September 05, 2019
Ernest John “EJ” Obiena cleared 5.81 meters in the men’s pole vault competition of the Salto Con L’asta in Piazza Chiari 2019 on Tuesday evening in Chiara, Italy, becoming the first Filipino athlete to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 23-year-old pole vaulter made sure this time that he would make it in his third attempt after getting nothing in his first two tries.
In his first attempt, Obiena successfully made it at 5.81 meters but accidentally knocked off the bar on his way down.
He again flubbed his second try, also at 5.81 meters.
In his third and last attempt, Obiena finally cleared the same height, which exceeded by .01 meter the Olympic qualifying standard set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
“Sabi ko sa sarili ko kailangan ko ma-execute ng normal itong third attempt, kakayanin kong talunin itong bar na ito at alam ko kung gaano kaimportante sa Pilipinas at sa akin ‘yung 5.80 (meters) [I told myself that I really need to execute this third attempt normally, I can overcome this bar and I know how important this is for the country and for myself the 5.80 meter is],” he told The Manila Times in an overseas call on Wednesday.
“Yes I made it, wow,”Obiena said.
His latest feat, he added, would help him focus on the track and field World Championships in Qatar in the last week of September before heading back to the Philippines to compete in the 30th Southeast Asian Games that kicks off November 30 to December 11 in the country.
“I will focus on the world championships in Qatar that will be in the last week of September to the first week of October and then the SEA Games, then I can prepare for what comes next. I’m just happy that I’m qualified already [for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics]. I have been trying very hard since 2016 and then I got injured in 2017,” he said.
In the Piazza Chiari tournament, Thibaut Collet of France (5.56 meters) took the silver medal and Bokai Huang of China (also 5.56 meters), the bronze medal.
Collet won against Huang in the countback.
Philip Ella Juico, president of the Philippine Amateur Track and Field Association (Patafa), broke the good news to reporters in a text message on Wednesday morning followed by an email by Patafa in the afternoon.
“It is the Patafa’s honor to have the first Tokyo Olympics qualifier come from its ranks,” Juico said, noting that Obiena’s achievement would inspire other athletes to excel, particularly in the 30th SEA Games that the Philippines will be hosting.
“EJ’s feat comes at a time when the Philippines faces various daunting challenges in the international front, including the 30th Southeast Asian Games, and this (Obiena qualifying for the 2020 Olympics) should inspire other athletes,” he added.
Juico thanked the Philippine Sports Commission, Ayala Corp., Management Association of the Philippines and private individuals for helping Filipino athletes.
“It took EJ five years of intense and dedicated training and countless international competitions” before he realized his Olympic dream, the Patafa president said.
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