Was Ernest John Obiena’s record-breaking performance in the 11th leg of the Diamond League series in Paris on Saturday (France time) a harbinger of things to come, as the Filipino pole-vaulter eyes the Summer Olympic Games in the French capital 3 years from now?
Father-coach Emerson Obiena certainly hopes so.
“I thought that when EJ (Obiena's nickname) won the silver medal it would be a good memory for him since doon din gagawin ang Olympics (the Olympics will be held in Paris). It will be a good psychological reminder to him,” said the elder Obiena after his son set a new PH mark of 5.91 meters for a silver medal at Charlety Stadium.
The Pinoy pole-vaulter finished a strong second behind Swedish Tokyo Olympic Games gold medalist Mondo Duplantis, who needed a meet-record jump of 6.01 meters in overtaking his rival to secure the top spot in the elite field of 11 entries. Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Chris Nilsen (5.81) was third.
Obiena bested his previous mark of 5.87 meters on July 1, also good for silver at Irena Szewinska Memorial in Bydgoszcz, Poland, an increment of 4 centimeters (more than 1.5 inches) for a marked improvement in just almost 2 months, his father.
“ ’Yung ganu’ng klaseng effort kung titingnan na ganu’n kaliit sa mga ibang hindi nakaalam ng sport, malaking bagay. Every centimeter na tumaas kinakailangan ng malaking effort ang ibinibigay (That kind of effort that seems little to some who don't understand the sport is a huge difference. Every centimeter increase in height demands a lot of effort from the athlete),” the coach stressed.
Also significant, he added, was that latest achievement had partially erased the memory of the pole vaulter’s lackluster showing on August 3 when he landed 11th in the final at the Tokyo Summer Games with a mediocre 5.70 meters.
At that time, the athlete felt distraught over his performance and seemed ambivalent in renewing his efforts to qualify for the Paris Olympics.
“Mukhang nalagpasan na niya po ’yun (It seems that he (Obiena) has gotten past that traumatic stage),” the athlete’s father pointed out.
“I needed this!!! Badly!!!” exclaimed the younger Obiena on his Instagram account, meanwhile, after his record-setting feat, validation that he still had what it takes to remain a force to reckon with in the event since six of his rivals in the Tokyo finals were also in Paris.
Beating 5 rivals in Tokyo Olympics
With the exception of Duplantis, Obiena was better than Nilsen, who cleared 5.97 in Tokyo; another American KC Lightfoot, who was fourth in the Olympics (5.80) and 5th in Paris (5.73), respectively; Polish Piotr Lisek, 6th (5.80) and 7th (5.55); Briton Harry Coppel, 7th (5.80) and NM (no mark); and Frenchman and 2012 London Games gold medalist Renauld Lavillenie, 8th (5.70) and 10th (5.30).
This stellar cast will likely be among Obiena’s major rivals once more when he competes in his second straight world athletics championships scheduled July 15 to 24, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon as an outright qualifier after surpassing the qualifying mark of 5.81 meters a couple of times this year.
The elder Obiena, a former national team standout and current national pole vault coach, broke down the things that went right for his son in over the weekend.
He explained why his son started at the low height of 5.45 meters, something that he usually skips in previous competitions
“I think that he had a bad warm-up so he decided to jump at a lower height,” said Obiena, “just to be able to feel his new pole because he laid off for a while to rest.”
The coach said this pole was a part of the new set he had acquired for the Tokyo Olympics and that the athlete was still getting accustomed to it.
Starting at a low height, he said, also enabled his son to adjust his runway markers gradually, clearing 5:55, 5.65 and 5.73 meters in succession in one jump before needing three tries to hurdle 5.81 meters.
In a game of oneupmanship, Obiena skipped 5.86 meters then nailed 5.91 meters on his first jump with Nilsen and Duplantis waiting in the wings, briefly snatching the lead.
Nilsen also nixed the bar at 5.86 but fouled on all three tries at 5.91 meters, after which Duplantis, who also skipped at 5.86, finally came through with the title-clinching effort of 6.01 meters with one try.
“Umaatras ng umaatras ’yong marker niya hanggang makuha niya ’yong proper spot before mag-take off. Kasi kung pangit ’yong run-up, ’yong itaas mahirap ma-carry. (He went back farther and farther on his markers to get the proper takeoff. If the run-up is bad, it is hard to carry over the bar,” the elder Obiena said.
“If your runway execution is fine, it will have a domino effect. The movement will also be okay in the air. This is the reason why I believe he had a good jump,” he pointed out. “Everything fell into place, including the timing because the approach was right.
“Even the push off the pole was also ideal, unlike before when EJ would do it early. He was able to complete the right movement. We’ve seen that his mechanics in the past were good for clearing 5.90 meters. Now it’s official.”
The elder Obiena said that the athlete may still have one or two more competitions left before wrapping up his European outdoor season.
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