MANILA,  September 24
, 2004 (STAR)  KITCHEN SPY By Heidi Ng - Many are disappointed that the Philippines did not bring home any medals in the recently concluded Athens 2004 Summer Olympics. We long for heroes – Filipinos who exemplify hard work, patience, dedication, perseverance and discipline. We hope for idols who can inspire us to reach for our dreams and achieve them. More than ever, we need people who show dedication to their craft, not just for their personal pride but for their country as well.

We need more people we can look up to: Filipinos who can show the world what Filipinos are capable of achieving. We long for Filipinos who can make us proud, who can put the country’s name on the world’s front page because of their achievements.

Paeng Nepomuceno, named the greatest Filipino athlete of the century, has made us proud for the last four decades. At 19, he made waves in the international scene by being the youngest to win the Bowling World Cup held in Tehran, Iran in 1976. The Bowling World Cup is the largest annual sporting event in the world of bowling and considered the most prestigious and most difficult competition. He followed this up with his second Bowling World Cup in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1980 and became the first bowler ever to win the Bowling World Cup for the second time.

In 1984, he won the International Tournament, a side event in the Los Angeles Olympics, in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is a global competition, to claim the gold medal for the country. So, if only bowling was an official sport in the Olympics and not just a demonstration sport, that would have been our first gold in Olympic history.

"If only bowling and billiards were recognized as official Olympic sports, we could be winning gold medals," Paeng says with a tinge of frustration. In 1992, he earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for winning his third Bowling World Cup in Le Mans, France (check out page 218 of the 2003 edition).

In 1996, he won the World Cup again in Belfast, Ireland.

"At that time, there was a war between the Protestants and the Catholics in that part of Ireland, so while we were playing, helicopters were flying around the area. So, that was memorable and it was pretty dangerous," he remembers.

In 1999, he won a tournament he joined after undergoing a complicated wrist injury. It was the World Tenpin Masters held in London, England. He gained his sixth world title against six other world champions in that competition.

Upon coming home, our national sports hero was awarded the Legion of Honor medal, which is the highest award for a Filipino and the first ever for an athlete, by then President Joseph Estrada. He was also the first Filipino athlete to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit, which was conferred by former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1984.

He was the first athlete to be enshrined in the Philippine Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame after being named five times as Athlete of the Year. Later on, he was named Filipino Athlete of the Century in 1999, which confirmed President Marcos’ naming him earlier in 1984 as the Greatest Filipino Athlete of the Century. Both Houses of Congress named him the Greatest Filipino Athlete of All-Time.

He is the first inductee to the world bowling hall of fame.

"Every athlete’s dream is to be in the Hall of Fame. So whatever I win after that is just icing on the cake," he shares. He even has a seven-foot likeness displayed at the Bowling Museum entrance of the International Hall of Fame and Museum in St Louis, Missouri, USA.

In November 1999, he was awarded the prestigious President’s Trophy by the International Olympic Committee, which is more important than a gold medal in the Olympics. Made of sterling silver and gold, the trophy, signed by Juan Antonio Samaranch, reads: "In recognition of your exemplary achievement as a world champion in three decades and ambassador extraordinaire for the sport of bowling."

Six-time world champion and the only four-time Bowling World Cup champion in three successive decades. Amazing!

To think he just discovered the sport by accident. When he was about 12, they were playing golf in Camp John Hay when it started to rain. They ran to the bowling alley to seek shelter and saw how bowling was played for the first time.

"If we are not playing can we play bowling kahit one or two games lang?" he remembers asking his dad. "After Camp John Hay, I told my dad I wanted to bowl again, so he signed me up for the junior league 18 and below. So, we would meet at the bowling alley to bowl as a team weekly."

He adds, "My dad taught me by reading bowling books, learning through experience and by observation."

It’s interesting to note that he did not even have a professional coach. "Three times a week, I would bowl after finishing my homework," he adds.

He won his first Bowling World Cup during his first year in college. He got some perks for winning gold for the country – in college, he did not have to line up for enrolment, he had his own parking space, President Marcos gave him a scholarship to any college he wanted, and, well, a spanking two-door Mercedes Benz back in 1976!

Truth be told, the hardships outweighed the perks. Being in top form meant constant practice. His dad sacrificed a lot, and up to now still checks on his games twice a week. Perseverance, dedication, discipline and hard work were the ingredients that accounted for his incredible success.

"Nobody’s born a champion. When I started, I ended on the wrong foot, released the ball the wrong way. But if you enjoy what you are doing, you will try to do it better." he stresses. "Bowling is a mental game. It is 80 percent mental. Everyone is skilled, so the person who is better mentally will win the game."

He did not get a lot of money from the government and lived on support from their friends. "If you want to be good, you cannot play in your backyard lang," he says, stressing the importance of an athlete’s exposure to international competitions, which could be very costly.

Paeng’s sporting history is legendary. I call him the Peter Pan of sports. He credits that to eating healthy and still being active. He swims, still bowls and bikes.

For the last two years, he’s been bonding with his son in San Diego where he goes to school. In the US, he is the labandero, driver and cook. When he cooks, he uses non-stick oil spray, which has less fat, or uses olive oil, which is healthier than the normal cooking oils. Today, the Greatest Athlete of the Century cooks up some healthy dishes for Philippine STAR readers. Imagine Paeng holding pots and pans instead of a bowling ball. Interesting, indeed. Something Fishy 6 Tbsps. olive oil

1 Tbsp. garlic, minced

non-stick cooking spray

1/2 labahita fillet, about 300 grams

Spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Cook the garlic in olive oil until it browns. In a separate pan, sauté the labahita fillet in olive oil and wait till it browns. When it’s cooked, pour the cooked garlic on top of the fish. It’s ready to serve. Paeng’s Sitaw With Beef 2 Tbsps. olive oil

1 tali (1/8 k.) sitaw

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. onion

1/4 cup ground meat

2 Tbsps. Kikkoman

4 Tbsps. water

pinch of salt and pepper

Fry the garlic in olive oil until it browns. Add the onion, then the ground beef. Season with Kikkoman. Add the water and the sitaw. Cook till the sitaw softens. Salpicao Strike 1 k. beef tenderloin

1/4 cup minced garlic

4 Tbsps. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Maggi seasoning

olive oil

Cut the beef into 3/4-inch cubes. Stir-fry the beef in olive oil until it browns. Arrange on platter. Season the beef with the Worcestershire sauce and Maggi. Fry the garlic in more olive oil until it becomes toasted. Top the beef with the garlic crunch.

* * *

Feedback is welcome.  E-mail

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved