Alcano heads contenders for PSA top award

Ronnie Alcano

FROM Manny Pacquiao, Ronnie Alcano to Leo Oracion, just about everybody who made 2006 a bumper crop for Philippine sport stand as a strong contender for Athlete of the Year honor.

The three, along with eight others, are the frontrunners for the top award to be handed out by the Philippine Sportswriters Association in its Annual Awards next month.

Pacquiao, a three-time Athlete of the Year winner, is again in contention for the award along with Alcano and fellow cue artist Efren `Bata' Reyes, bowler Biboy Rivera, Oracion and fellow Mt. Everest conquerors Pastor Emata and Romy Garduche, and Doha Asian Games gold medalists Antonio Gabica, Joan Tipon, Violito Payla and Rene Catalan.

Last year, Team Philippines was the recipient of the PSA's highest award after emerging as overall champion for the first time ever in the Southeast Asian Games. “This is the first time in a long while that a long list of contenders is vying for the Athlete of the Year award. It's a clear proof that Philippine sports is very much alive,” said PSA president Jimmy Cantor. The 28-year-old Pacquiao, feted as Athlete of the Year from 2002-04, won all his three fights this the year, including two sensational knockout victories over legendary Mexican warrior Eric Morales in a trilogy that has the trimmings of a classic.

Alcano's bid is bolstered by his inspiring triumph in the World Pool Championship held in the country for the first time last month.

Given up for dead after losing his first two matches in the group stages, the 34-year-old cue artist from Calamba, Laguna, made it to the knockout stage at the last minute and went on a roll, beating seeded players along the way and capping his Cinderella story with an 17-11 upset of former champion Ralf Souquet in the final.

Reyes was among those whom Alcano defeated on the way to his World Pool title run, but the 51-year–old billiards Hall-of-Famer is making a strong case for himself on account of his spectacular victories in the inaugural World Cup of Pool in South Wales, the San Miguel Asian 9-Ball Tour and the IPT World 8-Ball Championship in Las Vegas.

In winning the 8-ball title at the expense of American Rodney Morris, Reyes won $500,000, easily the biggest ever prize purse in the history of the sport. Reyes was the recipient of the Athlete of the Year award in 1999 and 2001.

Rivera is the latest bowler to contend for the award following his scintillating triumph in the World Men's Bowling Championship in Busan, South Korea. The 32-year old Santo Tomas Tourism graduate delivered under pressure by scoring a perfect game to clinch the Masters crown over Achim Grabowsky of Germany 3-2. It was the third perfect game registered during the meet, but only the 13th in the annals of the tournament formerly known as the FIQ.

Not to be outdone are the quartet of Gabica, Payla, Tipon and Catalan. Their combined four gold medal haul in the recent Doha Asiad helped the country surpass its output in Busan four years ago and produced the best showing by the Filipinos in the quadrennial meet in the last 28 years.

Gabica provided the first RP gold in Qatar by beating Jeff `Bata' de Luna 11-7 in an all-Filipino 9-ball final.

Boxers Payla and Tipon followed suit, hacking out impressive victories against a former world champion from Thailand and a rising pug from Korea in the gold medal matches.

Payla, 27, hammered out a 31-15 victory over Thai Somjit Jongjohor in the men's flyweight class, while Tipon made short work of Han Soon Chui 21-10 in the bantamweight division for a fitting follow-up to his conquest of Athens Olympics silver medalist Worapoj Petchkoom of Thailand in the semifinals. Catalan bagged a first gold for wushu by blanking Vietnamese Phan Quoc Vinh 2-0 in the men's sanshou 52-kilogram final.

And then, there were the mountain climbers. One after the other, Oracion, Emata and Garduche made the country proud in a two-day stretch last May, becoming the first three Filipinos ever to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.