THESE are not your usual athletes.
Each member of the six teams representing different regions that gathered on Friday night in Iloilo City were armed with hardened resolve, steely determination and a dedication to teamwork.
However, instead of muscular physiques, these competitors mostly have hangovers and potbellies - the result of weeks of training where each one tried to down five bottles of beer in the quickest possible time.
In the end, the championship hangover made the sacrifices all worth it for Visayas entry Sugar Barons.
With a time of 39.51 seconds and scarcely a drop left in their bottles, the Sugar Barons made the home crowd proud as they pulled off a hat-trick of titles as the fastest drinkers in the country during the finals of the 14th National Beer Drinking Contest.
Working in relay, each team of five men had to finish five bottles of pale pilsen beer in the least amount of time and the smallest amount of leftovers.
For their accomplishment in the annual event sponsored by beverage giant San Miguel Brewery Inc., the men from Silay City in Negros will share the first prize of P500,000 and bragging rights as the fastest beer drinkers in the country.
Adrenaline probably overcame the effects of alcohol as the Sugar Barons looked like gunslingers as they tapped the digital timer before adopting a ‘bottom’s up’ drinking technique and pinpoint passing (spillage causes penalties) of empty bottles to the next guy in line.
“Unang beses lang naming na-reach yung time na ‘yun. Kahit sa practice hindi namin nagawa iyun,” said Carmelo Batadlan. He was speaking for his ecstatic teammates, aged 38-20 and the leanest group in the field of six.
The 30-year old power firm employee, whose day job is to disconnect the electricity of non-paying customers, said they came prepared to win and consumed a lot of beer in the process.
Starting from June, the team would train four days a week. No one complained when they upped the tempo come October when they trained everyday. A team manager financed the team with beer, food and occasional massages to keep them properly conditioned.
Coaching them was the mother-in-law of one of the team members who won in the same event in 1999 and had just one piece of advice for the team, “kapag bukas ng bunganga, lunok lang ng lunok.”
“Hindi kami ninerbiyos, buo ang loob naming kahat,” Batadlan said, crediting their advantage to rosaries each man had during the competition witnessed by a crowd of hundreds who cheered them on.
The national beer-drinking contest may be unique, but SMB trade promo and merchandising manager Bobby Minosa said the competition - at its score - is still about simple joys, togetherness, genuine friendships and samahan.
"This year, these values take on a deeper, more significant meaning. And we are committed to doing our best to put out a good show and use the event to help our countrymen who are in need," he said.
The champion team - whose other members were Marlon Pogosa, Jospeh Abayon, Rufino Hechanova, and Jic Catanghal - also pledged to donate a portion of their P500,000 prize to the relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda.
The Balintawak Heroes of GMA North came in second in 43.37 seconds while South Luzon’s Beer Wonders from Palawan finished another second behind in third. They received P200,000 and P100,000, respectively.
The contest also coincided with the “Sagip Mo Bayan” Drink-for-a Cause last November 14-15 at the Plazuela in Iloilo City that raised funds for the company's Keep Hope Afloat program for typhoon victims.
The event featured the country's popular bands - Brownman Revival, Banda ni Kleggy, Callalily and Rivermaya, as well as the famous Dinagyang Festival 2013 champion, the Panayanon Tribe.
Beer-drinkers had the chance to donate to the relief fund as ticket sales and P5 for every bottle sold were set aside for the benefit of the typhoon victims.