It's the human and fun side of our sports heroes

Davao City standout eyes gold in 9th Flexible Cup


MANILA — The country’s top table tennis players, led by world championship round-of-16 qualifier John Russell Misal of Davao City, predict a good finish when the 9th Flexible Cup International Table Tennis Championships get underway at the Harrison Plaza Activity Center in Manila on Friday.

Even the presence of well-known foreign players from China and six other countries in the three-day competition organized by the Table Tennis Association for National Development (TATAND) is not enough to discourage the Filipinos.

“Pipilitin ko pong manalo. Ang target ko po talaga ay yung gold medal (in the men’s singles). At yung experience ko sa World Championship sa London ay malaking advantage para sa akin (I will try to win. My target is the gold medal. My experience in the World Championships in London is my advantage),” Misal said during his appearance at the 10th “Usapang Sports” presented by the Tabloid Organization in Philippine Sports (TOPS) at the National Press Club (NPC) in Intramuros, Manila.

Misal, who earned a lot of respect when he upset local hero Ashley Stokes and reached the round-of-16 in the World Championship of Ping Pong held in London last Jan.uary 26-27, is hoping to join tryouts for the 30th Southeast Asian Games.
“Nung tinalo ko siya (Stokes), nagulat na lang ako dahil marami nang mga bata ang nagpa-autograph sa akin dun sa London (When I defeated him, I was shocked because many asked for my autograph in London),” said the 22-year-old Misal, who was named UAAP Most Valuable Player while representing National University in 2017.

TATAND honorary president Charlie Lim said the three-day competition will also showcase top talents from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, England, Chinese Taipei, and the United States.

“The competition here is tough with the presence of international players. But I expect the Filipinos, especially John Russell, to hold their ground,” said Lim, who accompanied Misal in the weekly sports forum supported by the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and NPC.

Lim said Misal promised to play his best in the Flexible Cup and prove that he deserves a slot in the Philippine team even though he was not allowed to join the national tryouts.

“Gusto ko talagang sumali sa tryout at maglaro sa SEA Games pero gusto nila pumirma ako at talikuran ko ang grupo ko at maglaro sa kanila (I really wanted to join the tryout and play in the SEA Games but they want me to sign and leave my group to play for them),” Misal said.

“Para sa akin, dapat bigyan ng karapatan na maglaro sa bansa ang lahat ng Pilipino, anuman ang grupo na kinabibilangan niya (For me, every Filipino should be given a chance to play for the country whatever group he belongs to),” he added.

The Flexible Cup has 20 events for men and women with the overall team champion taking home PHP50,000 and the male and female open singles winner pocketing PHP10,000 each.

More than 400 players have already signed up for the biennial tournament, which is being supported by Flexible Packaging Corp.

Lim takes pride in TATAND having produced the late Ian Lariba, who earned the distinction as first Filipina to compete in the Olympics.

“TATAND is here to help our young table netters to fulfill their dreams,” Lim said.

Leading the foreign cast are former Asian champion Yon Mardiyono of Indonesia, and Chen Lei Xin of Xie Chong of China.

Also expected to make their mark in the event are the Cebu Huaching team composed of former No. 1 Richard Gonzales, Jann Nayre, and Stephen Jaca.

The other notable participants in the Flexible Cup are reigning UAAP champion the University of Santo Tomas, defending NCAA champion College of St. Benilde, Phil Fleet Marine Team, Philippine Army Team 7, and PNP Crime Lab-Altruists, the Omila Sports Academy of Gensan.

In the high school division, the early favorites in the mixed team event are Adamson/Letran team of Karlo Almacem, Jed Villavira, Jesmaine Tayag, Aljay Villena and Kathlyn Gabisay; La Salle of Dino Marcelo, Ej Yamson, Angel Joyce Laude, Sm Bautista and Danielle Marcelo; Malaysian team of Lee Xin Ni, Vivian Ng, and Chin Wei Jie. (PR)