“It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf.” H. L. Mencken
By Alex P. Vidal
While some of us were monitoring the violence in Zamboanga last Friday (September 13) midnight, I was glued to my netbook–my thoughts in faraway Doha.
Qatar’s largest city and economic center has played host to the last four editions of the World Pool-Billiard Associations (WPA) World Nine-ball Championships, where the world’s best pool players compete. Last Friday’s championship was very significant for sports historians in the Philippines.
It was the seventh time since the tournament romped off in 1990 in Bergheim, Germany that a Pinoy cue artist made it to the final round. Germany’s Thorsten Hohmann broke the heart of not only Antonio “Gaga” Gabica, the fourth Filipino in history who failed to nail the big victory in the championship, but also of millions of Filipino fans monitoring the event “live” that night.
Most of us thought Gabica already had the trophy in the first half when he zoomed ahead, 6-4. Moments later, Hohmann, who also repulsed Filipino-Canadian finalist Alex Pagulayan for the world title in 2003 in Cardiff, made Gabica, a former Asian Games gold medalist, eat the dust to register a 13-6 victory.
It was in the inaugural staging of the world 9-ball fracas in Doha on June 29-July 4, 2010 where Francisco “Django” Bustamante became the third Filipino to become a world champion when he bested Taiwan’s Kuo Po-cheng, 13-7.
Efren “Bata” Reyes and Renato Alcano were the two other Pinoys who won billiards’ most prestigious world crown — Reyes subduing Taiwan’s Chang Hao-ping in Cardiff, Wales in 1991 and Alcano upending Germany’s Ralf Soquet in Manila in 2006.
Hohmann’s second World 9-ball Championship comes exactly 10 years after he burst on to the international scene with a powerful run through a stacked field in Cardiff, Wales in 2003, according to WPA press officer Ted Lerner. “In the intervening years Hohmann has firmly established himself as one of the greats of this era, consistently winning events big and small all over the globe. He excels at various other pool disciplines as well, especially straight pool, for which he is arguably the best in the world,” he reported.
Lerner further observed that while the last 10 years have placed the 34-year old Hohmann in pool’s elite, his performance in Doha has surely brought his stature into rarefied air.
Along the way to the title he defeated a who’s who of pool strong men, among them the defending world champion Darren Appleton, and five, yes five, top Filipino players, including four in a row down the homestretch.
“And don’t forget to throw in the fact that Hohmann did all this in front of what was essentially a highly partisan home crowd of mostly Filipinos who cheered wildly for their boys. Looked at in total, that’s a masterpiece by anyone’s standards,” Lerner added.
It was my first “live” monitoring of the World 9-ball Championship since 2007 when Britain’s Daryl Peach demolished another Pinoy finalist Roberto Gomez in Manila. Due to recession, organizers canceled the event in 2008 and 2009. When it was revived the following year, it was Bustamante’s time to shine.
The loss to Hohmann ended what had become one of the great Cinderella stories pool had seen in years for Gabica. Lerner said the 41-year-old Filipino had always been known to pool fans as a superbly gifted player, but one who, except for a few occasions, would collapse under the pressure of big time matches. That’s how Thorsten Hohmann broke our hearts one Friday midnight.