July 17, 2019
Ernest John “EJ” Obiena last week leaped 5.76 meters to win the pole vault gold medal at the ongoing 2019 Universiade or University Games in Naples.
Obiena, 23, the reigning Asian champion in the event, edged Germany’s Torben Blech (also 5.76 meters to bring home the silver medal) in the countback, with Belgium’s Joren Broeders taking the bronze at 5.51 meters.
EJ’s victory in the Italian city, which is hosting the 30th Universiade, brought the young Filipino pole vaulter nearer to the Olympic qualifying mark of 5.80 meters to possibly realize his dream to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But will his triumph in Italy, where he has long been training, translate into a financial windfall that usually pours on other Filipino athletes who bag gold, silver or bronze medals in the Southeast Asian Games, the Asian Games and the Olympic Games (but not in the University Games)?
Apparently not, with no policy from Philippine sports authorities having been laid down regarding the issue since Grandmaster Wesley So pocketed the gold medal in chess in the 2013 edition in Kazan, Russia, to become the country’s first-ever Universiade champion, male or female, in any discipline.
From the University Games has emerged a number of world and Olympic champions, so the tournament is not something to sneeze at.
Wesley, as well as his family, was apparently slighted when he was all but ignored and, worse, was not showered with monetary compensation for his singular feat.
He would eventually fly to the United States and now officially represents America under the US Chess Federation to which he has brought honors by figuring prominently in A-1 chess championships around the world.
We are sensing history repeating itself in EJ’s case.
If it were basketball or boxing on the table of the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC), and not chess or pole vault, officials and politicians would have been offering cash rewards or authoring resolutions recognizing Obiena’s achievement.
At this writing, there is an eerie silence from the PSC or Congress on EJ’s performance, in contrast when some boxer or beauty queen returns to the country.
With the Philippines’ top sports bodies, including the Philippine Olympic Committee, bickering as if this year’s Southeast Asian Games is not only about four months away, we are sure the case of Obiena is the least of their concerns.
If that were so, don’t be surprise if EJ also flies the coop and spread his wings in the US (like Wesley) or Europe where in both places pole vault is big and where they welcome talent if they see one.
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