TOKYO – A few days before the biggest fight of his sporting life, pole vaulter Ernest John Obiena is relaxed and laser-sharp focus which may well decide his destiny in the Summer Olympic Games here.
Momentarily staying at the Conrad Tokyo before moving to the Olympic Village in a couple of days, Obiena revealed his state of mind to Philippine reporters following a long 13-hour flight from Italy, where he has been based for the past 18 months.
“I’m good. I feel not so excited about it (Olympics), all the hype, and anything. Well, maybe, not yet. And I guess that’s a good thing. So I have training today, actually. I might do it inside the hotel,” said the 25-year-old Obiena, adding that Sunday is reserved for rest, before making his last jump session on Monday.
Sporting excellence runs in the Obiena family.
His father Emerson, a silver medalist in the Southeast Asian Games, used to hold the Philippine pole vault record, while his mother Jeanette was a hurdler during her collegiate days. Sister Emily is also a pole vaulter.
And so it was just natural for him to dream and win in the Olympics.
“That was definitely a dream, but I don’t know if I could achieve it or not. I never really thought that I was in the position of vying for a medal. Realistically speaking, I actually can. I really didn’t think of this. A week ago, my coach said to me ‘No bullshit, EJ. You have to stay focused, we have to do something special. Don’t do something foolish,” said EJ with a laugh.
After meeting Ukrainian pole vault legend Sergey Bubka in 2014, EJ was able to learn of an opportunity to train in Italy, under the former’s legendary coach Vitaly Petrov – a decision that changed his life forever.
From a mere 5.01 meter record which he accomplished at the PATAFA weekly relays in July 2014, Obiena has consistently been breaching the 5.85-meter mark for the past international tournaments he joined in Europe, catapulting him to no. 6 of the World IAAF rankings.
“My coach started in 2014. He’s the guy who made me jump where I am jumping now. He’s the guy who was with me through it all. When I was injured with my ACL, he was not physically there, he called me and he was really devastated by what happened. I believe I won’t be where I am without him. I am grateful that he saw something in me, and he decided that I like this guy. I’m just really happy and grateful today. I guess I wouldn’t be able to repay them unless I get something big here,” said EJ, who also has been training with Rio Olympics champion Thiago Braz of Brazil, another protégé of Petrov.
“We are partners in training, but on the field, we are competitors,” said EJ, who knows he is equipped to do good at these Olympics.
“I know what I can do. I’m excited in a way that I can control, which is good. I’m just here to do my part, I know what I have to do, I have competed with these guys a couple of times, so, I just need to bring my normal self from that qualification day, hopefully to the finals,” said EJ.