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Obiena’s momentum in European circuit haplessly disrupted

THERE is no blueprint that an athlete can follow to attain sure success. But one factor athletes consider in a long sports season or a series of competitions is rhythm or momentum.

Coaches talk about it a lot. They know if their players are in the zone and have a streak of above par performances that lifts the spirit and morale of athletes whether it be a team sport or an individual competition.

Filipino Olympian pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena was on a roll in Europe in the past few weeks.

Despite having to undergo a knee surgery in January and live through a lengthy squabble with his national sports association, Obiena campaigned in the European indoor season, notched a string of victories and broke a Philippine record in the process.

Obiena bagged the gold medal at the Orlen Cup in Poland where he cleared 5.81 meters on February 12.

Eleven days later, Obiena jumped 5.81 meters anew at the Orlen Copernicus Cup, also in Poland, to win his second gold medal of the year.

Obiena’s performance at the Orlen Cup gave him the ticket to this year’s World Athletics Indoor Championships and World Athletics Championships.

But Obiena didn’t stop there.

The world’s fifth-ranked pole vaulter jumped 5.91 meters at the Perche Elite Tour in France on March 6 to claim a silver medal and reset his own national indoors record.

By all indications, Obiena, who also owns the Asian record of 5.93, is poised to make the podium at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, Serbia from March 18 to 20.

However, he was not endorsed by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa) to compete in Belgrade and will miss a chance to become the first Filipino pole vaulter to win a medal in the World Games.

Patafa did not act on Obiena’s request for endorsement in international competitions, including this year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Asian Games and Word Athletics Championships, pending the completion of the mediation process between the two parties.

Obiena and Patafa’s relationship have turned sour for more than three months now due to the athlete’s alleged falsification of liquidation reports, failure to pay his coach Vitaly Petrov and misappropriation of government funds.

The row between Obiena and Patafa has made the sports headlines since November, but has not slowed down the athletes from winning medals in Europe. But the non-endorsement by Patafa has led to the non-inclusion of the Filipino pole vaulter in the official list of athletes in Belgrade.

“Country has not been put first by all. Country comes after personal considerations for some. This is more than unfortunate. The nation pays the price,” Obiena posted in his Facebook account entitled “Today the Country I love loses” on March 12.

“I have not been endorsed for the Worlds. Registration is now closed. I won’t be attending. I am the only top-ranked vaulter not participating.”

The 26-year-old Obiena holds the fourth highest jump of the young 2022 season.

“I am in prime physical and mental condition. I am ready to be the first Philippine HOME-GROWN athlete to compete in the Worlds, and I am ready to compete and bring home a medal. Now is my time; NO, now is our time!” he wrote.

“If the country was ever put first, I should be headed to Belgrade now. But I am not. I will watch it on TV like millions of others. I will see other nations take the medal that the Philippines should be winning.”

Obiena may not be assured of winning in Belgrade, but he has a good chance of taking home a medal of any color. The pole vaulter is a shoo-in of winning the gold at the SEA Games in Vietnam from May 12 to 23.

Patafa did not include Obiena in its official list of athletes for the SEA Games, but Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino is making all the efforts to bring the pole vaulter to Vietnam.

The SEA Games organizers from Vietnam, however, have the final say if they will accept the POC’s endorsement of Obiena.

Despite the setbacks, Obiena needs to keep his spirit up and continue to prepare for a major tournament, that someday he shall be allowed to compete in.  — Niel Victor C. Masoy

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