THE PRIDE, THE GLORY AND THE VANQUISHED
By Bert Mendez
Over the week, sports fans' feeling of pride was its highest punctuated with the taste of glory in the field of chess in contrast to the vanquished and disappointing performance of the national basketball team's one-win, four-loss showing in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge Cup.
Asia's first grandmaster Eugene Torre provided a silver-lining for the country when he emerged with the highest total by any participant in the 11-round biennial event of the 42nd Chess Olympiad in Baku Azerbaijan. But he settled for just a bronze since tournament regulation gives the gold to the chesser who ends up with the highest performance rating. The 64-year-old Torre eked out a marathon win over International Master Moulthun Ly of Australia to finish unbeaten as he scored 10 points out of the possible 11 on nine victories and two draws.
Ironically, the gold went to former Philippine team top board player GM Wesley So, who represented eventual champion United States. He emerged with a performance rating of 2896, beating silver medal winner GM Zoltan Almasi of Hungary (2845) and Torre (2836).
Torre's bronze, however, shone like gold as the many-time Olympiad veteran took his first medal since snatching a silver in the 1974 edition in Nice, France where he also became Asia's first ever GM.
The crowning glory at the Baku Chess Olympiad, was that of Filipina young chess player, Janelle Mae Frayna who finally fulfilled her dream of becoming the country's first ever woman Grandmaster. Frayna drew with IM Davaademberel Nomin=Endene on board one to clinched her third and last WGM result in the ninth round of the biennial meet.
The 20-year Frayna, a senior psychology candidate for cum laude honors at Far Eastern University, amassed the required 6.0 points on four wins, four draws and one loss. Frayna narrowly missed the WGM title in the World Juniors in India last month where she placed fifth.
Torre and new woman chess grandmaster Frayna will receive cash incentives from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) for theIr accomplishment in the World Chess Olympiad.
PSC chairman William "Butch" Ramirez said Torre will be rewarded P100,000 by the government sports agency and likewise to the newly-minted Filipina WGM Frayna, P50,000 after becoming the first Filipina grandmaster.
The PSC chairman is also working on bringing Torre and Frayma to an audience with President Rodrigo Duterte for a courtesy call along with Josephine Medina, who won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games in table tennis competition.
Meanwhile, in the eyes of Gilas Pilipinas 5.0 coach Josh Reyes, his young players passed their baptism of fire despite failing to make the quarterfinals of the Fiba Asia Challenge in Teheran, Iran.
The young Gilas squad made up exclusively of former and present college standouts like Mac Belo, Kevin Ferrer, and Mike Tolomia among others, due to the unavailability of PBA players and top amateur stars, had a rude introduction to the big stage as the national team managed just one win in five outings.
Reyes announced Friday that the team is back from Iran, and he went on to thank top basketball patron Manny V. Pangilinan and other Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) officials led by president Al Panlilio, Ricky Vargas and Sonny Barrios for the support.. He praised his players for their "dedication, bravery and all-out effort" that may not have shown in their record but he clearly saw from the sidelines since the team’s formation.
"I just want to express how extremely proud I am of our young Gilas men who gave 100% of themselves through the whole campaign,” Reyes said. “They did everything I asked of them with the best of their abilities. They stood their ground, took the hits, and never backed down.”
The Philippines official bowed out of the competitions in Teheran, Iran after absorbing a 119-105 loss to the taller and more experienced Jordan squad. They also lost in the preliminary rounds against India, 91-83, and Chinese-Taipei, 87-76 and to China in the next grouping matches, 75-65 but registered its only win against Kazakstan, 98-86 before the Jordan defeat.
Gilas 5.0’s performance in the 2016 FIBA Asia Challenge reminded us that there still a lot of work to be done. However, it also served as proof that the Philippines has willing and able youngsters who’ll proudly represent the country in any competition.