Obiena bags gold, breaks own record in pole vault

Hanoi—Ernest John Obiena took just one initial leap to clinch the pole vault gold medal, and a second one to smash the record during the Philippines’ most productive day in the 31st Southeast Asian Games here on Saturday.

With his Southeast Asian rivals either failing to clear the bar several times or suffering from cramps from too much exertion, Obiena nonchalantly cleared the bar at 5.4 meters to clinch the gold right on his first attempt at the drizzle-drenched My Dinh National Stadium.

It was 40 centimers better than the 5-meter leap of compatriot and eventual silver medalist Hocket delos Santos.

With the gold safely tucked in the bag, Obiena then aimed at his own SEA Games mark of 5.45 meters he set in the 2019 Philippine SEA Games. Just like in his previous leap, Obiena cleared the bar for a new SEA Games record of 5.46 meters, trouble free to the loud cheers of a handful of Filipino expats and several fellow athletes and Filipino officials on the sidelines.

“I’m relieved and happy to win the gold. I came here as a favorite and finally delivered. Mission accomplished,” said Obiena, the Asian record holder at 5.93 meters.

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The 26-year-old Obiena, currently ranked no. 6 by World Athletics, then tried to obliterate his own Asian mark by setting the bar at 5.94 but failed thrice.

“Almost there, but masyado pa maaga ‘yung volume ng training, he is not that well rested pa,” said Obiena’s father and coach Emerson.

The Philippines also struck gold in triathlon, jiu-jitsu, fencing, and gymnastics Saturday to boost its bid for a top-three finish even as host Vietnam moved out of reach.

Kim Mangrobang, at 30 still very much competitive, broke away from the pack in the bike leg of the 1.5K swim, 40K bike, and 10K run event and won her third straight SEA Games crown, while Fil-Spanish Fernando Tan Caseres, 26, proved to be a very able successor to compatriot John Leerams “Rambo” Chicano, topping the men’s race in 1:56.57.

The twin victories, which duplicated the two-gold sweep by triathlon in the 2019 Philippine Games, started the ball rolling for the Filipinos, who also got gold medals from jiu-jitsu fighters Meggie Ochoa in the women’s minus 48kg class and Annie Ramirez in the women’s minus 62kg division and fencer Samantha Catantan in the women’s foil event.

As dusk set in, Fil-Am Aleah Finnegan, a former US national team member, led the national team to the gold medal in the women’s artistic gymnastics at the Quan Ngura Sports Palace with a score of 184.500. Vietnam settled for the silver with 183.800 while Singapore was third with 182.500 points.

Finnegan also won the all-around silver medal, scoring 48.250 points in four apparatus—balance beam, floor exercise, vault, and uneven bars—with the gold going to Indonensian Rifda Irfanaluthfi who scored 49.650.

The last time the Philippines won a medal in women’s artistic gymnastics was in the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Games, with Pia Adelle Reyes leading the way.

The six-gold medal haul raised the country’s total to 11 as of 7 p.m., counting the gold medals retained by kickboxers Gina Iniong-Araos and Jean Claude Saclag after midnight last Friday.

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