Unfinished business for Obiena

October 02, 2019
Ernest John Obiena
Philippines' Ernest John Obiena competes in the Men's Pole Vault heats at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on September 28, 2019. / AFP / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

WORLD-CLASS Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena may have been winning a couple of prestigious tournaments in Europe the past two months, but there is still an unfinished business that needs to be done back in Southeast Asia.

Obiena was the pole-vault favorite for the gold in the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games, but he sustained an ACL injury during practice a day before he was to leave for Malaysia.

A seven-month rehabilitation period, followed by an intense training in Formia, Italy under Vitaly Petrov, who was a coach of pole vault legend Sergei Bubka, had Obiena bouncing back from his horrendous injury.

Obiena’s training was ensured through financial support from the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

“We are monitoring EJ’s (Obiena) progress,” PSC Chairman William Ramirez said. “Athletics, being a centerpiece event of the SEA Games, was infused with government support as is usual in the international events our athletes take part in.”

“And lately, EJ has proved himself more in his desire to chase his SEA Games dream. We, in the PSC, are with him. Let us support EJ and the other Filipino athletes,” Ramirez added.

The proofs were his performances in the Golden Spike of Ostrava and the International Stabboc Spring Meeting in Germany, where his respective leaps of 5.45 and 5.51 in the said tournaments, erased the 5.35 meters, set by Porranot Purshong of Thailand in the KL meet. This also effectively installed him as one of the favorites coming into the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games.

But Obiena netted a mere 5.30 meters for 7th place in the Asiad, and was even upstaged by his Southeast Asian rival, Thailand's Patsapong Amsamang, whose 5.5 meters was good enough for the bronze.

A year later, Obiena has put that Asiad debacle behind as he cracked the world's Top 10 Pole Vault rankings on the strength of his victories in the 2019 Summer Universiade in Napoli, Italy, where he leapt for 5.76 meters, followed by another gold-medal feat (5.81meters) in the Men’s Pole Vault competition of the Salto Con L’asta in Piazza Chiari 2019 in Italy.

The Chiari feat made him the first Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“I'm just trying to look forward and see what there is this year, what happened this year, how good this year has been, " Obiena said, looking forward to getting back at his Thai rival Amsamang, who is currently ranked no. 57 in the world.