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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: You read it here first


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Ernest Obiena.

When Filipino pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena gifted the Philippines a gold medal during the 23rd Asian Athletic Championships held in Dona, Qatar on April 21, 2019, your OUTSIDER here reported that he, actually, had quenched the country’s long, more than a century old thirst for a software of whatever color in an Asian level competitions in athletics.

Three Filipino high-flying Eagles, in fact, had triumphed in the event as early as 107 years ago in 1913 during the First Far Eastern Games held right here in Manila, or two years after organized sports in the archipelago started.

Remigio Abad ruled that year over his two Chinese rivals keying off a decade of Filipino domination of the discipline. Genaro Saavedra followed Abad to the throne two years later in 1915 before Antonino Alo took the crown in 1919, the year he, too, reigned as Asia’s discus throw king.

Alo extended his rule six more years in 1921, 1923 and 1925 before relinquishing the crown in 1927 to Japanese Yonetaro Nakasawa.

No other Filipino Eagle succeeded in reigning the event that requires sprinting and jumping 94 years later until the soon-to-be 25 year-old Obiena, who was born in Barrio Obrero in Tondo on November 17, 1995, did the trick on that Easter Sunday by leaping to a record 5.71 meters.

Six months later in Chiara, Italy, the son of former pole vault ace Emerson and hurdler Jeanette (nee Uy), even bettered his mark to 5.81 meters to become the first from this shore to earn a berth to the Olympics which was to return to Tokyo this year but moved to 2021 due to the Corona Virus pandemic.

The media paid little or no attention at all in the younger Obiena’s ground-breaking feats, either out of ignorance over the significance of the event – or, more likely lack of proper research on the historical value of his deeds.

They buried what certainly is one of the most memorable moments in the history of Philippine sports at the bottom of the sports pages, but, definitely, not the reverberations from that breakthrough moments.

Obiena’s earning a seat in the once every-four-year conclave called the “Greatest Sports Show on Earth,” is the first for the country in pole vault.

Thus, giving the tall, 6-foot-2 high-leaper the chance to at least duplicate a pair of bronze medal finishes fashioned out by high jumper Simeon Toribio in 1932 in Los Angeles and hurdler Miguel White four years later in Berlin.

If not improve on them.

And, more significantly, the opportunity to hand the Philippines and Asia, for that matter, their first medal of whatever color. Up to this present time, there has never been any competitor from the region that succeeded bringing that most-sought after software from the Olympics.

And, if he wins a gold medal, join the list of what are considered the greatest Asian athletes like compatriot Manny Pacquiao in boxing, the only man to win 12 world titles in eight divisions, swimmer Sun Yang of China, hurdler Liu Xiang, also of China, and Li Na and Japan’s Naomi Osaka both in tennis, to mention a few.

This, outside the possibility being named the “Greatest Track and Field Male Athlete of All-Time."

Counting his in-born talent, perseverance and determination, all this doesn’t look a remote possibility, both dad Emerson and mom Jeanette would admit.

“Walang kasawa-sawa si EJ mag-ensayo," the husband-and-wife tandem attested in an interview with this OUTSIDER. “Kung noong una nalulungkot siya na namumuhay siya ng hiwalay sa amin.”

“Ngayon he sounded nag-e-enjoy na siya sa buhay niya. Hind na nga umuwi dito mula noong SEA Games, sa Italy na siya nagpasko at nag-New Year.”

Obiena, for the last four years, has been based in Formia, Italy since earning a training scholarship from the International Athletic Association Federation under Ukranian coach Vitaly Petrov, who also handled the career of Russian pole vault legend Sergey Bubka during the latter’s competitive days.

Obiena, an electronics communications student at the Universitry of Santo Tomas, grew up in the shadow of Emerson and Jeanette, who at age eight took him in tow at the Rizal Memorial Track-Football Stadium or wherever and whenever they trained as athletes.

He readily fell in love with track and field. He first tried his lack in sprint and hurdles but later switched to pole vault for the excitement and thrill the discipline brings.

Upon returning to Formia following his gold medal victory in the Philippine 30th Southeast Asian Games last December and a brief distraction in his Olympic training regimen due to the worldwide imposition of total lockdown in all sports activities, Obiena embarked on an ambitious two-month invasion of the European circuit.

Thus, gifting himself with a gold medal, a pair of silver medals and four bronze medals besides enriching himself with the needed international exposure.

His gold medal harvest came when he cleared 5.74 meters in winning over Renaud Lavillenie of France, who also cleared the same height, but yielded the gold to the Filipino, who had lesser jumps.

He took his silver medals from Treste, Italy with a jump of 5’45 meters last August 1 and from the virtual meet Formia on an impressive 5.60-meter efforts.

Obiena’s finest showing, thus far, was his 5.80-meter performance in the second leg of the Diamond League only last September 15 when he ended up with a bronze.

Cancelled, though, was his participation in the last leg of the Diamond League in Doha next week, because “baka mahirapan makabalik sa Formia dahil nga sa problema sa Covid 19 pandemic.”

Obiena’s routine during transition includes improving on his approach from 18 strides to 16, which according to Emerson should give his son better results.

Emerson said Petrov predicts by early 2021, EJ will be doing from 5.90 meters and beyond.

“That’s already world-class. Kaya even EJ himself is excited in the thoughts of attaining that. That’s why nowadays, ang sipag daw magp-ensayo.” he said.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea of The Manila Times.


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