Very few can say that they have Eugene Torre for a neighbor.
I can, and make a big deal out of it a bit even if I do not live exactly next door to him.
If you don’t know Torre, the Philippines’ and Asia’s first grandmaster, then you must have been checkmated early in what you thought was going to be your sport, even career, of choice—chess.
He lives just a few houses away from my place where I see him quite often half-jogging around the residential subdivision in Katipunan (Quezon City) to which he moved just a few months ago.
Eugene now plays golf, not competitively he tells me, in between chess tournaments here and abroad.
It is evident that he does play this “other” sport because I see him, even when he is just casually walking around the block, carrying a golf club.
At 63, Torre is looking good, thick of hair and extremely pleasant and it is quite hard to imagine that he has been pushing chess pieces across the board for almost 50 years (he became Asia’s first GM when he was 22, or just out of college).
To my surprise, during the most recent that we bumped into each other last week, especially when our conversation drifted to government support for athletes on the top of their game after all these years like him, he did not whine about being neglected by the country’s top sports bodies and their movers.
According to him, he managed, for example, to make it, in 1982, to the Candidates Matches—a successful stint here means a chance to challenge the reigning world chess champion—with the barest of personal resources and a little help from the government (he lost in the quarterfinals to Hungary’s Zoltan Ribli).
Sadly, the same sense of gratitude—for whatever help they get from the state—is lacking among the younger generation of athletes, and perhaps not just woodpushers, who seem to privately, even publicly, blame all but themselves for a poor showing in international tournaments.
Not that their complaints are to be dismissed, partly because they come up as a result of this batch of men and women in their 20s having to suffer for the in-fighting, for example, among top brass in volleyball and, yes, chess.
With their supposed mentors not making themselves good examples, these athletes are made to fend for themselves for inspiration and possibly resources for their training that are long in coming because of layers of bickering bureaucrats not signing checks for new track shoes or badminton racquets.
Still, it’s the athlete-against-the-world reality that should propel potential winners (not second- or third-best) to do splendidly well in competitions.
Meaning, it’s the hurdler racing against the clock despite, perhaps, running on borrowed kit because overlords of the sports body governing his discipline ran away with the money for his jersey, shorts, etc.
The self-respecting athlete should not blame lack of government support for his or her loss(es) in local and international tournaments—it’s a cheap shot for either of them to take.
If you are good enough like Eugene Torre, with or without state funding, you’ll go places for a long, long time.
Eugene, incidentally, is going to a seniors’ chess tourney in Italy this coming November, and also the last time we met, government support or whatever he never mentioned it at all.