Inquirer 7: Unforgettable sports moments in a year like no other
MANILA, Philippines—The 2020 was certainly a different year for sports.
From opening the year with the tragic death of the legendary Kobe Bryant to having the grandest show on earth—the Olympics—cancelled due to the raging COVID-19 pandemic, there were certainly a lot of depressing moments for sports fans this year.
But there were also glimmers of hope.
The NBA successfully finished its season inside a confined bubble in Orlando, leading to local leagues in the country like the PBA to follow suit and continue on despite the challenges that the pandemic has brought.
There were also Filipino athletes who made leaps and bounds in their respective careers.
Yes 2020 may have been a year of immense difficulty but, as sports has always showcased, there’s always that faint light at the end of the the darkness.
Here is the list of Inquirer Sports’ top seven memorable events this 2020.
7. Marcial becomes an Olympian, turns pro; Athletes prosper
The Philippines’ most prolific amateur boxer secured a spot in the Tokyo Olympics as early as March after passing the rigors of the 2020 Asia and Oceania Olympic boxing qualifiers.
Marcial, a three-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist and one-time World Championships runner-up, not only settled for a mere qualifier spot but he also won the whole qualifying tournament outpointing Abilkhan Amankul to take the middleweight gold.
Since then, Marcial has signed a promotional contract with Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions and defeated Andrew Whitfield via unanimous decision in his professional debut.
Other athletes have flourished in their fields like pole vaulter EJ Obiena and karateka James De Los Santos.
Obiena, the first Filipino to qualify for the Tokyo Games, won gold in the 59th Ostrava Golden Spike and in the process defeated Olympic champion Thiago Braz and 2012 winner Renauld Lavillenie.
De Los Santos, meanwhile, pushed eKATA into public consciousness, racking up 36 gold medals in the competition and solidified his place atop the discipline’s world rankings.
6. UAAP, NCAA stop competitions in historic move
The second half of the UAAP Season 82 was just starting off when the league decided to ultimately suspend the competitions on March 10 and making it the first major league in the Philippines to halt its activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It didn’t take too long for the NCAA to follow suit as it canceled the remainder of Season 95 for the same reason.
With no access to vaccine yet in sight, the UAAP has decided to scrap Season 83 altogether while the NCAA is looking to setup a bubble environment for Season 96 in late 2021.
The UAAP and NCAA’s stoppages were a first in recent history as this was the first time that the two leagues stopped competitions since the World War II.
5. Mayhem in Sorsogon
While the UAAP was in a lull, University of Santo Tomas caused quite a stir after its unauthorized training camp in then-coach Aldin Ayo’s private property in Sorsogon.
From former captain CJ Cansino’s revelation of the team’s alleged violations to the Growling Tigers’ core ultimately getting broken up, several issues stemmed from Ayo’s decision to have his players do some “farm” work amid strict quarantine measure.
Such was a deep mess that the Games and Amusements Board, which handles pro sports, was dragged into the fray along with other government agencies.
The investigation, which dragged on for longer than it should’ve been, resulted in the Growling Tigers losing Cansino, Mark Nonoy, Rhenz Abando, Brent Paraiso, and several bench players transferring to other schools.
Ayo, meanwhile, resigned from his post as UST’s basketball head coach and has been banned indefinitely from all league-related activities.
3. PBA finishes season
The 2020 PBA Philippine Cup lasted just a day before league commissioner Willie Marcial and the board decided that it would be a grave danger for them to continue on with the competitions on March 11.
But on October 11, the league defied odds and opened a bubble of its own in Clark, Pampanga to continue the stalled PBA Philippine Cup.
It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means after a couple of false-positive results between a referee and one Blackwater player were recorded, which at the time seemed to threatened the safety of the league.
The league, though, managed to stay on its feet and continue operations, and on December 9 crowned the crowd darling Barangay Ginebra as the All-Filipino conference champion, snapped a 13-year time curse.
It was also inside the bubble that Calvin Abueva finally made his return to the league after a lengthy suspension and arduous process of reinstatement, and he showed that he did not miss a beat, leading Phoenix to a commendable finish.
3. NBA’s Silver bubble ends in purple and gold
Perhaps one of the most notable successes during a dark time in sports and the world in general was the success of the NBA bubble in the United States.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that with meticulous planning and the strictest protocols, continuing the league amid a pandemic can be done.
The NBA played in isolation inside the Walt Disney World in Orlando for 107 days from June to October and recorded zero COVID-19 cases in an ambitious project that looked to be impossible at the start but eventually became the golden standard for any sporting league.
For a total of 172 games, the NBA breathed life and inspiration to a world grappling with the effects of the virus and at the end of it was the Los Angeles Lakers raising banner 17, tying archival Boston Celtics for most titles in the league.
LeBron James emerged as Finals MVP, making him a four-time winner of the prize, capping off a season of unprecedented circumstances.
2. Mamba forever
COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing that rocked sports. In January, one of basketball’s greatest heroes Kobe Bryant perished in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in California.
Shock, sadness, and disbelief swept the world with the sudden news of Bryant’s passing as if it was a horrible dream.
Bryant became the embodiment of the hashtag Girl Dad and was a towering presence for Gianna, guiding Mambacita in her dream of playing for University of Connecticut and eventually in the WNBA.
Never was a death felt more as tributes from not just the NBA but also from the other spectrums poured in honor of the life of Bryant.
NBA legends Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and LeBron James all paid tribute to one of the all-time greats while former Lakers teammate Pau Gasol continued to honor his friend by becoming a constant presence around Vanessa and the Bryant children.
Superstars from other sports like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, Novak Djokovic, David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, Neymar and many others also gave honor to Bryant.
He may have said “Mamba out” in his final game but those who adored Bryant will always say “Mamba forever.”
1. Olympics fell
The greatest sporting spectacle in the world wasn’t spared when COVID-19 ravaged the world, forcing Tokyo officials to postpone its second hosting of the Olympic Games.
There were three other times that the Olympics had been canceled and it was all because of war. The beautiful Japanese city was also supposed the 1940 Summer and Winter Games before it forfeited the rights.
Most of the qualifiers for the 2020 Games were all postponed as well, leaving athletes around the world—including some Filipino hopefuls—with no choice but to stretch their preparations even further amid a difficult time.
With billions of dollars already spent in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, which was initially supposed to open July 9, 2020, Japan’s move to push it back a year was of unprecedented proportions, especially that there’s still no guarantee of the pandemic slowing down by 2021.
But the International Olympic Committee and the government of Tokyo have both committed to making sure the Olympics will be pushing through in 2021–vaccine or no vaccine.
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