Track star Kristina Knott and pole vault sensation EJ Obiena will not be dealing with rigid and definite projections from their respective camps entering the Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, the coaches of both athletics bets on Thursday said that there are only minimum internal standards that Knott and Obiena will have to meet in order to bolster their hopes of a podium finish.
Coach Rohsaan Griffin said Knott, who holds the national record in the 100m (11.27 seconds) and the 200m (23.01 seconds) races, stands to have a good chance at breaching the 23-second mark once she steps foot on the oval of the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo for the 200m dash.
"I think that's always been in our wheelhouse," the American coach said during a press conference hosted by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (PATAFA). "If I'm going by how she looks in practice, I think it's possible. That's where I'm gonna leave it. Se has the capability to do it, and let's just hope that she does it."
On the other hand, EJ's father and coach Emerson Obiena said the target is simply a mark higher than the 5.87m record he set at the Irena Szewińska Memorial in Poland late June for a good shot at a medal.
"Whatever it is that would win a podium finish come the competition, that's the target of course," he said in a mix of English and Filipino. "We can never tell what height it may be, but we are aiming to clear higher than what he was able to clear during the outdoor season."
Obiena and Knott took vastly different routes in their long and arduous journeys to qualifying for the Olympics.
The 25-year-old Obiena was the first Filipino to qualify for the Games in 2019 and steadily ramped up his training under decorated coach Vitaly Petrov of Ukraine.
Under Petrov, the elder Obiena said his son found a badly-needed mentor who steered EJ in the right direction following last year's announcement that the Olympics would be moved to July this year.
"I fully understand why he got a bit depressed during that time, because he spent a lot of time preparing for the Olympics," Emerson said. "Thankfully, the coach handling him is very experienced and has encountered these types of situations. He was able to turn things around. That helped put EJ in the right direction. And as time passed by, we were able to realize that it could be a blessing in disguise because it gave him more time to prepare."
"Now he's performing more consistently. He's been 5.80m and up more often. That's a good sign," Obiena added. "If he reaches that height consistently, then it means there is another level that he can target."
Knott, on the other hand, qualified a month before the Games but had to deal with the dearth in 200m races internationally all throughout her buildup.
"There haven't been many 200m races internationally, so that's why we've run many 100m races. You just have to get those races under your belt. And she's come close to the national record this year, which means that she's on pace to break 23 seconds. We just haven't had the opportunity to run any of those races," Griffin commented.
But like Obiena, Knott also dealt with a challenge that supposedly ended up a plus for her campaign. The Filipino-American track athlete contracted COVID-19 late June -- mere hours after finding out she qualified for the Games -- but eventually recovered in time for her Olympic debut.
While Knott did test positive for the disease, Griffin insists it hardly had any effect on the two-time Southeast Asian Games gold medalist.
"People don't really realize it didn't affect her as much as some thought it would. It was more so a bummer just to be stuck in a room for five days. But once she got home and got back to [our camp in] Texas, it was back to business as normal," he shared. "Five days of not training, especially for us, I think it was needed. We competed a lot this year. We've traveled a lot this year. So I think we needed the rest. I think it was just God's way of saying, 'Hey, I'm going to give you what you need at this moment so that you can regroup and go and do what you need to do."
"In the age of COVID, it's par for the course. We have no control over the variables or what's going to happen. We just have to be vigilant. "We can't upend our plans just because we got thrown a curveball. Sometimes you have to adjust," Griffin continued." I think she does a very, very good job of adjusting to whatever comes away ...[And] that situation was a testament to how we handle adversity. So I think we're going to be okay. Well, I know we're gonna be okay."
Both athletes are trying to take it easy a couple of days before they jump into action in the Olympics. For Knott's camp, the focus is on providing a pressure-free environment in the final leg of her preparations in Nagasaki.
"Everything is going well. We try to keep things as close to normal as possible. We're just going about every day as we would usually go about every day, as if we weren't here, so that there's no added pressure. For us, this is like a dress rehearsal. We've been training like this in similar scenarios for months now," Griffin opened. "We laugh, we joke, we practice, we get serious when we need to get serious. That's to not have any pressure on her. We want to go out there and do the best that we can without any added pressure. And I think we're doing a pretty good job of that right now."
The younger Obiena, meanwhile, is waiting for the arrival of his poles, which are projected to arrive at the Olympic Village on the 24th. EJ, according to his dad, was not able to practice with his new equipment since the same poles that should have arrived during his training in Italy ended up being damaged in delivery.
"Some poles didn't have visual damage, but they were all packed together in a box with the damaged poles. So it's very risky to try to use that. We couldn't risk an accident," said Emerson.
In terms of expectations, both coaches believe their wards have done enough during their preparations to merit optimistic projections.
"As a coach you always want expectations, to run better than they've run before, compete better than they've competed before. But as a realist, you understand that there are variables, things that come into play that you have to adjust to. So I just want her to go in there and put forth her best effort," said Griffin. "And for me with her best effort, I know we can advance to the semifinals. And from there, we just have to take it as it comes. But those are my expectations. I don't think they're unreasonable or overwhelming. I just want her to do the best that she can do given how well we prepared."
Obiena, on the other hand, said: "EJ trained very hard. He gave all his time and effort for the preparations. This is what he's been waiting for. I believe we've done everything we can to help him be prepared."