EJâs rise traced to Petrov
E. J. Obiena
Philstar.com/File
EJ’s rise traced to Petrov
Joaquin Henson (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The man behind pole vaulter E. J. Obiena’s emergence as a serious contender for a podium landing in next year’s Tokyo Olympics is an 82-year-old Ukrainian who dotes on the 6-2 Tondo standout like a son. Vitaly Petrov began training Obiena in 2016 and never left his side as the Olympic qualifier collected a gold, two silvers and two bronzes since the European season started last month.

Obiena didn’t get a call to compete at the ISTAF World Athletics Continental Tour in Berlin last weekend but had done enough in recent competitions in Italy, Monaco, Czech Republic and Poland to raise expectations of a medal finish in Tokyo. He’s booked to see action in a pair of Diamond League meets in Rome tomorrow and in Doha on Sept. 25.

Petrov is credited for honing the skills of two-time world champion and 1988 Olympic gold medallist Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, two-time world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medallist Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia, world champion and 2004 Olympic gold medallist Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy, two-time world champion Fabiana Murer of Brazil and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Thiago Braz of Brazil. Today, Petrov coaches only Braz and Obiena who train at the Pole Vault Center in Formia, Italy, near his home.

“I’ve learned a lot from coach Vitaly,” said Obiena from his apartment in Formia the other day. “Just the way he approaches things sticks with us. He was with me in the competitions since last month.” In the Olympic channel, Obiena added, “training in Italy with coach Vitaly has helped me refine all my techniques…back home, it was just about the rudiments…but now, it’s totally about the scientific and advanced methods of progressing to being the best I can be in my sport.” Petrov is known for introducing the technique of swinging the legs into the vault, generating more energy and relying less on the recoil effect of the bent pole.

PATAFA president Philip Juico said it was Bubka who brought Petrov to his attention. “Coach Vitaly was coaching in the IAAF Pole Vault Center when I assumed the PATAFA presidency,” he said. “Sergey, as IAAF vice president, supported coach Vitaly’s appointment as head of the Pole Vault Center. Sergey came to Manila to campaign for the IAAF presidency to take over from Iamine Diack of Senegal (in 2015). I met Sergey through my immediate predecessor Go Teng Kok. Lord Sebastian Coe was also running for the presidency of the 214-member IAAF, now known as World Athletics. In my conversation with Sergey in Manila, he urged me to apply for an IAAF scholarship in Formia. I did and with Sergey’s support, E. J.’s scholarship was approved.”

Juico said Bubka assured him that Obiena would be cared for by the world’s best pole vault coach Petrov. “After the IAAF elections (which Coe won), I received word that with a new administration, it would be good if I could endorse the retention of coach Vitaly in Formia,” said Juico. “E. J.’s parents Emerson and Jeanette informed me that he was doing great under coach Vitaly so I endorsed his reappointment. But it was only at the 2019 Asian Championships in Doha where I had very few words with coach Vitaly in the stadium. That was when E. J. won the gold and broke the dominance of East Asian athletes from China, Japan and Korea.”

Juico said Petrov hardly spoke during their brief conversation. “He struck me as a very private person,” he said. “Perhaps he didn’t realize that I, presumably one of several, had endorsed his reappointment. E. J. told me that coach Vitaly is like his second father and takes good care of him and does extra things not covered by a ‘concessional’ contract with the Philippines as his coach. He approaches his craft with passion and is a perfect coach for E. J. who’s equally passionate and persevering.”

EJ OBIENA
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