TOKYO – Ernest John Obiena and a world-class field try to secure the 12 medal-round slots at stake in the pole vault competitions of the Summer Olympic Games at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium here on Saturday.
Even without COVID-19 infected Sam Hendricks of the United States, the field is filled with the who’s who of the sport, led by world’s no. 1 Armand Duplantis, No. 3 Piotr Lisek of Poland, no. 5 Christopher Nilsen of the US and no. 7 Thiago Braz of Brazil, the Rio Olympics champion and Obiena’s training partner.
Obiena himself is perched at no. 6 in the world and is among the best in the sport, which is the reason why he isn’t rattled by the world-class competition.
The 25-year-old Obiena realized that he can compete with the best when he saw action against Duplantis, Kendricks and several top 10 pole vaulters several times in Europe.
“It showed that I can compete with the best. It was like a preview,” said Obiena on his numerous encounters with Duplantis and Kendricks.
“They are the top athletes in the world rankings. That showed me that I can compete. And, now it’s a mental game,” said Obiena.
In order to qualify to the 12-man finals, a pole vaulter must leap 5.80 meters, a mark Obiena has been breaching in his last several tournaments.
This, or the best 12 will advance. His personal best is 5.87 meters, which he set at the Irena Szwewinska Memorial/Bydgoszcz Cup in Poland, but in order to finish in the podium here, Obiena must target at least 6 meters.
“I know I can jump 6.0 meters. I’m not sure how I got it dialled in. I’ve seen how well I can jump, and I’ve seen what I’m capable of, and make sure that I bring that in the game,” said Obiena during a zoom conference with Filipino scribes.
On Friday, Obiena finally went back to training at the Edogawa Stadium after he was spooked by the situation involving Kendricks, the world no. 2-ranked pole vaulter now out contention in these games.
“May pag-aalala rin dahil uncertain ang situation. Hindi natin nakikita ang kalaban. Kailangan ng higit na pag iingat,” said the Obiena’s father Emerson Obiena.
The Filipino pole vaulter has since recovered from the initial shock of learning of Hendricks’ COVID-19 infection and had a great morning training session with his coach Vitaly Petrov and his father Emerson.
“Would need all your help in earnestly praying for my safety and success. I will give my best and the rest is up to You, Lord. Keep my mind, my will and my body strong,” said Obiena.