Obiena back to Formia

Obiena back to Formia

TOKYO – Pole vaulter EJ Obiena left here the other day to return to camp in Formia, Italy, where he will do recovery for two weeks before plunging back into action to finish off the European outdoor season. Obiena is in the history books as the first-ever Filipino to qualify in Olympic pole vault and outdid himself by making it to the 14-man final, eventually finishing 11th of 29 starters.

It wasn’t the ending that Obiena and his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov expected.

“EJ beat almost all of the top 10 finalists except (gold medalist Mondo) Duplantis in competitions around Europe this year,” said PATAFA secretary-general Terry Capistrano who led the athletics delegation to the Olympics. “EJ’s disappointed but he’ll be back. This was his first Olympic experience. As far as I’m concerned, nothing’s changed in terms of our hopes and dreams for EJ. We’ll continue to support him. We know EJ can do it but the pressure in the Olympics is different. We’re proud of his effort and achievement. He’ll learn from this to get better.”

The European outdoor season will end in September and the indoor season starts a month later. Petrov is taking time off then will meet up with Obiena in October to discuss plans for the future. Obiena’s father Emerson said EJ initially thought of coming home even for a little while. “My wife (Jeanette) misses EJ and cried on the phone,” said Emerson who flew in from Manila to assist Petrov at the vault sidelines. EJ hasn’t been home since the SEA Games in 2019. Obiena eventually decided to head straight back to Formia because quarantining in Manila would compromise his training for the outdoor season.

Obiena will likely visit his German girlfriend Caroline, a triple jumper, during his two-week recovery. “I think they’re serious kasi pinakilala na niya sa amin at kilala na rin siya ng parents ni Caroline,” said Emerson. “Very supportive si Caroline sa kaniya kasi atleta rin so she understands what an athlete goes through.”

Obiena failed to clear 5.8 in the final last Tuesday. He took only one try to soar over 5.55 then cleared 5.7 on his third. Obiena argued to be given a fourth attempt for 5.8 because the clock continued to run while the bar was adjusted. He pointed out the infraction and was upheld. There’s an 80 centimeter range of movement that vaulters may request for the bar to go forward or backward. While the adjustment is being made, the clock stops. A vaulter may abort his jump and is given another chance if he hasn’t gone over the zero line to plant his pole. “It didn’t feel right,” said Obiena whose personal best of 5.87 was matched by his training partner and defending Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz for bronze. The distraction proved critical.

PATAFA’s other bet Kristina Knott failed to reach the 200-meter final, clocking 23.8 in the seventh qualifying heat. There were 42 starters and after seven heats, the top 25 went to the semis. Her time topped only five runners. Knott’s personal best is 23.01, the Philippine record and her goal was to finish under 23. After her run, Knott was rushed to the stadium clinic then to a hospital for emergency treatment of heat stress. She threw up repeatedly and while being taken to the clinic in a wheelchair, attendants carried a garbage bag. Knott was personally looked after by Dr. Fumihiro Yamasawa, medical committee chairman of the Asian Athletics Federation.

“The doctor was wearing a mask then I realized it was Dr. Yamasawa who’s a personal friend so when we recognized each other, I was relieved as I knew KK would be in good hands,” said Capistrano. “Before her run, KK was under the sun for an hour at the practice track. She told me later she felt woozy even before the actual run but still did it. KK was distraught. I assured her we’ll continue to support her for 2024. She really wants to make her Filipina mother proud. In Paris, we’re all hoping the pandemic will be over and we’ll bring her mom over then they can come back together to Manila for a visit. KK promised to train harder than ever before.”

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