#SEAGames2019: Obiena win fulfills dream of father who fell short of gold

Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2019 02:15 PM | Updated as of Dec 08 2019 03:30 PM

Emerson Obiena (left) and EJ Obiena (right) pose for a photo after the latter's gold-medal win in pole vault of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games at the New Clark Athletic Stadium Saturday. Karl Cedrick Basco, ABS-CBN News

NEW CLARK CITY -- He was twice a silver medalist and twice a bronze winner. But never a champion in SEA Games. 

Emerson Obiena, father of the Olympic-bound and athletics rock star of the Philippines EJ Obiena, was beaming with pride as his son walked away from the New Clark Athletic Stadium on Saturday with a gold medal around his neck and a new Southeast Asian Games record. 

It was a six-year wait for the young Obiena to finally rule the pole vault in the biennial meet. But the Obiena family waited for 26 years to bring home the top podium finish in the SEA Games. 

The patriarch of the family was a former pole vaulter of the national team but his stint never produced a gold. The elder Obiena only mustered a silver medal in the 1993 Singapore Games and 1999 Brunei edition. He settled for bronze in the 2005 Manila and 2007 Thailand Games. 

Indeed, the gold was elusive for the Obienas for the longest time. EJ landed fourth in 2013 then second place in 2015. The Asian Championship winner missed the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games due to an ACL injury. 

"I'm happy for him kasi matagal na niyang hinahangad ito. Mailap masyado ang gold medal na yan. Ngayon nakuha na niya, sa wakas, nakuha niya. Ito yung pinakamailap na medalya sa kanya. It's something to celebrate," the 55-year-old national team coach said. 

Philippine's EJ Obiena celebrates after bagging gold in 2019 SEA games pole vault competition at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac on December 7, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

While glancing at his son being interviewed by media, Emerson Obiena said it was just his dream to put the Philippines in the map of pole vault in the world. And now, his son is making it happen, acknowledging that EJ is far better than him.

"Mas magaling siya, lagpas lagpasan pa. Ang pangarap ko maging world-class 'yung pole vaulting natin, 'yun ang vision ng club na itinayo ko. Eh ngayon na-exceed natin eh. 'Di lang basta world class, Olympics na. Na-exceed niya 'yung expectation ko," said Emerson Obiena, who started his athletics career at the age of 28. 

He admitted it was difficult to be a father and at the same time a coach during matches, revealing he was anxious about EJ's performance but tried to stay calm all throughout the night.

"I tried to be as calm as possible but deep inside I'm really, really very tense. But I cannot show it to him kasi kung ano 'yung nakikita niya sakin maaaring mapasa ko sa kanya," he said. 

EJ bared that he saw his father as a dad in Saturday's game not as a coach. 

"Right now, he's more of my dad in the field. He just told me to go there and do what you've been doing. It's your time to do what you've been training for. I've been jumping a lot in training," the 2019 Summer Universaide gold medalist said. 

The achievements of EJ Obiena were the result of tons of sacrifices of the athlete and his family, which includes living miles away from each other. 

Philippine's pole vaulter EJ Obiena in action during 2019 SEA games athletics competition at the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac on December 7, 2019. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Obiena is currently staying in Italy with his foreign coach as he prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and could only talk to his family through video calls.

The two pole vaulters said they will spend yet another Christmas holiday away from each other. Right after the match, teh younger Obiena travelled to Manila as he needed to catch his flight back to Italy on Sunday. His training resumes on December 9. 

But they are willing to go through long-distance communication for the family's dream. 

"I will spend Christmas and New Year in a training center. I need to keep pushing. It's what I chose. I'm already here. I think I'll reget it if I don't push it and do what I can. That's how my mind works right now," the pole vaulter, who cleared the 5.81 mark this year to book an Olympic ticket, quipped. 

For Emerson, they are willing to adjust to whatever it takes for his son to achieve his dreams. 

"Actually para sa akin, lagpas na sa goal ko pero mas mataas ang pangarap niya sa akin so kung ano man ang pangarap niya we’re just here, we’ll just support him," Emerson said. 

But he is hoping after the Olympics next year, the Obiena family can have some time to spend together. 

"He will not be spending Christmas again with us. This is the fourth year na hindi kami magkiki-Christmas magkakasama. Pero kailangan ng sacrifice eh. Sana pagtapos ng Olympics magkaroon ng chance na kami naman," he added. 

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.

2019 SEA Games