving to be a no-go area, I searched online for Olympic feeds. This is when I discovered that TV-5 was actually broadcasting several OBS feeds from Rio on its Youtube channel. This was brilliant in theory. There were around eight different channels showing various events in their entirety and lots of recap shows produced by OBS.
But in a Philippines context, this was a case of putting the cart before the horse. The Philippines isn’t ready to stream anything live online because the internet still sucks in this country. A lot of the feeds were pixelized and often buffering, forcing me to give up trying to watch.
Surely the idea of the local host broadcaster putting everything on line is, in essence, sheer genius. The idea is to let the viewers watch what they want, when they want. Sadly as usual, however, telecommunications can be quite a challenge in the Philippines.
I wonder if the internet will improve in time for the next Olympics four years from now in Tokyo?
Fans of 9-ball pool in the Philippines don’t quite get the action that they did ten years ago, when the professional game was going gang busters in this country. A decade ago, the Philippines was truly the center of the pool universe as one major tournament after another came through Manila.
It all peaked in 2006 and 2007 when the World Pool Championship was held in Manila. Hundreds of the top pool players from around the world descended upon the nation’s capital to do battle in events that were seen by well over 100 million people around Asia on the ESPN/Star network.
These days pool is a shell of itself in the Philippines. There are still plenty of pool halls and bars with tables filled with players, but the big time professional tournaments have totally disappeared. The sport was brought down by political infighting and jealousy among the top managers and promoters, driving sponsors far, far way.
But just about the time the Philippines pool scene started to go down, the game found a willing home in in area of the world that many people may find surprising; the Middle East.
I just returned from ten days in the blazing hot city of Doha, Qatar where I worked as the press officer for the World Pool Billiard Association, the governing body of the sport of pool, for their annual premiere event, the World 9-ball Championship. This was the 7th straight year that Qatar has hosted the sport of pool’s most prestigious tournament. Just like in Manila ten years ago, the world’s best players gathered for a week of the very best pool action on the planet.
The 2016 World 9-ball Championship was won by Austria’s Albin Ouschan, who defeated American great Shane Van Boening, 13-6 in the final. The 25 year old Ouschan has been a rising player for the last two years and was a runner up two years ago in Doha to the Netherlands’ Niels Feijen, a regular visitor to the Philippines.
American Van Boening has certainly proven that he is one the world’s best players over the last ten years. He’s won the prestigious US Open 9-ball tournament four times and a slew of other tournaments. But the 9-ball crown has proved quite elusive for the 30 year old Van Boening. He has now finished runner up on the World 9-ball championship two years in a row.
Why, you might ask, would a small country like Qatar get into backing a sport like pool? Well it should first be pointed out that pool is a sport under the Olympic umbrella. No cue sport has ever appeared in the Olympics. But the sport is governed under the Olympic system and in similar fashion to other Olympic sports. Many sports that never appear in the Olympics are nonetheless under the Olympic umbrella.
Being under the Olympic system means that the sport is now officially recognized by many governments around the world as a legitimate sport. Thus, many nations’ Olympic committees give proper funding to pool, and have national teams, federations, and regular tournaments.
About 15 years ago, as a tiny oil rich nation awash in natural gas money, Qatar set about trying to become known as a place that hosted and supported big time sporting events. Since then Qatar regularly has regularly hosted all kinds of international sporting contests with players coming from all over the world to compete in a myriad of sports like handball, Moto-GP, basketball, football, pool, swimming, tennis and more. In 2022, Qatar will take its biggest leap yet in its quest to be a world renowned sports country when it hosts the FIFA World Cup.
One of the benefits and side effects of having a regular World 9-ball Championship is that it tends to make the game popular in that country and around the region. One of the biggest revelations at this year’s World 9-ball Championship was just how far players from around the Middle East have progressed. Serious world class pool players have emerged from the most unlikely of countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Eritrea, Bangladesh, Qatar, Lebanon and Jordan. I met the head of the Saudi pool federation and he told me that there are over 14,000 registered pool players inside Saudi Arabia. Who knew?
It’s more than a little ironic that most of these Middle Eastern players have received their pool training from Filipino pros. As the game fell apart in their homeland, hundreds of Filipino pool pros headed to the Middle East where they got jobs in the many pool halls as house pros, or with national teams as coaches. These OFW pool coaches were one of the main reasons that the level of play has soared across the region.
Several years back these Middle Eastern players entered the World 9-ball just for the experience knowing they had little chance of winning. Now many Middle Eastern players are serious threats to beat even the best in the world. While no Middle Eastern player has ever gone past the final 16 in the World 9-ball championship, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before one of them makes it to a semi-final, and maybe one day even wins the world title.
It’s a testament to the money and effort that the Qatar Olympic Committee, through the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation, has poured into the game over the last seven years.
Money, organization, vision and a distinct lack of politics. It’s a recipe for success in the sporting world.
If you are a fan of auto racing, and/or you are looking for something interesting and fun to do, definitely check out the weekend of auto racing at the Clark International Speedway September 9-10.
Clark has its own race car track, you ask? Yes indeed. The owners don’t seem to do too much local advertising but they have poured millions of pesos into this smart looking facility behind Texas Instruments and across from the old Expo Filipino.
The Vios Cup Season 3 looks like it will provide plenty of fun and entertainment for even non-racing fans. 55 modified Toyota Vios’ will be competing in six races. Qualifying racing takes place on Friday the 9th, while the actual races themselves get going on the 10th.
One of the unique aspects of the Vios Cup is that many of the 55 modified Toyota Vios’ will be driven by Filipino celebrities. Jericho Rosales, Arci Munoz, Sam Yg, Joyse Pring and others are scheduled to be on hand.
Several foreigners are among the drivers and one of them is Steve Bicknell, an Englishman who makes his home in Angeles City. Steve says fans at past Vios cups absolutely loved the event because they are allowed access to the drivers, cars and the exciting behind the scenes action.
“It’s very close racing, every race is nose to tail,” Bicknell said. “All the cars are the same engine, same horse power. It’s a great spectator sport, free admission, free meet and greet. Fans can have a chance to meet the celebrities, get a look at the cars, get into the pits. It’s all good fun. Just make sure to get there early.”
Fans who want to meet the celebrity drivers and get up close to the cars and pits should arrive around 9am on Saturday. Admission is free.