TOKYO – Amid the scare from the Sam Kendricks case, EJ Obiena finally sets foot in the grand Japan National Stadium today to launch his bid to soar to Olympic glory.
The target is 5.80m for an outright final entry Tuesday or to be in the Top 12 in the qualifying Saturday to advance to Tuesday’s medal play for a chance to challenge Swedish superstar and world record holder Armand Duplantis.
TRACKER: EJ Obiena at the Tokyo Olympics
The event has lost one top contender as two-time world champion Sam Kendricks of the United States tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday.
Kendricks is gone but pole-vaulters are concerned with possible contagion as they used the same cushion in practices at a training center outside of the National Stadium.
“Medyo nakakatakot, kasi nangyari sa kanya (Kendricks), so pwedeng mangyari kahit kanino. So we have to be careful,” said Emerson Obiena, father and coach of EJ.
The Obiena team has been very extra careful that they opted not to check in the Athletes Village anymore and stay at Conrad Tokyo after the rowing foreign coach tested positive for the virus.
Kendricks, the bronze medal winner in the 2016 Rio Games and world champ in 2017 and 2019, is unlucky. Instead of soaring with the pole, the 28-year-old American is in isolation because of the sad development.
Minus Kendricks, it’s now a showdown among Duplantis, Rio Games winner Thiago Braz of Brazil, world No. 3 Piotr Lisek of Poland, No. 4 Renauld Lavillenie of France, Nilsen Christopher of the United States and the Filipino ace.
The heavy field also includes bets from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Korea, Sweden, Turkey and the US.
Duplantis is the top favorite being the holder of world record at 6.18m and with his declaration that his only goal is the gold when he steps up to jump at his first Olympic Games.
Obiena himself is upbeat, confident he can pull a surprise and do something special for the country that has never won an Olympic medal from athletics since hurdler Miguel White snared a bronze in 1936 in Berlin.
Duplantis has told reporters here it was all about gold for him.
"Winning is the only goal," he said. "I'd like to go and break the world record and do something very legendary at the Games, but it's my first Games and I just want to win, that's really the only thing that's on my mind right now."
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