What beef? Obiena, Swedish pole-vault champ laugh off rumor about their rivalry

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Sep 18 2020 09:17 PM | Updated as of Sep 18 2020 10:01 PM

Filipino pole-vaulter Ernest John Obiena and Swedish-American sensation Armand Duplantis showed no bad blood existed between them after seeing action at the Pietro Mennea Golden Gala trackfest at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Thursday.

Both young athletes were bantering in a brief video clip shared by Obiena on Instagram shortly after their stint at the sprawling 70,000-seat arena.

Walking side by side, Obiena, 24, who bagged the bronze medal with a season-high 5.80 meters, began the chat and asked Duplantis: “What made you jump high today?”

“You, (Obiena) bro. You were jumping great so I had to jump good with you, man,” replied the smiling Swede, who ruled the event in setting a new world outdoor record of 6.15 meters, breaking the 26-year-old mark of the Ukrainian legend and former world and Olympic champion Sergey Bubka.

Obiena continued their conversation, asking Duplantis, “Did you see my trash talking?”

“Yeah, you were talking s--t so I kinda had to (perform well),” the 20-year-old Swede, who was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, and owns the world record of 6.18 meters, quipped.

“Well done, well done!” said Obiena, the country’s first qualifier to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, as his friend walked away.

Duplantis was apparently alluding to the article written by Ken Browne and posted on the Olympic Channel last September 11, hinting at a growing conflict between the two athletes who meet regularly in the European circuit. 

The article’s original headline was “Filipino Eagle EJ Obiena: ‘Armand (Duplantis) is good, but I can be the best’.”

Obiena would have none of it, criticizing the article on Instagram last September 12.

“I just read something today (Tuesday) and I was quoted in the article with some provocative statements. To be clear: I have never spoken with the Olympic Channel nor did I EVER make such statements,” he said.

“I definitely did not make this statement (in the headline and story), even privately. I believe it is irresponsible journalism to quote someone who has been asked for comments!”

After Obiena’s allegedly critical remarks, the article penned by the same writer was reposted on the website run by the International Olympic Committee and appeared with a new headline: “Filipino eagle EJ Obiena: In it to win it.”

The Filipino bet was .01 centimeter short of his national mark of 5.81 meters in topping the Salto Con l’Asta pole vault competition in Piazza, Italy, on Sept. 3, 2019, booking his ticket to the Tokyo Games. The Olympic cut is 5.80 meters.

Belgian Ben Broeders took the silver medal in jumping 5.80 meters on his second try compared to Obiena’s third and final attempt.

Meanwhile, Emerson Obiena, the athlete’s father and the national pole-vault coach, was pleased with his son’s performance, noting “there is still room for improvement.”

“Because of the back problem, EJ (Obiena’s nickname) is still making 16 strides instead of the usual 18 that he does normally. Even coach Vitaly Petrov noted in our chat after the competition that my son’s build-up was on track,” the elder Obiena bared.

Petrov, who also mentored Bubka, is the head coach of the World Athletics elite training camp in Formia, Italy, 166.7 kilometers southeast of Rome, where Obiena and Rio Olympic Games champion Thiago Braz have been training together since 2015.

The elder Obiena added that based on his observation “EJ might be able to meet his 2020 target of 5.85 meters,” possibly during the next leg of the Diamond League athletic series in Doha, Qatar on September 24.

Philippines athletics chief Philip Ella Juico said he was exerting effort so that the younger Obiena’s passport would be renewed since it was set to expire within the next 6 months that would bar him from traveling to the Qatari capital.

“I will try to talk to the Philippine ambassador in Rome later today so that EJ can get a new passport and travel to Doha,” Juico said.