A father’s wish for Obiena

Joaquin Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — It’s a long shot for pole vaulter EJ Obiena to land a podium finish in the Tokyo Olympics but his father and assistant coach Emerson said anything is possible if the stars are aligned when the 6-2 Tondo bet faces the bar. Obiena’s personal outdoor best is 5.87 meters while defending Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil topped Rio with a leap of 6.03 and Swede Armand Duplantis holds the world record of 6.15.

Obiena, 25, is ranked No. 6 in the world and will see action with 30 other contenders in the Tokyo qualifying round on Saturday. At least 12 vaulters who register the still to be determined minimum height will advance to the final on Aug. 3. Associated Press picked the 5-11 Duplantis. 21, to claim the gold with 6-1 American Sam Kendricks, 28, settling for the silver and 5-9 1/2 Frenchman Renauld Lavillenie, 34, the bronze. Lavillenie, however, suffered an ankle injury while warming up for a competition two weeks ago and may not perform to form. Track and Field News magazine predicted the same first and second placers but chose 6-1 American KC Lightfoot, 21, for the bronze. Kendricks’ personal best is 6.06. Lavillenie, the 2012 gold and 2016 silver medalist, has a personal best of 6.05. Lightfoot’s best is 5.85.

“May chance si EJ sa podium, based sa kaniyang mga performances this outdoor season,” said Obiena’s father, a SEA Games silver (1995) and bronze (2005) medalist in pole vault. “Sa Olympics, kung anong height na kailangan para manalo, ‘yun ang pagsisikapan niya makamit. Nandoon ako para mag-assist kay coach Vitaly (Petrov). Ang advice ko kay EJ ay just do your best and enjoy the moment. Bilang ama, ang wish ko ay maabot niya ang kaniyang pangarap.”

Although Petrov is listed as Braz’ coach in Tokyo, PATAFA president Philip Juico said the Ukrainian guru will also watch over Obiena. “It’s not uncommon,” said Juico. “Whoever is able to execute will be the deciding factor.” Osteopath Antonio Guglietta and physiotherapist Francesco Viscusi, both Italians, are on Obiena’s team aside from his father and Petrov. PATAFA secretary-general Terry Capistrano and marketing/communications head Edward Kho are in Tokyo with Obiena. The other PATAFA Olympian is Kristina Knott who will compete in the 200-meter heats on Aug. 2. Knott is accompanied by coach Rohsaan Griffin and strength/conditioning coach Carlo Buzzichelli.

Obiena’s father said E J started vaulting at eight although his focus was hurdles. “There was no pole vault competition for boys his age,” he said. “Opportunity to compete came when he went to high school and was able to dominate in college so pole vault became his major event. In the beginning, I only wanted him to enjoy and have fun. When he turned 14, I realized he was above average in understanding movements. He was not strong yet because he was young but he was clearing heights better than some college athletes. The way he carried and planted the pole was efficient which made up for his lack of strength during his early teens.”

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