World-class Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena has been winning prestigious tournaments in Europe over the past two months, but he still has unfinished business 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 supposed 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 progress. 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," PSC Chairman William Ramirez said.
"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."
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.
Under Petrov, Obiena has improved by leaps and bounds and hopes to win a medal in the coming biennial games, where athletics has been a goldmine for the country.
"EJ is doing okay," said his mother, Jeannete Obiena, an IAAF Level 1 Coaches Education Course Lecturer. "He is looking forward to the SEA Games."